Since I moved into my new house last week I’ve been exploring cooking again. It’s been a few months since I cooked last, instead I’ve been opting to eat out or make simple things like toast with peanut butter. It was fine with me because I eat something healthy like yogurt with granola before work, then a good, hearty meal at ILRI’s cafeteria every day — meals at home were more of a casual “tide myself over until lunch tomorrow” thing. All other reasons aside, I guess it really boils down to not feeling “at home” in my old apartment. The stove was only 1/4 functional, the pots and pans were funny, the sink was dinky, and there were always people coming and going.
I was shopping in Nairobi for some new clothes this weekend and a few things got me so frustrated. First, haggling is ridiculous. For whatever reasons, we just don’t do it in the West. The idea is that you, the person selling the goods, want to maximize the sale price. The other idea is that you, the person buying the goods, want to minimize the sale price. See the problem?
The other other idea is that there is a fair price somewhere in the middle, one where we both win. The process begins when the buyer asks the price. The seller, thinking to maximize, will usually give a price somewhere above what the buyer wants to pay, so the buyer counters (usually eloquently) with something more like what he wants to pay. In my experience the seller is always offended (sometimes genuinely, other times it’s just a tactic). The logic I can’t wrap my head around is this: the seller gives a ridiculously-high price and the buyer names an equally-ridiculous low price. As the buyer, I don’t expect him to actually accept my first price, and I expect us to strike and agreement somewhere above, so I pick something significantly below where I want to pay.
I was in Nairobi for a few errands this weekend, one of which was to go shopping for some clothes. I realized recently that my wardrobe was in pretty bad shape. A few months ago my Che Guevara shirt was stolen from the laundry line and last week my bike accident destroyed my only pair of jeans and one of my nicer shirts. I decided it was time to invest in some clothes.
After spending about $30 on a pair of new jeans I walked over to Nairobi’s Ngara district, where a friend of mine had said there were lots of street vendors selling second-hand clothing. As I approached the line of hawkers they all panicked, picked up, and ran (in like ten seconds flat). I wasn’t sure what made them flee, but it didn’t matter because they were back after a few minutes. In the meantime I had stumbled into an Indian bulk retail store and picked up 100 grams of garam masala for real cheap. In walking back towards the hawkers my eyes started to water and I thought I had rubbed some spices in my eyes until…
Boom! And all the hawkers were running again. Down the street I saw some smoke but couldn’t make anything of it. As I kept walking a police officer ran past me with some canister and then boom! Tear gas! I briskly walked away from the action and saw a big truck full of police officers. I thought, “this is crazy” and, as I had already bought one shirt for about two dollars, headed back towards Nairobi’s town center.