Tuesday, August 30, 2011


So you survived. You decided to stay at least for a while. You are renting a house with a generator and you take your anti-malaria pills regularly. Sometimes on a night out you want to enjoy the breeze and you wear shorts so your carry your insect repellent spray that makes you smell like agro-chemicals. But you will stay in Nigeria. God will bless you.

But there is a problem. You have been going to the big mall with bright lights and straight colorful aisles complete with signs and directions. What is the use of leaving malls in your country with all the processed food and come here to the same thing? After all, this is Africa where everything is as God made it abi? So you need to conquer your fear of savage Africans, kidnappers, suicide bombers, and those guys killing each other in the name of foreign religions- all those things they wrote in your travel advisory. It’s time to fold your sleeves and enter the market. But wait! Not without these tips.

You might want get rid of that ugly, wide brimmed hat and dark sunglasses. It makes you look like a tourist with plenty of foreign currency. Consequently you will pay 5 times the amount for anything you buy. Be wise. You will not lose your skin. Use a little sunscreen if you have to. You are already white; don’t attract more attention to yourself. You might want to avoid open shoes- not many markets have their paths paved with concrete.

If you don’t like being touched or heckled, then you will need to get used to it very quickly. Your arms will be held, your shirt pulled, you will be dragged. If you are white, (or even almost white), you will be called ‘Oyibo’ in the market and whistled at. Don’t go feeling like a celebrity with paparazzi all around and lose yourself. They don’t love you. It’s your money they want- they do it to us too. Just keep moving until you find the item that you are looking for.

Someone will follow you and ask you what you are looking for. Ignore him. You need to find your own way. You may get lost but all will be well. Learning a few words of pidgin might help and even if they laugh at your pronunciation, it will give you leverage for your bargaining.

Now, you have found the item you want. Don’t try to be too friendly or smile. Don’t take his friendliness for niceness. He is not nice. There are no exceptions. You ask, ‘How much’. (It might help to ask for the market price of the item you want to buy from your driver or security guard before going to the market). He will look at you and without any fear or shame mention an amount that should give you a heart attack. The temptation will be strong but No, don’t do it- don’t do a mental conversion to dollars or pounds or whatever superior currency your country has. That would just mess things up in your head.

Whatever price he tells you, divide by 4 if it is an item of clothing, electronics (or if the man is Igbo). Divide by two if it is a food item (or if the man is Hausa). Now the mentality of the Hausa Muslim trader is quite different from that of the Igbo trader. If the market is in the north especially, the Hausa Muslim trader is likely to come close to the actual market price after one or two tries accompanied by a plea in the name of God. (This is changing with a few Hausa traders who live and trade in the South. So in the South treat them all the same.)

Don’t be afraid to call a low price. Never buy at the first or second store except it is a food item and you like what you see. Leave the store if you don’t get the bargain you want and try as many stores as you have the time for. After three or four stores, you will begin to have a fair idea of the real market price.

Sometimes you will ask for an item that the store owner doesn’t have. If he has to leave his store to get it, ask him not to bother. The idea is simple: he will get it from another store and usually add his own little profit to the market price. You have legs, walk out yourself and look for it.

Even if you have struck a bargain, do not be afraid to abandon it if at any time before you pay for it you have a feeling the price isn’t right. If it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t right. Don’t be fooled by words like, ‘this is the last price’, ‘even I didn’t get it at that price’, ‘you can’t get it anywhere for that amount’ or my personal favorite ‘I am giving you this price because it is you’-as if the bugger ever knew you before!

You will be sweaty, your shoes might get muddy, your shirt and hands will have the finger prints of scores of traders, you will nearly lose your voice haggling, but it will be rewarding. At home you will lay out the items you have bought and cherish them, knowing how much work it took to get them at the right price. As you step into the shower to wash off that sweat and dirt, you will feel a sense of fulfillment that no mall with artificial lights can give you, a sense of achievement. You will say to yourself, thank God I came to this wonderful country.

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