I often think of myself as quite a seasoned shopper. I’ve grown to hate malls, supermarkets are ok, boutiques on european style brick roads are ideal, and markets are by far the most interesting. Farmer’s markets, flea markets, street markets, all of them - best way to
waste spend a few hours and revel in your finds afterwards.
Accustomed to, or as much as one can be, to the Tunisian souks that have brick roads, but are not quite European in style, I thought I could tackle any type of shopping experience (except American post-Thanksgiving Black Friday; I will never touch that one). You have to prove you’re not Spanish (in my case), be or go with a Tunisian, forget you have any sense of boundaries, not be a space cadet, and bargain bargain bargain.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the market we went to on Lagos Island. While there and when describing the market to people in Lagos, I would always get a different answer on which market I actually went to - twice. It’s one of Idumota, Balogun or Isale Oku, though it also could have been all three. This market is a city, not a shopping venue. Just like most other situations in Lagos, or the essence of the city itself, it is very difficult to capture on camera, but above is an attempt.
The first time Augustina and I went to the market, we went on a Wednesday to ‘avoid the crowds’ - there is no such thing in Lagos, but it’s all relative. We just went to scope out the goods, see how much everything costs, who was selling what, etc. We were doing research to best satisfy our NGO budget. It was hot, it was crowded, and it required a great deal of astuteness. This market is not for the faint of heart. There is mud, there are goods stocked in places you would never think existed behind tiny stalls, there are merciless merchants, there is loud music emanating from every which way, cars driving where they have no business driving, okadas incessantly honking, kids crawling at your feet, the stench of dried fish above your head (or below your nose if you’re a little taller), and it goes on. This is not a market for Sunday morning strolls, this is a market for shoppers with a purpose.
We needed to find yellow t-shirts, mosquito nets, soccer balls, tennis balls, whistles, sports bags, notebooks, nametags, and a few other items I can’t recall. We also needed a printer guy for our t-shirts. The first one we find made us follow him for countless streets and corners and into one of those back ends you would never imagine existed. This back end was sketchy - and could not have been our printer anyway because there is no way we would have found this locale again. We were able to get prices for everything, Augustina did the bargaining, and she is ruthless. By the end of hour 3, I, and I suspect we, were ready to go spend the fourth hour of our morning braving traffic sitting in an old, un-airconditioned, Koran blasting taxi cab.
Two weeks later, we were off on our second trip to the same market, and we were ready. This is when the pictures were taken, when I myself could bargain and even lead some of the way. We also managed to buy me some cloth to get dresses made. With forty soccer balls and an equal amount of everything else on the list in tow (ok - so we paid someone to carry them, but I did not reach the ‘carry things on your head status’ yet- not even close), we were out of the market in record time.
Now, I am a seasoned shopper, or, as Augustina said, I handle markets like a Nigerian. That says it all :)
ps: There are more “oyibo-friendly” markets, as they say, around town. Lekki market, in a more affluent part of the city, is notorious for selling goods to visitors. This includes jewelry, masks, leather bags, basically anything you might receive as a gift from ‘Africa’. It is extremely calm and far more manageable, i.e., way less fascinating.