Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jan 06 - Buying and Selling in N'Djamena

After the police and bank, our business affairs in N'Djamena were complete. Zach still had to meet another incoming volunteer on the 7th, so we were staying the night in N'Djamena at "SILS." Zach wasn't completely sure what SILS's purpose was besides offer accommodations to foreign travelers, but it seemed to have something to do with making translations of works into the various Chadian languages, especially the Bible. There was an interesting poster in their office that said "Feeding the 3,000: Did you know there are 3,000 language groups without scripture in their native tongue?" The compound was walled, had running water with a tap of filtered water in each "apartment", mosquito nets for the beds, electricity that work most of the time, a guard at each of the two gates and a clean courtyard: all key parts of accommodation in Chad, and rare in most places.

Spending the night in the capital meant that we would get to take in more of the town than average volunteers, who usually leave on a bus to Bere the same day their flight arrives. This also meant that Zach got to show off what he knew about N'Djamena, a city he seems to really enjoy. He also seemed please that we were likewise ready to jump into the culture, wander around the city and try our hands at cultural experiences. The first of which was the bus or "Cart" (the 't' is silent). Imagine a minivan with 4 wooden benches behind the driver, each bench with 4 people crammed onto each bench, add a loud blaring radio, and the sound of horns and motos passing by within a hair's breadth of the bus, and you've got the basic idea of public transportation in N'Djamena. Zach, who picked up that I knew a little French, asked "Do you know the word for 'stop' in French?" "Um, arrete?" And with a smile Zach replied, "Yep, but on the bus you just yell 'Stop!'" It's an odd spot for this one common bit of English. We picked up our first cart just outside of the SILS compound by waving it down and headed back to the market, this time to wander around and take in the Marchet Central itself.

We actually just crossed through the Market pretty quickly. Truthfully, you wouldn't really be able to dawdle as everyone is crowded around everyone else buying and selling or moving to the next spot to buy and sell. The Grand Market reminded me a lot of Smiley's Flea Market just outside of Asheville, though many of the items were new and there were about equal parts produce and dry goods. Cell phones, cell phone parts, cell phone cases, and Tigo sim Cards were for sale everywhere ... even in Africa, I could not get away from cell phones, and with Tigo (the only major cell provider here) Jessica still checks her email immediately upon waking up before leaving the bed. There are mats, the plastic washing "kettles", lots of patterned cloth, jewelry, cheap bras without tags and styrofoam underwire inserts. Zach particularly pointed out the last and said that he had been told the bras and all underwear in Chad were especially bad. The other thing in the market were the beggar boys.

This was the first time we encountered children's almost universal desire to say hello to the N'saarah, but these children also had little metal bowls. If they asked us for money, it wasn't in French, but they were persistent in walking behind us through the market. At one point, Zach turned around and with a shooing motion said "Allez! Allez!" Go away! and cautioned us that sometimes you just have to tell them to leave. We encountered beggars throughout the city, boys, old men on mats, and one woman with a baby who told me she needed to eat that nearly made me cry. It is probably just as well that I was not in charge of the money while we were in N'Djamena or we likely would have never had any coins, and change is hard to come by as most places and merchants don't like dealing in the larger 5 000 and 10 000 CFA bills. It was hard not to give when asked and I muttered too often "Je suis desolee" I am very sorry to too many people the two days we were in the city.

In addition to the market there plenty of other shops around N'Djamena. I saw appliance shops (Super General brand sold here!), restaurants, bars, LOTS of hair stylists, and construction supplies shops. One popular shop was a place to charge your phone and exchange money for Tigo credit. Most people don't have power in their homes, so these charging stations are a staple. There are even two such stations in Bere, which is a fairly small town. Tigo credit, which covers minutes, texts, and data, is actually another form of currency in addition the CFAs here. Phones are almost like debit cards, and if you know someone's number you can transfer credits from your phone to theirs with a text message ("SMS" here) as payment for services rendered. There were also many roadside stands selling gateux, which Zach recommended to us, but only when freshly made in the morning, cigarettes (though I don't remember seeing anyone smoking), sodas, and more Tigo cards. 

One of my favorite sights in N'Djamena was the manicurists, usually boys around 12-14. As they walk the roadside (sometimes there's a sidewalk) they jingle their nail scissors in their hands as advertisement. When a patron needs a manicure, they stop and sit while the boy trims and cleans their nails right by the roadside.

Another common sight was a moto dealer. An interesting thing about motorcycle dealership laws in Chad: if you buy more than a hundred of a particular moto, you can slap whatever maker's label you want on the tank. Walking by a moto dealer's place you might see 4 or 5 different "makes" on exactly the same Chinese motorcycle. Chinese motorcycles are the most common in Chad, but Honda is the most popular make ... guess which labels you see on more Chinese motorcycles than any other? Most of the cars, on the other hand, are Toyotas, and from my limited knowledge, seem to be genuinely Toyotas.

Perhaps the most interesting market we saw we visited the next day before heading out on the bus. It was a touristy Artisinal Market of "Chadian" goods, most of them made in Cameroon (just across the border) according to Zach, but several of the items in leather he said were probably Chadian in origin. There were some interesting indigenous musical instruments, little hinged lid chests made from leather, leather elephant key-chain fobs that Jessica really liked, and some fairly nice jewelry. But man were the sellers pushy, pushier than anywhere else we've encountered in Chad. "Come look! Best price, best price! Look masks; here you hold, look. Very nice; best price!" at every single one of the dozen or so stalls. Zach didn't even want to go in it was so bad, and we trooped through on our own. That being said, we're planning on going back when we head back to N'Djamena before flying home, so some of you may end up with Chadian or Cameroonian doo-dads (no promises!).

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