Monday, March 11, 2013

Kelly the Market Woman



On the stairs at the main entrance.
When Gustave Eiffel designed Dakar’s ornate Marche Kermel in the mid 1800s, he probably never imagined that, more than 150 years later, a beautiful young lady from Maine would make it her No. 1 grocery shopping venue.

Surrounded by traffic-jammed alleyways and child beggars packed with hawkers that speak little French behind rows of vegetable, fruit, fish and meat stalls, the lofty circular building in the centre of Dakar’s buzzing downtown area would intimidate most expats.

But not Kelly.


She arrives nearly every week, often wearing a brightly coloured African shirt, and always carrying her huge grass woven basket to fill with whatever’s in season.  


“Salamu Aleikum,” Kelly says – Arabic for God be with you – as she crosses beneath the high arching threshold and into the melee.  “Nangadef?” she adds – Wolof for how are you? Responses flood back from the market workers who, after three and a half years, now know Kelly well and seem to admire her.


“Ana wa keur?” they say – How is the family? “Et les jumeaux?” they say – How are the twins?Three languages so far, none of them English, and Kelly is in her element – a South Portlander in Senegal’s oldest and most storied urban markets.  Built in 1860 during the French colonial period, Kermel burnt to the ground in 1993. It considered such an important landmark – mingling colonial history, gorgeous architecture, and local color, - that it was rebuilt in 1997 in strict adherence to its initial structure and decoration.


On special weeks, Laird and Dylan accompany Kelly to the market. They tromp through puddles in their firemen and frog boots, often receiving many gifts from vendors. Laird and Dylan - who are called 'Ouseinou' and 'Assane' in Senegal according to the tradition that governs the naming of twins - are admired and adored. Like all twins, they are considered a special Gift from God. Senegalese believe that if a mother has three sets of twins, she wins a free pass to heaven when she dies. Just 2 more sets to go! Strangers tend to stop Laird and Dylan in the market, shake their hands, and touch their own hearts. After the greeting, they put a gift of fruit in their hands. Laird and Dylan leave the market with bellies full of tangerines, clementines, apples, and bananas.

In her early days in Kermel, Kelly had to haggle. In Senegal, negotiation is a method of getting to know someone. A person who caves easily has a weak character, and can expect to get little respect. One who can remain polite while whittling down the price with reasonable counter-offers and arguments, sprinkled with kind words of respect, is warmly appreciated. Kelly inherited a mastery for winning bargains – probably from her father – and has earned a record of halving prices almost effortlessly. (She once got a high-five from a street vendor who sold her a bag slightly over cost after four days of on-and-off discussions).


Now, though, the haggling is not required. Kelly is loved at Kermel and gets the local price for anything she wants, although she always leaves a 'cadeux' in their hand.



                           


                                                            

Kelly in action.

Enjoying a gift of oranges.

Fresh fish, caught this morning.





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