Come See an African Market
ONE of the best ways to explore the culture, customs, and cuisine of a country is to visit a market. There you can observe the local people, taste their food, and buy their wares. You will also meet colorful traders who do their utmost to communicate with you—whatever your language.
You would be hard-pressed to find more fascinating markets than those in Africa. They teem with people and products of every sort imaginable. There you can feel the pulse of Africa. Come with me to visit a typical market here in Douala, Cameroon.
Getting to Market the African Way
In many large African cities, the cheapest and quickest way to go to the market is by getting a ride on a motorbike. On almost every street corner, motorbike riders offer their services. If you pluck up enough courage, you can arrange for one of them to give you a ride. In Cameroon, this popular system of transport is unbeatable for both price and speed.
For the less adventurous, more conventional taxis are also abundant. Several passengers will often pile into the same vehicle to share the cost.
Hundreds of Stalls
The first-time visitor to the market may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and stalls along the streets. Hordes of people, including children, carry merchandise on their heads. A closer look reveals that their baskets contain live chickens, peeled oranges, and assorted medicines, among other items.
Hundreds of wooden countertops are laden with such vegetables as cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, squashes, string beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yams, and various types of lettuce. Visitors from a different continent may not recognize all the produce, as some items are local favorites not common outside Africa. Perhaps the most colorful stalls are those selling red and yellow peppers, so fresh that they glisten in the morning sun. Many stalls offer avocados, bananas, grapefruit, melons, pineapples, oranges, and lemons. They look so appetizing, and the prices are tempting! Yams, cassava, and rice—the mainstays of local produce—are also well represented, along with imported onions and garlic.
In one of Douala’s markets, many of the stallholders belong to the Hausa and the Fula peoples. These merchants stand out because of their typical long blue, white, or yellow robes called gandouras or boubous and their friendly greeting in the Fulfulde language. A relaxed atmosphere is part of the market environment. On this visit, one stallholder, Ibrahim, selects three big onions and hands them to me as a gift. “Tell your wife to fill them with spicy rice and cook them slowly,” he recommends.
A little farther along, freshly butchered meat—mostly beef and goat—is for sale. Strong men carry huge carcasses on their shoulders and dump them onto tables. The butchers, brandishing long knives with dexterity, invite customers to choose their cut of meat. Live goats, chickens, and pigs are also on sale for customers who prefer to do their own butchering.
Come Eat at a Chophouse
A marketplace without somewhere to eat is unthinkable. In Cameroon, food stalls at the market are known as chophouses. Some play loud music to attract potential customers, but there are also quiet places where one can order a typical African dish and meet local people. The menu will probably be written on a blackboard, and any who are not familiar with local dishes may need help to interpret it.
Two basic items are rice and fufu, a pounded mash made from manioc, plantains, or yams. You will also find grilled fish, beef, and chicken served with sauces made from okra, peanut butter, or tomatoes. The pace is unhurried in the chophouses, and there is ample opportunity to chat.
Two waitresses come over to serve us. One is carrying a big tray with metal plates full of steaming rice, beans, and fufu. The staples are flavored with an okra sauce and garnished with meat and fish kebabs. There is also a small jar of hot red chili sauce for those who like their food spicy. The second waitress brings a towel and a basin with water so we can wash our hands. This is necessary, since local dishes are traditionally eaten without utensils. It is not uncommon for a customer to pray before eating and then to hear guests at a neighboring table join in to say “Amen.”
Sharing the Good News at the Market
Marketplaces have long played an important social role in many communities. They provide an ideal setting not only for buying and selling but also for sharing news, meeting friends, and even getting a job. The Bible says that Jesus visited marketplaces, where he taught people about God and performed healings. The apostle Paul too reasoned “in the marketplace with those who happened to be on hand.” (Acts 17:16, 17; Mark 6:56) Likewise today, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cameroon find that the market is a fine place to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom.—Contributed.
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