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On red soil


If you’ve ever been to Camden in London, you know how a cool market should be: packed with interesting people and smells, all kinds of goods pouring into the streets from full stalls sidelining the narrow streets. Now multiply Camden’s size and atmosphere by at least 10 and you come a bit closer to understanding the full monty of Kariakoo.

Kariakoo is an area southwest of the Dar es Salaam city centre, covering some 20 blocks of streets. Each street has an unwritten theme, so that one is lined with shops selling kitchenware, another with baby stuff, then one with mobile phones, bags, clothes, textiles, vegetables, spices, electronics, shoes, sewing machines, bicycles. You name it, they’ve got it. Guidebooks warn that Kariakoo is “not for the faint-hearted”, that one shouldn’t go there alone (especially if you’re not a Swahili-speaker) and that it’s best to leave all valuables at home. I might agree with all of those, but it’s definitely an experience not to be missed.

First time I went there, I had the company of my two flatmates and I think we managed quite well, bargaining for cheap kitchen utensils and other accessories for our apartment. At one point though we noticed that a man was following us, so we stopped by a street vendor selling watermelon slices to pass the time and check if he actually was tracing our footsteps. Not to our surprise, he did stop by the same watermelon stand but found it increasingly hard to go unnoticed. While one flatmate ate a slice of watermelon extremely slowly in 15 minutes, he had time to take two and even scramble through all his pockets to find money to pay for them. After paying he didn’t leave though, so one of my flatmates got another watermelon slice and started eating it even slower. Our stalker friend was now perplexed, what to do when he already paid for two watermelons? Obviously he got another one, and started the process again of going through all his pockets to find the money, even though he quite certainly knew where they were. So there we stood, polepole (extensively used Swahili word meaning “slowly”) eating the watermelons and the poor guy had to come up with another reason to still be standing by the same stand. So what does he do? He picks out a camera and starts taking pictures of us, at which point I turn around in annoyance. He then comes over and presents himself as a reporter while dragging out a small notepad and pen from his shirt pocket. All the following and waiting just for a little story seemed a bit fishy though. And here comes the funny part, his first (and only), insightful question: “can you tell me the benefits of this cucumber (pointing at the watermelons) in your body?” My answer to him was “that’s a watermelon”, and so we walked off. He didn’t follow, and I think my ‘evil eye’ (some of you know what I’m talking about!) also played a part in it. Anyway, all is well that ends well.

We later found out that there are two different Kariakoos. There’s ‘Kariakoo’ that we went to, and then there’s ‘deep Kariakoo’. So together with our landlady’s daughter and her Tanzanian friends we went to ‘deep Kariakoo’ last Saturday. The deep ends of the market are found around the main hall, a massive block of concrete where inside you can find all your lost or stolen goods and much more. We also went underground into a cellar, which turned out to be the biggest food market I’ve ever seen, piles of tomatoes, potatoes, rice, sugar cane, cassava, avocados, limes rising among the many people bargaining for them. A lot of Tanzanians do their shopping here as the sheer amount of stuff makes it easy to get the price down. For whites it’s a bit more difficult, but again we managed. Got a pair of hand-made and hand-decorated maasai sandals for 10,000Tsh (c. 5€), when at the next shop a guy tried to sell the same sandals for a price of 24,000Tsh per pair. You can’t fool me that easily!

Nevertheless, we have another successful shopping experience in Kariakoo behind us. While it’s incredibly liberating to not walk around with any valuables other than some cash for your shopping and keys to get back home, the flipside is that no camera = no pictures. The ones I’ve posted here are found on the internet, as even though I’ve written nearly 1000 words about Kariakoo now, pictures say so much more.



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