Going shopping is a little different here at Msalato. The biggest change to adjust to has been that there is nothing like the one-stop shopping you can do in the US. Stores here are generally specialized – you can’t buy minor office supplies at the place you buy food, and if you want a printer, your best bet is to hunt down a printer store – not an easy feat! A big part of learning to shop here has simply been getting to know the city of Dodoma and finding all the different specialized stores.
Another trick has been learning the names of more obscure items. Ben and I stopped at countless storefronts selling small household supplies and honed our miming skills trying to find someone who sells clothespins. Finally I had the brilliant idea to ask our house mama the Swahili word for clothespins. We are still on the hunt, but at least now we can figure out when someone is not selling them with relative ease!
After we had been into city shops a number of times, we were ready to step it up a notch and go to the city market. We went with our next door neighbor, a native Kenyan who speaks fluent Swahili, and that was a great help. He introduced us to all his go-to vendors for rice, bananas, and all sorts of fresh vegetables. Certain things like butter are extremely expensive here, but vegetables are not, so I think we are going to be eating a lot healthier for the next year!
I spent the night before our trip studying up on Swahili vegetable names and especially numbers, and it really paid off! It was great fun to be able to name most of the items we purchased and understand the prices people told us. Ben and I have been working on our greetings, but adding some marketplace Swahili means I can actually have a conversation of several sentences back and forth with someone. This is even more indispensable at the Saturday market in the village of Msalato A. Ben and I walked there this weekend and business is conducted completely in Swahili or the local language, Chigogo. We navigated the maze of stalls and blankets – still no sign of clothespins! – but my favorite part was that all along the 3 kilometer walk to and from the market we were able to greet our neighbors along the way. I think it made us both feel more a part of our local community to be able to talk and share the common activity of market day.
The market sells a great variety of foods, from staples like tomatoes, onions, and potatoes to all sorts of spices and these enormous piles of dried fish and prawns. I love seeing all the colorful produced stacked next to each other and I love the sense of abundance when I see huge collections of bananas or pineapples hanging from all the rafters. Ben was on a quest to find hot peppers. We knew the word for peppers – “pilipili”, but we weren’t sure the ones we were offered would really be spicy. We bought a ton of them so we could try different types – an experiment that cost us about one US dollar in total. And they were certainly spicy! Ben drank about three glasses of powdered milk after taking a bite of the most innocent looking variety. Now I am just trying to find a way to cook with them and still be able to eat the result!