Market friends and foes

Hi Everyone, A few years ago, I told you that when I was younger I really didn’t like going to the market. Nevertheless, every week my mom would send me to the market and so I was sure that going to the market was some form of subtle parental punishment. However, now, many years later and a lot older, I enjoy going to the market. I’ve come to recognize that, as with everything in life, the market is somewhere you have to learn to embrace your friends and avoid your foes.

When I was a kid, the vendors were a major source of distress for me. Because I was young, they often took advantage of me by giving me substandard items thinking that I did not know better. I would point to what I wanted or which of the items I preferred, but they would ignore me and put what they wanted in the bag. I’d go home and my mom would then lecture me, again, about what to look for in the items when selecting them. I’d explain what took place but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. I felt trapped – being bullied by market vendors and being scolded by my mom for things I had no control over.

Bridgetown Market - Saturday morning. (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

These days, when I go to the market, the vendors are my friends! I get to pick out what I want; some of the vendors save items just for me if they think they might run out before I get to market; others bring new fruits or vegetables especially for me and others are generous in giving me more than the weight I am buying. When I arrive, I have my particular stalls that I go to, even if I am not buying what they are selling that day, I stop by to say hi and see how they are doing. It is indeed a pleasure going to the market these days.
Among my most recent pleasant experiences are:

The other day I felt like eating curried eddoes. I bought the eddoes, but when I peeled them, I had to cut out large chunks, as parts were no good. When I went to the market the following week, I mentioned it to the vendor and she immediately set about giving me eddoes from the new batch she had. Before, I would have avoided the stall altogether, I would have been afraid also of being greeted gruffly with a “so what” look. But I have a relationship with the vendor and felt comfortable saying it to her.

When the first set of guavas came into season, my friend Joel who sells in the market each week had reserved a bag just for me. A shopper spied the bag of guavas in my hand and wanted to know which stall was selling them. I have to admit, I felt a little smug when I told her that these guavas were brought especially for me. I had a similar situation with redhead eschallots. You hardly see redhead eschallots in the market but another of my vendor-friends surprised me one week by bringing a bunch especially for me and she refused to let me pay for it! I was overcome by her kindness.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking for some lemongrass (not the grassy part that we use to make tea), I am talking about the stalk, which is used in many Southeast Asian cuisines. I explained what I needed to my vendor-friend from whom I’d usually buy the lemongrass for tea. The following week, be brought me a bag full of lemongrass stalks! I paid him more than the price requested because I knew that if I had gone to the supermarket I would have had to pay a premium price for a whole lot less than what he had brought for me. How can one not enjoy going to the market when that is the kind of service you get?

Not that everything is sweet, though. There are still those vendors, who remind me of the dark days of my market experiences. I had two such encounters a couple of months ago, but things change. I’m not that little girl anymore and I was so proud of myself because I stood up to them and refused to be bullied.

At one of the stalls, the vendor was selling karaila (bitter gourd), it was not parcelled out, it was all strewn across her stand. I asked the price per pound (that is how it is sold here in Barbados), she told me the price, I asked for a plastic bag and set about selecting the karaila I wanted. The woman snarled at me after I had 3 karaila in my bag, “Don’t pick out all the big ones, mix it up!” She just set off something in me. In a firm, no-nonsense way I told her that if she did not want me to select what I want for the price she quoted me and for my hard-earned money, then she should have parcelled it out and then I would have had to decide whether or not I want what she has for sale! I put down the bag with the karaila and turned to walk away, she called me back and told me to go ahead and pick out what I wanted.

Another time I was buying red onions. I went to the stall, asked the price, got a bag to select what I wanted and set about picking the onions. I avoided the ones where the onions were sprouting, and the ones that the skins were not shiny and intact but dull and soft. Onions should be firm, the skins papery and shiny. The vendor scolded, “Don’t pick out all the good ones!” What the heck?! Again, in that no-nonsense, firm voice I said to her, “I am not buying substandard goods with my money. I did not give you sub-standard money. Why do you think it is perfectly okay to sell me rotten onions but take my good-good money? There are other vendors, I do not have to take this kind of behaviour from you!” I put down the bag of onions and proceed to walk to another stall. I noticed as I walked away, a few of my fellow shoppers, smiling and nodding their approval at my response and remarking that that is how some of these vendors “does want to treat people”.

Still, I encounter these vendor-bullies less and less often, and when I do meet them I feel a little thrill of triumph that I have grown to the point when I can politely tell a would-be bully what I want and the right way they should treat me. But an even bigger thrill comes from the fact that each week I have more and more of the good-vendor stories. I cherish my relationships with my vendor-friends, they really make going to the market a joy each week.


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