The Market

I’m a bad girl. I don’t mean that in a coy, naughty way (that’s reserved for Greg); just simply that sometimes I’m not so good at girl-stuff. For instance, I’m not crafty at all and my basic sewing skills stop at re-securing a wayward button. While I like babies in the abstract, actually holding one is cause for much anxiety because I know they can sniff-out the fear of an amateur (what if I drop it?) and I’m just waiting for the baby to start crying, which they do…they ALWAYS cry. I love to cook, but I’m prefer braising and steaming, chopping and sautéing to baking; I just can’t reconcile the butter and sugar and keeping hands off until it’s done…I like to poke at my dinner. I’ll always choose kick boxing over yoga, learning to fly over quilting, and while I love my girlfriends for our capacity to fall into a deep, life-altering conversation that culminates in the resolution of all the world’s problems…I equally enjoy the easy, uncomplicated company of my guy friends- there’s something to be said for simplicity.

And then there’s shopping. Women are stereotyped as born shoppers ala “shop ’til you drop” queens that above all else, covet a pair of diamond studs over a 401k contribution; never mind that thing called retirement. Girls truly are given a bad rap! But don’t get me wrong, I really do like girly things. I appreciate the length and strength that comes from a well-heeled toe, and I have grown from a face adorned with scarcely more than a few swipes of brown mascara and ill-applied eye shadow, to someone that understands the value of investing in a range of makeup brushes. Slight detour: I must point out, in self-defense, that I love summers on the boat for the glorious lack of makeup and my uniform of shorts, tank top and flip flops worn only to keep my feet from burning on the long walk up the dock. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother with those.

So, while I love new clothes, shoes, makeup and adore the diamond studs Greg surprised me with on my birthday, it’s the actual process of shopping that I disdain. When confronted with shopping, if not fully focused, I can become overwhelmed with too many choices and most likely will walk away with nothing. But, I believe that I come by this honestly. In the summers, when we’re back, I have 3-4 major shopping excursions packed into a very short summer. On these occasions, I leave Greg at home or we employ a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy to acquire the sundry items I/we need for ten and a half months back in Lagos (e.g. professional and weekend clothes, food items, over-the-counter meds and toiletries, sporting equipment, etc.)– the list is big and I’m exhausted by the end of it. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the only shopping I did in Lagos for our first two years was for groceries. It took a visiting consultant/friend to take me out of the comfort of our apartment and into the throes of Lekki Market, a place I knew would be colorful and interesting, but a place that I had nonetheless just couldn’t quite commit to visiting.

As markets go, Lekki is quite benign, especially in comparison to my first overseas stomping grounds in Cairo. For me, the most colorful part of Lekki was the drive in and out. When I lived in Cairo, we (e.g. Judy and I, my partner in crime in those day) spent hours and days wandering around Khan al Khalili, on the ‘tourist’ side, stopping for tea in El Fishaway, and exploring the fortified inner walls of Bab al-Futuh, but I loved my time spent time on the more authentic Egyptian section of the market; across the street and down a few blocks from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif- the oldest Islamic university in the world. These excursions were time spent wandering the twisting curvature of centuries; the alleyways, hammam’s and mashrabiya of Islamic Cairo- images that are burnt into my memory and captured in a box of now-antiquated prints shot on an old Pentax K1000 nestled safely away in a box in my home office. Cairo was my playground off and on from 94′ to 2000; it was a time when a single woman could feel safe wandering the streets armed with little more than common sense and a bad attitude. I lament that Lagos, while an interesting place where I feel comfortable going it alone on my weekend running excursions, is nonetheless a different context that does not allow for the free wanderings I recall from Cairo. But. This is not a post about Cairo, it’s about my first excursion to Lekki market.

And true to markets around the world, there’s not as much to say about the market itself as the people that inhabit it day in and out. I loved Lekki for the sellers and their children- boys and girls hanging out in Mom’s shopping stall, helping with the selling, still on summer break from school. It reminded me of growing up in my Mom’s store where I fell asleep under racks of clothes or hid under the back office desk, until I was old enough to spend my own summers working. Indeed, Lekki is a place with all the trappings of a typical tourist market with flashy trinkets and colorful fabrics; I loved it as soon as we entered.

As expected, the price begins ridiculously high; it takes a keen and relentless bargainer to level the playing field. Enter Temi. Now Temi is a force of nature, in all of the best ways. Temi is Greg’s assistant and HR manager at school. Quick to laugh, and an even quicker study of character, Temi falls into the category of true friend and is someone I will dearly miss when we eventually, many moons from now, leave Naija land. I love Temi for taking care of my big Oga at school- I tell her we’re a team- and offering a never-ending supply of insight, wit and commonsense. So of course, when it was time to go to Lekki Market with Michelle, I could think of no one better than Temi to accompany us on our sojourn. The truth is, I drove a tough bargain back in the day when wandering the streets of Khan al Khalili, but I spoke a bit of Arabic and knew the city; Lagos is still a bit unknown, and I just haven’t picked up pidgin…at least, not yet.

While at Lekki, I was interested in buying some fabric, and we looked at many a beautiful handbag, but that whole ‘overwhelmed with choices’ thing took over and I ended up with neither. Sigh. So, while I did buy a few items, I mostly spent my time taking pictures and watching; my true comfort zone. I found most people didn’t mind the camera; I either asked permission directly or tried for a candid, if somewhat surreptitious, shot. I’ll be back at Lekki mid-September; we have two more sets of overlapping consultants coming in that will need something to do over the weekend and I still have a bag to buy. I’ll go with Temi and Michelle to Balogun Market in January- an reputedly enormous, local market- I can’t wait. Temi promises a day at Balogun will be an adventure, even for an expert Naijia shopper like herself; and we’re just sticking to the fabric section. I’m sure I’ll still not have purchased any fabric by then, and I’m equally sure I’ll focus on documenting the experience with camera in hand, sans makeup, and perhaps armed with a word of two of pidgin.



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6 Responses to The Market

  1. Sandra says:

    Love your story, Kim, and totally identify with your feelings about shopping.

  2. michelle Swanson says:

    This rings so true to me. Wait. Because I was there! I have never, ever dripped sweat like I did that day. Every pore in my body opened up and purged all moisture from my innards……it was insane and, dare I say, surreal….

  3. Ruth Dorn says:

    Love your pics and beautiful insights into life , as always!!! Keep them coming as my husband has decided to stop traveling, I will live though your eyes!!!

  4. Marlane says:

    How fun to take another Journey with you
    and to find another thing that we have in common etl.
    Seeing that my son is well taken care of for
    One, and why majority of my shopping,
    if necessary is with QVC Marketing on
    Television, which has a good return policy.
    Love to you and yours.

  5. Selenge says:

    Hi Kim,

    Nice to read about you and the place you are in. Say HI to Mr. Rayl! Enjoy your time there!

  6. Shannon says:

    Love your post! It’s a great read as well as excellent preparation for a trek to the Lekke market on my own.

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