Street Market Shopping in Kenya – don’t miss out on the experience
There are smart new shopping centres popping up all over Kenya. We queue in our cars to get in, endure lengthy security checks and wander around looking at shops that all appear the same, as cash falls from our wallet seemingly without noticing. Aside from the supermarket shop, there’s a cappucino here, a plate of chips there, something and shiny and unnecessary in a bulky plastic bag.
So it’s important not to miss out on shopping direct from the street from improvised stands and pavement markets. My first introduction to shopping in East Africa was from these kind of dukas (shops) in Dar es Salaam. Hot, sweating and under the midday sun. You get to choose what you buy (even if most things are covered in a dusty sheen). It’s a far cry from the refrigerated section of the supermarket but not to be missed.
Whether you are shopping for gifts, second hand clothes or veggies, go prepared:
- I am sure that bargaining is allowed at most street markets, but it helps to have a ballpark idea of the correct prices before you go.
- Carry your own bag for carrying your purchases (waiting for a plastic bag to appear can take some time).
- Similarly, carry plenty of change in your wallet. If you do need change then your vendor can be trusted to reappear after tapping all of his friends and co-vendors for the required notes – but you will need to be patient as this process unfolds painstakingly slowly.
- Wear suitable shoes for navigating over dusty, uneven pathways. My friend had a nasty fall in mitumba in December culminating in a black eye. Entirely my fault as I hadn’t briefed her about the undulating terrain before we set out (she was wearing Kate Middleton style sleigh wedges and to be fair, the mitumba (second hand clothing market) trip was a bit last minute).
- Remove flashy jewellery and keep valuables on the down low. I have never had a problem with theft but it’s worth just being a bit aware of what valuables are on show. Having said that, my husband tends to call me when I am mid transaction, causing me to have to flick out my iphone. The vendor then gives me his number with his Smartphone so that he can call me when he’s found what I am looking for and we are all square.
- A hat and a bottle of water is not a bad idea as the sun tends to beat down over the ‘jua kali’ (hot sun) parade of shops.
- Smile a lot. This is supposed to be fun and a smile and a laugh goes a long way.
Since I tend to stick out a bit in street markets (not least when swinging a massive Cannon Eos camera around my neck), more recently I have attracted the attention of self-styled duka (shop) ‘agents’, who act not unlike the matatu touts, tempting you toward their preferred stand then acting as chief negotiator for your purchases. This kind of help is invariably unwanted. The ‘agents’ in Toi second hand clothing market, who tend to operate at the top end of the road (otherwise known as John Lewis), have a faint tinge of alcohol on their breath. So did the one who pestered me in Watamu. You generally end up paying 40% more for goods that are sourced through an ‘agent’. It’s not worth paying more for