Have you ever been to a market? Not like, a market market, like Gikomba. No, not that type, though I really feel like I ought to go and explore it. I’m talking about the kind of market where you don’t get hit with a mkokoteni or hurled into a giant muddy puddle as guys go about their day, trying to secure the sale that could make the difference between their kids having dinner that night or sleeping hungry. I’m talking about a flea market. The kind people dress up and take pictures for the Face‘gram for.
I’ll be honest: despite all my middle class aspirations – and they are many – I’d never been to a flea market. Before April this year, my only interaction with them was through Instagram, and they were nothing like the dictionary definition of a flea market. No gross but lovingly pre-owned stuff up for sale: just a sea of young, taut tummies in crop tops on display, high waist jeans cupping juicy butts, cocktails, gourmet-style burgers and beers, fun tees, expensive shit and everyone filming or taking photos of something. The usual Nairobi “cool people” scene, so less flea market, more flesh market.
So that’s exactly what I expected when I went for my first flea market – Asenka. It was already bad enough that I couldn’t figure out what to wear, my baby decided to test me that day and since it was a Sunday and my nanny was away, I didn’t have the option of leaving her (talked about it here). Needless to say, I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I wanted to. Plus the Nairobi weather was being bipolar again so my simple outfit ended up being completely inappropriate for the rains. It’s also kind of hard trying to hold your tummy in, carry your heavy baby and ignore the goose bumps on your arms while perusing the stands and asking questions. Bet the unhappy idiot that trolled me after seeing me there didn’t know what kind of day I’d had. Bet she’s still a sad little troll.
So I thought I’d give it another shot when the good people at Asenka asked me to try it out again last weekend (8th September). The weather was good, sun was out, my tummy was cured of bloat, I could zip up my pants, afford to spend a few shillings, my baby was home with the nanny and life was generally good.
I showed up a little later than I’d planned to, alone. So because I had nobody to distract me from watching what was going on around me, I observed, and ended up profiling the types of vendors you’re likely to find at a Nairobi flea market.
She reminds you of your own siblings, at least when you’re getting along. This vendor likes the same things you do, goes to the same places, probably has a baby the same age as yours or reads the same books you read. She’s warm, personable, and makes you want to support her small business just by the way she speaks with you. You’re drawn to her because just like your real sibling, she’s trying to make it in business, not giving up, and selling things that you know will actually look good on you, or in your house. That’s how I ended up buying these faux flowers: something I had sworn I’d never do. And after styling them in my bathroom, I’ve ordered many, many more, because who can turn down a chic look that’s affordable AND low maintenance?
The old mzungu
She’s unlikely to sell you anything that looks like it was made in China. This vendor is generally predisposed towards items that look like they came from the earth, where they shall return and actually decompose like they should to support the circle of life. I’m talking clay beads, bags made from hessian burlap (that’s gunia fabric to you and me), and clothes synonymous with either the young backpacker or wealthy tourist (linen, leso fabrics seem to be a fave). She also smiles a lot, is warm, and makes you want to buy something even if you might never use it.
The up-and-coming jewellery designer
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but brass jewellery is having a real moment to shine, and the more polished the piece, the more expensive-looking it is. Judging from my Instagram-research, two times at a flea market and a few pop-ups I’ve visited, brass is no longer the poor man’s gold. So while we can’t all afford pieces from designers like Adele Dejak and Shop Soko, whose prices make my eyes water depending on the time of the month, we can still look good in exquisite brass pieces made by yet-to-blow-up designers, and at a fraction of the cost. You’ll find these guys at every flea market. Though I feel that I must add that I bought a pair of rings from Adele Dejak sometime back. They were 50 per cent off, but I tell everyone they’re designer pieces just so that they’ll assume all my brass pieces are designer. Fake it ‘til you make it honey.
The health nut
This person is likely to show up in yoga pants, Nike sneakers and an Ivy Park workout bra, like she’s fresh out of the gym, skin still glistening from the cross-fit session, face glowing, pumped by the endorphins her body is still able to produce thanks to her commitment to the healthy lifestyle. I’ve stood next to such people before, listening with mild amusement (or jealousy) as they talked about calories, sugar content, health benefits, organic-ness of produce, cold-pressed juices and honey. I don’t identify with them. My longest stretch at the gym since I joined one eight years ago has been two weeks. Also, I think I killed my endorphins, because workouts do not give me any kind of rush or positive vibes. I’ll still eat what they’re selling though. I do love a good mandible workout.
The enemy of progress
The complete opposite of the health nut, this one speaks to the little sugar devil that squats within me, occupying that prime real estate around my midsection and thighs, and the guest wings that are my arms. I have tried to avoid this one in vain. So you will find me there, pretend-refusing to sample the sweets/cookies/cakes on offer, then fake-reluctantly agreeing to taste them before wholeheartedly giving them my money and showering them with compliments. In whispers.
The slick salesperson
This one will make you buy a comb for your baldhead. Usually a guy, this person will draw you in with a smile, compliment you, make you feel that your life would be empty without whatever it is on sale that day. Just ask me. I bought a rug for my balcony without even considering whether it would fit. Now I’m here praying it’s the right size while at the same time looking for someone who can alter a rug in case it doesn’t fit. Please send me a contact if you know a guy. In my defense though, the rug is gorgeous! I will make it fit.
Update: IT FITTED!
The best friend
She is not your friend; she is a stranger. But she’ll feel like your best friend the minute you start talking. Because of this new friendship, budding or imagined, you will develop a taste for the things she’s selling, and will part with more money than you had planned to, because friends support friends, no? That’s how I ended up buying this bottle opener.
Connie the Convincer
This one sells stuff that you wouldn’t ordinarily buy. She will invite you to her stand with another smile that you can’t say no to. You will stand there and listen, even find yourself asking questions like you’re really, really interested, even if you know deep down inside that you are not parting with your coins for whatever is on offer. Not because the stuff is bad: it’s probably just not your style. So you’ll listen to her story, her pitch. You’ll listen to her tell you why you need to buy that thing today. You’ll try to say “thank you, maybe next time,” and even start walking away. But you’ll buy that thing, because this person leaves no room for a no. Before you know it, you will find yourself under this person’s spell, her undying optimism. She will woishe your money out of you, and you will reach into your wallet and give her that money. Then try to figure out what to do with whatever you bought.
This one only sells expensive things. It’s not her fault; she knows her clientele, knows they can afford them, and knows they’re the type to come for flea markets. She’ll smile encouragingly at you as you peruse the stand, answer all your questions with patience and a bright smile, including: why is this so expensive? She will remain polite at all times because a) she was raised well, b) she went to a good school and c) she knows you might actually be able to afford what she’s selling, you’re just a little cheap and want to look like you’re suffering with this purchase in the hope that she’ll lower the price for you – she won’t. What I like though, is that Pricey Penny will not sell you crap. Her stuff is of great quality. So just cough up that cash and if anyone asks you how much it was, depending on who they are, you could either say you got it for a steal, on sale (this is great for nosy husbands who think you have a habit and friends/family who think you’re rolling in dough.). Or you could inflate the price just to get a reaction.
Who did I miss?
Also, because my birthday is this month, feel free to gift me four large mud cloth pillows, in white with black print, from Love Artisan, in size 24″ x 24″ . My gift to myself will be a healthy body, so just know that you’re very likely to spot me in a crop top and high waist jeans at a flea market near you once I start to “body those goals”. Because I’m now a flea market convert. Hallelujah!
See you at the next one!