Kaolack is home to the second largest covered market in Africa, the largest is somewhere in Morocco. The market takes up 4-5 full blocks and is full of people selling just about anything – though not much of real quality. There dozens of boutiques that sell mostly small food stuffs like the bouillon cubes that are used in every Senegalese dish, pasta, rice, butter, powdered milk, instant coffee, sugar, etc – all of which can be bought it absolutely any quantity. For example, at a boutique one can buy a carton of cigarettes, or they can buy one cigarette – either way, much cheaper than in the US by the way, one can buy a tub of margarine or they can buy 20 CFA (4 cents) worth of margarine smeared on a piece of paper. Boutiques are also found in residential areas, in towns and in some villages.
In the market fresh food can also be bought. There is a fish market that stinks to high heaven and has scales all over the floor. There are several places were fresh veggies can be bought and there is also a butchery type area that I try to avoid. No matter what the food, there are usually dozens of flies buzzing around each table and crawling over all the food, this doesn’t bother me, I can’t remember if it ever did. There is also a bigger, open room that appears to be devoted to spices. There are several tables set up with rice sacks overflowing with spices that I couldn’t begin to tell you what they are, but all mixed together they certainly smell funky.
The Fukki Jaay section is a bunch of stands selling second hand clothes, mostly from the U.S. and Europe. It is usually quite entertaining to see the Senegalese walking around in these t-shirts that are so out of place, and its also entertaining to look through the piles, I always get a kick out of seeing a shirt that connects back to my life in the states, and the other day I saw a Family Land, Wisconsin Dells shirt and a WIAA Okonomowoc Girls State Basketball tshirt. I keep wondering if some of the clothes my family has donated has ended up here, I did see a pair of Umbro shorts the other day that looked very familiar.
In the clothes department there are also slightly nicer looking shops that sell knockoffs of Puma, Adidas, Nike, Dolce and Gabana, Converse, you name it. They also sell the newer looking of the second hand t-shirts – I had a guy try to sell me the t-shirt off his back the other day, it said “Democrats are sexier. Who ever heard of a fine piece of elephant?” In the end I offered a price lower than they would except because I knew that its just funnier on a young Senegalese man who doesn’t know what it says.
There are also rows and rows of fabric shops and tailors. I have heard that the fabric here is cheaper because it comes in, illegally no doubt, from the Gambia. There are some plain, colored fabrics in just about any color you could want but there are also some great patterns that often incorporate something like cell phones, chickens, the New York Yankees symbol or (like one of my fabrics) umbrellas and parasols. Many of these fabrics have color combinations that I’m sure would be found atrocious by most westerners, but, as I found when I went shopping with my aunt and neighbour for fabric for my Tabaski outfit, Senegalese think is beautiful. I ended up getting a fabric that has orange and a deep burgundy along with turquoise, and I think it has a mosque or something on it. To get a woman’s outfit made, 3 to 4 meters of fabric are needed and together with what the tailor charges the total cost is usually about $20 – 10,000 CFA.
The market has a very narrow aisle of beauty supply stores that sell hair, hair products and shoes, some clothes. The hair is sold in plastic packages, I’m not sure if one package is enough to complete extensions on an entire head and I’m not sure how much they cost, but I do know that it took sessions of several hours per day for 3 days for my aunt to finish this woman’s hair for Tabaski. The hair was black at the top and reddish pink at the bottom, which must have been stylish this year because I saw a lot of it. I may be nuts but I’m thinking of trying out the fake hair. I’m curious, and here everyone does it, I wouldn’t be able to get away with it back home. I’ll be sure to take pictures if I ever do get that crazy.
The rest of the market is made up of random shops that sell jewellery, peanuts, ready made Senegalese clothes, office supplies, cell phones and Senegalese household and kitchen supplies. The paths that lead between the shops are cement slabs, some of which are covering a crude drainage system. Some of this drainage system is uncovered so I find myself looking down much of the time so I don’t step into something unsavoury. This also gives some parts of the market a…distinct odor. There are also public toilettes that I really hope I NEVER have to use.
The market is sort of set in a grid and the walkways are pretty narrow, some of them are very narrow and tend to cause traffic jams on the average day, but leading up to Tabaski it was a while different story. The market was jam packed with people trying to buy stuff for the holiday. I was constantly being shoved and having to shove to get anywhere. It was absolutely nuts in there.
All that being said, I have to say that the market is one of my favorite places in Kaolack, even with the vendors tripling the price for me because I’m white, even with the annoying but necessary haggling, even with the less than pleasant smells, I look forward to learning my way around it and meeting the people that work there. I think it’s because it makes me feel like I am really in Africa when I’m making my way through the maze.