For the love of bao

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“Be there by 6.00am and dress the part. They might overcharge you if you are dressed stunningly… Remember to exercise patience too, ukitafuta haraka hautapata. A hurried eye cannot find anything appealing! Just shop nice and slow…She said. Nice and slow got me thinking.

I am going through a mental checklist of what Shie said I needed in order to get something nice out of a flea market. The first and ‘last’ time I was there, I promised my feet that they would step there ever again. It was one early rainy morning. I had worn sandals as usual. I waded with my open feet in mud, slid and almost fell on several occasions! At some point my sandal got stuck in mud, and in attempt to pull it out, it tore. But it was not the frustration of the walk that made me swear never to set my foot there again, it was the way I had to keep turning the heap of clothes up and down to reach the ones at the bottom with the hope of getting lucky. A Louis Vuitton, Fendi or Gucci wear maybe shipped to the country after being worn once by those men and women who throw cash and notes of low value to dustbins.

indexbThose sellers must know the frustration of finding a diamond among a thousand stones: and so they sing to the buyers soothingly. “Ni ya bao, ni ya bao!…mari yote? Bao! Pepram? Bao! Gogo wazi? Bao! Harita? (Halter), Bao!..Shifon? Bao! Spaghetti nayo? Bao! Madressi camera? Bao! …Beba na? Bao tuuu… The rhythm of the melody is so saccharine that it gives you the energy to overturn those heaps. You sweat everywhere, even the earlobes. All for the love of bao.

“Why do you stress yourself like so?” I asked her after getting myself some few pieces.

Do we have a choice? Student budgets don’t always allow you to walk to shopping malls and boutiques to buy clothes. And these clothes are even better than those others, very unique and durable… Ubaya wa zile za supermarket ni ati ziko na kila mtu… She went on and on but I wasn’t listening. No amount of talk would convince me that I needed to go through all the morning hustle to get something decent to wear. After all, those Gikomba women who come at night can always drop by our rooms with a well chosen collection. Paying extra was just okay if that is what they went through all the time. That was then!

Tables are turned now, paying the extra is not okay anymore. (Just for today.) I am trending on acute budget constraints after blowing my rainy day fund over the festive season. January has never been this tough since I knew money. There is a holiday ahead I cannot miss. The cool kids crew will be having week’s holiday at the beach, and hell, I cannot miss it! That ‘something’ called positive peer pressure looks like this. I read that in your twenties, travel should be part of your budget. That we should invest in experiences and memories.

I woke up in the morning glowing with euphoria after a dream that I was Sasha, or was it Malia? Then I saw my sticky notes with a bold title: Beach budget. It reminded me that the Sasha/Malia thing was a DREAM, the Obama’s do not know that budgets like this are a reality. The amount available for expenditure did not fit to appear on the same page with the word beach… Calling home for more money was not an option.. I’m I the only one who freaks out when about to ask for more money? The type who will call determined to say they have no money and even adopt a very timid almost inaudible voice. But after hearing the tone on the other side of the phone telling them to speak up, the adrenaline rush makes them start asking awkward questions like: “Has it rained? Mmm, and how are the crops doing? Chicken? Cows? ‘Owkaaay’… And you are all okay? …oh nice. Salamu tu! End of conversation.

So after a thorough consultation with my heart, soul and mind, I concluded that the flea market was the only place that would understand and accommodate my badly dented pockets. I have a habit of wearing my best wear whenever broke to help me forget that I am, and I did just that. Rule number two broken. But I remembered to carry closed shoes. If I had gumboots, I would carry them; and cross my fingers that the law of encounter would not apply. It says that the probability of meeting someone you know or who knows you increases with the number of times you wish you will not meet them. It’s even higher when you are in dreadful places you expressly told them you did not even know how people reach there!

And here I am, in a matatu headed to this flea market, call it X…seated next to an old man who just won’t stop staring at my torso. It makes me want to slide forward and hide my boobs, almost the same way we used to just when we were getting into real teenage years. A girl with big titis at that age got a great deal of weird attention to an extent that she preferred being in buggy wear all the time…I was one of those. It is the deliberate rubbing his arm on my chest which drifts my attention. Old man, Old ratchet man!

“Hmpf! what the freaking hell is wrong with this idiot?”(Rolls eyes )….Aloud I sensitively ask: “Nikusaidiaje mkubwa?”

I’ll be very honest, I want to snarl at him blow his ears with a piece of my mind. My chest is mine! Mine and mine’s. What is happening to these old men, thinking that they can lay their hands on just anything that looks spongy. It’s okay to look, you can even use magnifying glasses if you so wish. But for heavens sake just DO NOT touch me. Too bad I cannot bring myself to disrespect he who has lived longer, lest he curses me.

“Funga dirisha” He tells me with a witchy smile … Seems I wasn’t even wrong after all, is it that hard to insert a polite word when making a request?

As we draw closer to this market, I am thinking about how many souls it has saved. The wanna-be(s) desperate to be in designer wear or designer wear look-alike at the cheapest option. The market gives them the illusion that they are there, already. It’s an accomplice in the ‘fake it until you make it’ anthem. The young entrepreneurs who will spend the so pronounced bao (twenty shillings only), and conveniently charge upto several thousands for the same: depending on the buyer at hand. After cleaning and ironing the wear, they are allowed to lie to you that it was shipped from their cousins in North Carolina. Thank me later for introducing to one of the theories in selling: The need satisfaction theory. In brief, this theory suggests mutual satisfaction to both a buyer and a seller. For the seller, it’s only obvious that they stand to gain financially in the sale. The buyer? Their needs should be met, but truth is, these needs are not inherently there. We create them, by actively probing what you think you lack, by appealing to the prospective buyers insecurities and spontaneously shifting your value proposition to hit right at the softest of their insecure spots. The features, advantages and benefits of the product suddenly appear like they were perfectlytailored for this potential buyer. A seller does not appeal to common sense, but to the prospects’ fears that they do not measure up, and that they are missing an important part by not having the product or service. And so these sellers smoothly manage to appeal to your need to have the experience of imported wear on the skin. People buy at that set price. (Hundred fold)…and out of that, a living is made. Bills are paid and meals put on the table. The market also builds talents too. I just caught myself thinking, what if one of those big shots who run big talent shows on music passed by there one day, and listened to the melodious voices of baobaoooo, and by chance the seller inserted that prolonged vocal where the voice sounds like you are crying but also singing. Like that infamous Taylor swift song, I knew you were trouble. Not the original version, the whatsapp video with a goat enhancement. And this talent hunter figured some bitonality in the seller’s tunes, and got utterly impressed and vwa! Picked him for the next big show. Just like that, life would forever change for this lucky seller. From baobao to the next big tune in the charts of fame!

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