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On red soil

Marvelous machingas

I think I’ve seen everything now. The creativity of salesmen here in Dar never fails to amaze me, and I’m beginning to doubt there’s anything you can’t buy on the street.

During the first few weeks here I marvelled at the machingas (Swahili word for ‘marching guys’ aka street sellers) shuffling their coins while screaming maji maji maji! or making squeawky sounds with their mouths to attract the attention of anyone wanting to buy water on the street, and those walking around with big trays of cigarettes, peanuts and watches.

When I started getting a ride home from my colleague most days after work, I also became familiar with the salesmen walking between cars during rush hour. There is the usual selection of cashew nuts, cassava chips, apples, cups, mugs, plates, chefs hats, cowboy hats, rat poison, street signs, phone top-up vouchers, plastic containers, rubber ducks, inflated life-size Spiderman figures, garden scissors to cut bushes with, flutes, Christmas trees, CDs. If you drive up to the peninsula (also known as the diplomat ghetto, i.e. it’s a rich area), you’ll also note that the commerce takes an upmarket notch, with products ranging from The Economist magazine and flower bouquets to puppies. There’s a place for everything.

I’m beginning to get so used to all these salesmen that the things I hear myself saying about them are pretty hilarious, if put in another context. For example, a few days ago as I was sitting in my colleague’s car, after having bought an ice lolly worth 300Tsh from an ice cream salesman race-biking between cars to catch up with our moving vehicle, I look up to the other side of the car and see a man selling DVDs. In all seriousness, I ask my flatmate sitting next to me “who actually buys DVDs when they’re in the car? You usually buy them at the bar”. That’s right, not in shops, but in bars. When you go to the local joint and sit down, before you even have a chance to take the first sip of your Kilimanjaro, Safari, Ndovu or Serengeti lager, there’s already a huge pile of fake DVDs on the table in front of you, with a very excited man standing by, waiting for you to browse through and buy some DVDs off him.

Today, as I was crammed in daladala during rush hour, I had time to once again look at the salesmen passing by. Between the cashew nuts and mugs came not one but two men walking with aquariums on their head, picking them down to show the swimming fish and swaying algae to drivers waiting to press the gas pedal. I doubt I was the only one smiling at this sight. Now all I need is to see a pig fly.

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