The Market

I am lucky by Peace Corps standards. I can get lettuce every day of the week.

Where others are happy to have a market every 6 or 7 days, I live in the second largest city in the country. That means I can find fun things like onions, lettuce, green peppers, and wonderful wonderful soy cheese (how I crave protein!) at the Grande Marché (main market) EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK! When I go to visit friends I usually bring along a large bag of food to put a little meat on their skinny skinny frames (Peace Corps diet works WONDERS!) Some of my friends have to bike 4km to find a loaf of bread, other friends are lucky if they can get tomatoes in their village.

I usually stop at the market on my way home from teaching. The market is a large concrete structure (uncommon except in the largest cities) with wooden framed and metal roofed stalls overflowing on all sides. I usually park my bike at the Post Office across the street. In getting to the post office I cross a lane of oncoming motorcycle, ox cart, car, and people traffic. I swear that crossing will be the death of me! But it will be worth it for all the wonderful food it has given me.

I lock my bike with the blue Chinese made (everything comes from China around here. God bless Globalization's cheap prices) bike lock and cross back over the street. All Peace Corps volunteers have "their lady" at the market. All that means is the one veggie seller who was lucky enough to be nice to you on your first week at post that you have continued to go back to. My lady has a great smile and very fresh veggies. To get to her stand I need to duck into a small covered walkway boarded by stands on both sides leaving about 2 feet of space to walk. The first stand on the right as you enter the small walkway sells rice. They probably have 7 or 8 different types of rice in huge bowls sitting open, waiting for some nice person to take some home. On the left is a stand with the same large bowls only filled with beautifully orange palm oil. You usually buy it in small slender see through bags that are kept in yet another bowl. They kind of remind me of buying fish when I was little and the fish store guy putting them in bulging, water filled plastic bags, only here it is palm oil and smaller.

The next stand sells fetish items. The three main religions of Togo are Christianity, Islam, and Animism (aka Voodoo) A fetish stand sells things for voodoo ceremonies: gnarly bone handled knives, different size rusty and non-rusty nails (gotta be able to chose!), an assortment of dried skins and furs from something that used to be alive, and powders of all color and consistency. Animism is an old religion still practiced by many people in West Africa. I have friends that live in small villages (small villages way out in the wild are the biggest practicers of the traditional religion) who tell stories of Witch Doctors doing demon dances, chicken sacrificing (what a nice welcome!), and other interesting (sometimes kind of scary) stories. I don't see much of it as I live in a largely Muslim city. The extent of my exposure to the practices are the occasional talisman (string with various things from the fetish table attached to it) hanging in a tree next to a house to ward of spirits.

After the fetish stand I enter the concrete structure that houses most of the food sellers. All the ladies that work in this corner section know me and try to get my business. But I walk, saying hi to everyone, and head straight for my lady. She always has a great pile of lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers, green beans, and the occasional (what a great day when they are there!) eggplant. Everything is ordered by price. For example I say I want 100 CFA (that's 100 West African Francs, equal to about 20 cents) of lettuce, 100 of cucumber, and 200 of eggplant (that comes out to 4 small heads of leaf lettuce, 1 cucumber, and 1 or 2 medium eggplants). She puts it all into one of the ubiquitous black plastic bags, adds a cadeu (Present in French) of a pile of green beans. I then look for someone with nice tomatoes. Everyone specialises in a couple of veggies, selling only them. Tomato sellers always stack their tomatoes in pyramid piles of either 50 or 100 CFA (10 or 20 cents). For that you get about 4-6 small tomatoes. I finally leave followed by calls to buy potatoes, more tomatoes, and all other sorts of wares. I cross back over the street and get a loaf of bread for another 100CFA that's a soft crusted baguette (one of the only good things the French did in Africa (I like to pick on the French) was teach people how to make bread.) I finally unlock my bike and head home.

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