Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Mother's Face in the Market

One characteristic of my family members that I’ve always admired is their no-tolerance for BS policy.  It is one thing to humor someone, but quite another to be taken advantage of or lied to.  My father is all about honesty upfront (though his April Fools pranks aren’t to be contended with).  My brother is quiet in sticky situations, but never lets someone play him for a fool.  
   And then there’s Jill P, a.k.a, Mom.  Growing up, I watched my mother turn her take-no-prisoners stubbornness on those unfortunate souls, including myself.  It is a face that many have seen, including some friends-considered-family, and it’s an all-or-nothing set of features; a look that says “you-are-an-idiot-if-you-think-I-will-fall-for-that,” or in other cases, directly stating in her commandeering tone that she won’t be taken advantage of, period. 
   I felt those exact features take up residence on my face today.  My mother, whom I’m told often I resemble extremely closely, was both my shield and my battering ram today as I took on the Mtu Wa Mbu Maasai marketplace. 
   In tourist towns and marketplaces, salesman and shopkeepers are quick to tell you that they’re the ones to give you a “good” price, or the “African” price, as opposed to the tourist price.  I will honestly, and quickly, be the first to tell you that this is almost always a lie.  Salesman are salesman are salesman, and they’re wanting the most money from your pockets.  As a foreigner in Mtu Wa Mbu, or any marketplace of the like, you have to be two things: an aggressive barterer, and a stubborn mule.  If you aren’t comfortable with a price, you walk away. 
   Today was more frustrating than ever before when shopping, and when I become frustrated I find my actions relatable to my mother’s.  My brow is set a little lower, my back is straight, and the tone of my voice drops.  In rare cases of extreme frustration I speak very quietly, with expert enunciation, and I can just feel my mother standing next to me, protecting me from rip-off deals. 
   And with time, and a bit of practice, you find that you hold a great deal of power.  That painting that originally was priced at 85,000 Tz shilling turns out to be sellable for a much lower, much more agreeable 25,000 Tz shilling.  The salesman dogging your heels are not so willing to follow you about and shove necklaces in your face, instead finding that you’re “hapana, sina pesa,” (no, I have no money) means – and I ask that you pardon my French – to “bugger off, I’m not buying.” 
   I am not, by any means, suggesting that you not show respect and be polite.  I encourage politeness, because giving a little brings much into your life.  But never let someone take advantage of you for your separate nationality, and never let someone allow you to feel uncomfortable if you do not wish to purchase their goods.  In the end, your happiness with a price is the key, and if they are unhappy with your price, then maybe they should find a different occupation.
   Metaphorically, you could take this bargaining analogy to a whole new level.
   It was nice “having” my mother with me today.  I never feel far from home, because the characteristics of my loved ones emerge when I need them most.  Today I needed my mother’s back-bone. 
   Who knows, tomorrow I may need my brother’s ability to occupy himself in the most mundane ways, as I’ll be camped out in a classroom for several hours.
I leave you with some more photos of my travels to Tanganire.  Kwa heri.


  1. That face is scary, and no fun to be on the other end of. But its cool that it was helpful. Buy anything really cool at the market?