We are standing in a corner stall surrounded by women’s shirts and blouses hung facing outwards which make a curtain around two sides. In front of us is an assortment of tops in a pile. The pile is raised waist height by a crude wooden platform of rough timbers. There is a wide range of sizes, styles and types for sale. Most of the items are in good shape. Fashion eras are recognizable as tops end up here after being discarded miles away in the developed world.
Mary is explaining how come she switched from selling children’s clothes in the market to women’s. She is smart enough to figure out that there is seasons for used clothes shopping. The season for children’s clothes has passed, that is in the fall leading up to Christmas. Now, it is the time to change up and ensure a more steady supply of income from women’s fashion.
She is competing with many other stalls in the area who have their women’s tops on display as well. To complete your outfit you could shop at the women’s skirts stall or the one dedicated to pants or dresses.
Mary acknowledges that the project has given her enough regular income to be able to pay school fees regularly plus better health and support for up to 5 people in her family. She can also now afford the first class bale of used clothes that come in from the market wholesalers. Better quality goods means better margins, more income.
It is quite the place to work. The whole market covers several acres and the women’s clothing section is deeper in about 50 meters from the edge. It comes after the jeans and household linens which you navigate past down a narrow alley.
The earth is rough with hills and valleys like a 4 X 4 trail that are formed from when the earth dries after a rainy day. You have to step carefully.
It is easy to get lost in here. I ask if lanes or stalls are marked, Vicky laughs, ‘No.’ She knows her way around. It makes me think, it is like getting to know a crowded department store without a map.
The rough timber roof of metal or tarp and simple posts create alleyways full of stalls. Each stall segments one seller from the next who is specializing in a narrow category of retail. Some merchants aren’t in today, their wares are bundled in tarps tied up with old rope and left to be guarded by others. Other stalls are empty, they might be like Mary and visit other markets in neighbouring cities on different days.
It is a quiet day at Memorial Market, we can easily navigate the tight lanes and alleys without bumping into others. Some merchants are snoozing on their pile of clothes. There is no avoiding stares from those who are awake as there is a white person in the market, they don’t come often and are known for having big wallets.
Vicky tells me I am safe with her. She knows the vendors well even the thieves. I laugh, now. I ask to take out my camera and video camera to capture this place. It is something everyone should experience yet is well off the tourist path for most.
Beatrisi, another of our women is also here. Her story will be told another day.