Kakamega’s outdoor market has its own rustic charm. Ramshackle stalls made of sticks of wood and tin line the main tarmac road and an adjacent area that is right beside the “down town.” Although every day is market day in Kakamega, on Wednesday and Saturday, the market place becomes larger and livelier with more vendors from the surrounding agricultural countryside.
It’s mostly a food market. When you see the beautiful produce available in large quantities, it’s hard to remember that just a few hundred kilometres from Kakamega in NE Kenya, there is a famine. Why doesn’t the food get from here to there? Given the unpaved state of many of the roads I’ve travelled in the past two weeks and the narrow main road with no centre line, I would say the absence of a transportation system.
But back to the food, one of the major preoccupations of my life. Here is what is currently available. Tomatoes, mounds and mounds of them. Onions, pungent local garlic, Chinese garlic (!), potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, green peppers, kale, chard, cow peas and other greens we don’t know, peas, carrots, hefty cabbages, bananas, plantains, watermelon, oranges, lemons, apples, cucumbers, pineapple, huge avocadoes, mounds of dried beans and lentils. I can buy a load of fruit and veggies for 3 days for a couple of Canadian dollars.
There are dried tilapia, live termites, and fried termites. I think I can live without trying the termites. I can also live without buying chunks of soil (I kid you not) to eat; I was told some folks think it satisfies the appetite and provides iron. I saw rows of cages of live chickens for sale; people prefer to eat really fresh chicken. For that matter, everything I buy is ripe or almost ripe and best eaten right away. There is little refrigeration here and the food doesn’t hold beyond a day or two. Which means I spend a lot of time at the food stalls.
The second most obvious commodity is clothes. Pile after pile after pile of used clothing, shoes, and purses attract buyers who try them on right on the street. All this clothing is very cheap – and it makes me very sad.
I see few women wearing colourful bright cotton fabric outfits topped with a bandana, West African clothing that breathed and laughed. Instead, bland western clothing , made of polyester and synthetics, prevails. After two visits, I found only a few stalls selling sarong fabrics. Am I regretting my trips with cast offs to the Sally Ann?
There are also stalls with locally produced tin pots and sandals made from tires, straw brooms and a little pottery, one stall with woven goods – but otherwise no crafts and local wear. What we know about markets is that they sell what people want – and here they want food and used clothing. The practical.
Some of the locals very much like the brand new Nakumatt superstore in town ; I shop there, too, because it is closeby and one stop shopping. It joins a few small supermarkets in town. And behind hoarding on the main drag, a new concrete structure is under construction. This will be the new municipal market, meant to replace the wooden stalls. When it is finished, Kakamega will be neater and more modern – yet maybe not so interesting.
(More info on Kenyan taxes which I continue to track down.. Apparently, there are various taxes. The problem(s) lie in their administration, I’m told.)