Thursday, September 25, 2008

African dances

One of the biggest challenges here is undoubtedly shopping, or rather not shopping! Although we are only five minutes away from the office, the way is bordered with little souvenir/jewellery/crafts shops whose owners enthusiastically (to say the least) encourage us to step in their 2 square meter kingdom of 'bon prix' (good prices), even if just 'pour le plaisir des yeux' (for the pleasure of the eyes). The walls are lined to the ceiling with masks, necklaces, statues, batik paintings, camel-leather boxes, and more and more and more.

The moment we look at an object for more than five seconds, or the moment we step in the shop's direction- unless we were able to say 'no thank you' and walk away, which is so far difficult- the dance begins. I might assure that I am not planning to buy anything and just want to look- as he himself suggested- but this is worthless. I am inside, so there is a chance I will buy something. The owner will pick an object and praise its quality, highlight the camel bone or elephant hair or detail in the craft. If I seem interested, he asks me what I would offer for it, he assures me I will get a good price, he suggests what a wonder gift it will make for a friend.

When I really don't want to buy anything, some take it philosophically, 'y'a pas de probleme', and encourage me to come back, but a few are more aggressive; they tell me I should support them in their business, that they have nothing, that they had to wait three days after I promised to visit their shop. It is definitely uncomfortable, and even though I know it is part of the dance, I always feel a little guilty walking away, but also a bit angry or annoyed- of course I cannot buy something in every shop every day.

I did buy a pair of masks though, and a nice necklace. I paid too much for both, I knew it then and it was confirmed by others, but not only is it difficult to estimate real value, I also feel awkward suggesting a price three times less than what was offered- even when I am certain it is the correct price, or rather that it will end in an acceptable price after further bargaining. I still do bargain and get a much lower price, but obviously I need to toughen up. Kathrin seems to be better than me so far at refusing politely or bargaining down, I guess after some time we will both dance a little better.

There are other dances-

the street vendor who approaches you with bracelets or books or postcards and keeps walking with you. As an opening line, or maybe after he understood I really won't buy anything he assures me ‘nono I don’t want to talk business with you, I just want to communicate, to share ideas. This is Africa, welcome, this is the land of honest people (that’s what Burkina Faso means), here communication is free and we like to talk’.

Or the greeting game-'bonjour, ca va?', 'oui oui, ca va, et toi?', 'oui, bonne journee'- with a friendly group resting under the shade of a tree, sometimes accompanied by name introductions and handshakes which end with a sort of click of fingers that I still can’t figure out.

You learn to dance in Burkina!


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