Sunday morning, we crossed the high school campus, left the school’s gated enclosure and stepped into a whole different world. Ndirande, named for the mountain rising behind it, is one of the most impoverished townships in greater Blantyre. Despite the glaring poverty, it is a vibrant area famous for its market. Lloyd, one of Sandy’s colleagues, met us right outside of the school. We were lucky to have him with us as even at 10:00 on a Sunday morning, the area can be a bit rough. We were definitely the only azungu in the area.
We hopped into a mini-bus (Malawian public transportation)and rode up the hill closer to the mountain and exited at the market. The ride in and of itself was an adventure. Each minibus has a driver and another man in charge of advertising the route, and collecting fares. There were three buses lined up, so we had three guys aggressively vying for our business; Lloyd expertly negotiated our fares and steered us into a very crowded bus with three seats in the way back. In the five minute ride, we passed small cardboard shacks lining each side of the road that housed small businesses selling wood, furniture, and coffins.
Upon exiting the bus, we arrived at the market. The best way to describe it is organized chaos. There are hundreds of stalls that wind along the road selling everything from half-empty cans of paint to cassette tapes. Vendors sell piles of wrenches, nails, hammers, irons, second hand books, third or fourth hand clothes, cell phones, and tires. Anything you can think of is there. The casual disarray and muddy paths make it feel like the set of Deadwood. Lloyd then led us down a dirt alleyway between stalls into the sprawling labyrinth that is the heart of the market.
He first took us to the vegetable section where women in traditional dress had piles of greens, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. I think that because we had Lloyd there, we got better prices. He then led us through the fish section, which consists of eight tables piled up with fresh fish of all sizes and types. These are whole fish, mind you, not filets. The vendors spend their time calling out the names of the fish and the prices and swatting the flies away. Then we wound our way to the fruit section and bought mangoes and a pineapple.
Most children, bare foot and in tattered clothes, stared at us as we walked by – some smiled back when I smiled and some said “Hi boss, how are you?” eager to show off their English. One woman with an infant on her back, gave me a high five.
There is constant noise as the vendors announce their goods and people greet each other. Each area of the market had a different smell, ranging from freshly cut wood to fresh fish. People are dressed colorfully and traditionally. The whole area feels so animated and energetic. By the end of the trip, we’d bought pineapple, mangoes, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, and bananas for a grand total of about $6. Can’t wait to go back!