Yesterday, I went to Monrovia’s central market to look for fruit and cucumbers. This violated my rule of only going to market when I’m in a cheery mood, but I needed produce, and I was already downtown.
I was hot, tired, and thirsty after teaching nursing students all day and primed to get embroiled in my “not so cheery mood” quandary.
The stress results from my conflicted feelings about shopping here. On the one hand, I feel sorry for the women who sit all day with piles of greens in front of them, hoping that someone will buy 10 cents worth before they wilt. I want to buy something from each of them, and there are so many vendors.
On the other hand, I intensely dislike bargaining.
But if I’m completely honest, I have to admit that I’m afraid of being taken advantage of. I know the vendors are only trying to make a meager living, but they often ask me to pay more than the locals do. (As if it’s some horrible injustice to pay fourteen cents instead of seven for some sweet potato greens.)
I scouted the aisles for cucumbers and fruit, but they were in short supply. Or I simply couldn’t find them among the scads of dried fish, chicken feet, eggplants, dried beans, rice, and unfamiliar roots. I bought a cabbage for US$1.67, eight onions and three potatoes for US$1.33, two ugly cucumbers for US$0.53, some okra and hot peppers for US$0.40, and a pot-scrubber from a little girl for US$0.07.
Some of the vendors tried to pressure me into buying things I didn’t want, but most of them smiled at me and tried to initiate conversation. They seemed interested in me, and I got the impression that not many foreigners come to the market.
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I tried to be open and cheerful, but I was struggling. My prickly heat rash was chaffing under my sweat-soaked blouse, and the smell of seafood simmering under a hot tin roof was making me nauseous. I finally gave up on finding nice produce and made my way between the stalls, careful not to step into any deep mud puddles, and stepped out into the warm afternoon sunshine.
Beside me on the busy road hundreds of taxis whizzed by, all honking furiously. I hoped to get home quickly.
One taxi stopped at the curb where I was walking. I watched as two people got out and three people got in. I counted only five people in the taxi and thought, What a waste of space! The driver saw me do the mental math and asked, “Where you going?”
When I told him, “Twelfth Street,” he motioned for me to get in. The people in the back weren’t small, but they patiently moved over as much as they could so that I could cram in. My back was wedged against the window crank, but I was pleased to be heading home. We pulled away in the billow of smoke from the vehicle in front of us.
Once on the main road, I felt a little alarmed when the driver turned in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. Is he taking us on a long route so he can charge us extra? I wondered. I had, so far, never been charged more than US$0.28 for a taxi from downtown to Twelfth Street, and I certainly didn’t want to pay more because he wanted to “take us for a ride.” But, we merely pulled into a filling station for a gallon of gas before going on our way.
As we approached Twelfth Street, I asked to be let off, pulled out my ratty twenty-dollar bill, and braced myself for the bargaining. The man motioned away my money. I tried to insist. He said, “No, ma’am, I just wanted to help you out!” and gave the money back.
I stood alone by the side of the road as the taxi pulled away. Chastened. Humbled.