This weekend I took a retreat down to Msembweni to visit my fellow volunteer Jeff’s site. Jeff and I are soon to be collaborating on yet another project, so it seemed a good idea to catch up with him. It’s also not a hard draw, considering he has a beach, a nice campsite, and a picturesque village. So off I went.
Of course, when you get to this village and sit on the beach and do the camping thing, you also wonder what else you can do. That Sunday, we decided to spend some time going to the market, because I was looking to expand my collection of work-wearable Hawaiian shirts, as well as pick up a couple kikois for the coming summer months and the subsequent summer heat. Normally one might think I would head up to Mombasa to pick things up, but I very quickly become annoyed at the Mombasa markets, and their crowds, and heat and pickpockets and yelling and people thinking I am a tourist.
In the ‘Bweni (our nickname for Msembweni) markets (soko), there are far fewer people, much more natural shade from the trees overhead, and being so far from overly-touristy areas (and most people knowing Jeff personally) a greater willingness to believe my story of living and working in Kenya for real and not being a tourist. Kenyans also appreciate when I can handle entire transactions and small talk in Kiswahili, gaining me street cred’ as it were. It’s actually a very peaceful experience, and I feel much more comfortable here. In fact, if anyone wants to visit and wants to experience a, “real,” Kenyan Coast market, I would gladly take you to the market in the ‘Bweni.
I even lucked out while shopping. I was able to get three shirts for a total of 500 shillings (divide by 75 to get a conversion of about $7), and at one point, I think one of the sellers (muuza) thought he was getting a good deal by overcharging the mzungu by 50 shillings, when in reality he didn’t realize one of the shirts was 100% silk, and not just rayon. I was more than happy to pay the extra 50 shillings.