Yesterday (Tuesday), I spent a lovely morning in town with Cat running errands and getting my visa renewed. ‘But Paula, you are leaving Monday!’ you might exclaim, and you would be correct. I had initially gotten a 60 day renewal back in June, which covered me for the rest of my time here; however, by heading on my excursion to Zambia and Botswana (aka leaving the country) I invalidated it. Coming back in, I noticed that I had 34 days until my departure, but was unable to convince (monetarily or with my words) the immigration office at the border to give me those extra 4 days on top of the standard 30-day tourist visa.
The visa renewal took far less time than I expected, so I met Cat in the fabric market and we walked around chatting with the women who ran the stalls. We then went to the chapati place in the food market for lunch. It’s nothing more than a small open stall with a roof, but the food is fantastic. We scarfed down two chapatis with beans and salad apiece, while chatting with the other patrons.
One of the more notable conversations that were had while here was when we first walked in. A man complimented Cat on her traditional Malawian wear (she was wearing a Malawian dress) and then asked her “How much for your friend?” After a pause, we realized he was asking if he could buy me from her. I’m not sure how serious he was being, but Cat was nice enough to tell him that I was not hers to sell. After a quick glance towards me, I definitively, but politely, said “No”.
Next stop was to the food market, so I could pick-up a few things to restock my kitchen. Again we chatted with the vendors and I snapped a few photos. Here is where you can find tables full of vegetables, fruits, beans, meats and fish. Basically, almost everything.
For those few things you can’t get at market (peanut butter, tea, cleaning supplies), you go to the nearby Chipiku or Peoples (Malawi versions of grocery stores). Since the roads are so terrible, it is sometimes a crap shoot whether or not what you are looking for will be in stock. I spent 3 weeks waiting for oats to make their way to the shelves and there has been a tragic shortage of Garlic Nali (hot sauce) since I arrived.
An alley in the food market
While at first it was completely overwhelming, weaving through the tight aisles and maneuvering around stands and food is quite enjoyable. The photo above does not accurate in how crowded the market usually is, and the spaces between tables can maybe fit two people side-by-side. As well, after a few visits you learn that there are different areas within the market- fruit (or I as I call it the banana stands), vegetables, rice, meat, etc. are all situated near each other with little exception. The vendors also setup in the same place each day.
Beans and popcorn
Everything is out in the open, so I always soak the fruit and vegetables I may eat raw (peppers, tomatoes, etc.) in a bleach solution before placing in the fridge. While I have tried to be super careful about food, considering the field and research I am in, I also do things like eat at the chapati place and get samosas from the guys in the street who wander around with buckets of fried food and small pieces of plastic. The food is just too tasty to worry about getting sick sometimes.
All beans and rice are sold by the ‘serving container’ which can vary from vendor to vendor
I have vendors I go back to again and again because of the quality of their food, their fair prices and quantity of ‘prize’ (prize is the extra tomato or scoop of beans they throw in beyond what you pay for), and the ease of which it is to get to their stall. I am a huge fan of when they look at me, smile and say “PRIZE” before placing whatever extra into my bag.
My tomato, garlic and onion lady. After I took this photo she told me that she was like my mother and I was her daughter, so I couldn’t forget her when I went home
There is an unwritten way the vendors display their food. Tomatoes are always stacked with three on the bottom and 2 additional tomatoes stacked on top (see picture above).
My green beans and peas man
Green beans are displayed in small piles, and peppers are in small stacks of 3 or 4 (but similar to the tomatoes). Onions are sold in bunches of 3, carrots in 4 or 5, depending on size.
Besides the normal items you expect to find here, there are always some surprises, like skewers of mice and unidentifiable fruit.
Cat and I couldn’t figure out what the spiky fruit on the far left was
The food is definitely fresher here than in the US, and I going grocery shopping is certainly more exciting than simply going to a Giant or Kroger. I definitely prefer the open markets (and prices) here in Malawi, and will miss it terribly when I leave.