Emma and I went to the Saturday market at Mitundu, the nearest trading center, with Julie and Chimwemwe the weekend before last. I wanted to take a hundred pictures...but I'd probably think it was weird if stranger charged into my place of work and started snapping pictures, so I figured that's likely what the vendors would think as well. And I didn't want to embarrass Chimwemwe. So I will content myself with copying some pictures from the internet to re-post here, choosing those that look most like what we saw.
This market had both a large open area packed with vendors, and a maze of tiny stalls on a couple of sides. Emma and I loved the chitenje sellers, with their eye-catching displays of fabrics in orange, yellow, green, red, and blue patterns. (A chitenje is the piece of fabric about 2 yards long that every Malawian woman has many uses for: wraparound skirt, apron, baby carrier, bundle wrapper, head wrap, drape over the head to keep off the sun...) Emma fell in love with one that we ended up buying. I plan to buy a couple more but have no idea how to choose among so many beautiful fabrics! We also saw mounds of sprouted maize for making the drink thobwe; lots and lots and LOTS of tomatoes, red onions, and greens; piles of tiny silvery dried fish; traditional medicine stands with all kinds of strange roots, dried bark, things I couldn't identify, and a very creepy-looking doll; a bag of something Chimwemwe smilingly pointed out, which I first thought was some kind of unusual green-speckled small dry bean, but which turned out to be green and white bugs; maize and beans, which are sold by the scoop, amid much haggling about how full the scoop is piled; white-fleshed sweet potatoes; the early mangoes; and anything else you might need: soap, pots, plastic bags for your purchases, clothes, brooms, bike parts... It reminded me of Central American markets in many ways, with the big difference that there I could understand the language and here I couldn't!
Chimwemwe kept a sharp eye out as Julie and I bought vegetables to make sure we didn't get ripped off. We could at least understand prices; counting in Chichewa is so convoluted that everyone just uses English numbers, although with a Chichewa flair. (1=wani; 5=faifi; 7=seveni; 8 = eyiti; 9=naini; 12=twelofu; 100=wani handedi) I laughed that Chimwemwe must feel like a mother hen, working her way through the market with her line of azungu (white people) chicks in tow.
I'm hoping to get back to the market this week. While tomatoes are abundant now, we've been warned that once the rainy season starts they will become more scarce and expensive, because the rain makes the plants more susceptible to fungal diseases. So I'd like to buy a lot now, to have some cooked tomatoes in the freezer for cooking later on.
The careful little piles of tomatoes in the upper right corner here are how we always see them sold. Often there is be another tomato balanced on top of what you see here, to make a total of 5. You can buy white onions in some supermarkets in Lilongwe, but all the small vendors sell the purple ones.