22 December 2007

This morning, KB and I accompanied my landlady to experience our first Saturday market. The local market runs every day except Sunday, but on Saturdays countless people from all of the surrounding villages and countryside stream into town, hauling straw baskets and plastic sacks on their backs, hoping to sell whatever goods they have grown, made, or collected. Invariably, it seems, there are more hopeful sellers than potential buyers. Maneuvering through the market on a Saturday involves forcibly clearing a way through a dense sea of humanity. With years of precedent to guide them, vendors organize themselves spatially by the good they are selling. We walked through the fruit aisle and were disappointed to find the same bananas, jackfruit, and green lemons and oranges – only in greater quantity than usual. We walked down butcher shop alley along the gulley strewn with jawbones, hooves, and horns, bleached and dry from the harsh sun. As we entered berbere row, the crushed red pepper dust was so thick in the air that we began immediately and uncontrollably sneezing. We were slightly embarrassed by our farenji weakness in the face of hot Ethiopian spice, until in brief moments of recovery from our sinus distress, we noticed that the entire passageway of stalls was echoing with sneezes. We bought woven straw baskets from a vast yard of them, different forms and sizes all arrayed in the straw-blanketed earth, so many that the ground beneath was hardly visible. It all felt slightly like shopping in the world of Harry Potter, and some of the items – yellow and orange powders, purple grainy dust, mounds of oddly shaped seeds, gnarly roots – seemed no less enchanted.

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