She has a round dark face that is more chipmunk cheeks than anything else, cheeks that prop up eyes that glitter with mischief. The narrow, high set benches means we squeeze in to sit down and she laughs at two tall guys struggling to fit in without knocking any else’s tea on the floor. She remembers us from last week and is clearly pleased we are there. The floor is timber, old cement, broken tiles and earth so I have to watch where I step. There are no mozzies since the place is full of the sweet pine smoke that drifts in from the kitchen, semi detached out the back via a narrow laneway that clearly provides access to a larger street somewhere, as folk walk in this back door as often as they walk in the front door. She watches us sit and then giggles to her friend…
“They want tea and and mandazi”
“They said ‘tea and mandazi’” she whispers in a stage whisper for all to hear, and then she is embarrassed as she realizes that I have overheard what she said. She laughs, flashing a mouth full of large white teeth and looks away. But she watches us closely as the tea is delivered by her friend. She makes it her responsibility to fix us the mandazi and delivers it promptly once the tea is in front of us. But ten year old Edgar is not so shy and introduces us as such. He is there with his younger brother (who will not yield his name), entertaining himself with a water bottle which he is rolling up and down our neighbouring table. He expresses surprise that we are there and watches in the darkness of dusk with no small sense of wonder.
Once again we are parked in the little café or “Hotel” as I have discovered they are known around here. My hearts and minds approach is winning people over – I returned to the Triangle market this afternoon. This time there were no scuffles and huffing and puffing about me taking photos. Well, not as much. I went straight back to the ladies selling eggs, armed with a printed photo of that lively seven year old in a red sweater. She was not there with her mother this week but her grandmother was delighted with the photo. So too all those who saw me take the picture. This time they wanted their pictures taken and one savvy lady in an apron asked me to come back with a print of her. “I know you took a picture of me last week”. Well spotted, I sure did and acknowledged as much.
There are some who are very wary of the photos being taken. They are convinced I am exploiting them for cash and that I will be paid large sums of money on the back of their comparative poverty. Henry, who plucks up the courage to come and speak with me, explains as much.
“They think you are making money out of them so they ask you to pay them’
I explain to Henry that they are for personal use, and that they help me remember what a great place this is. It’s true. There is a deep rhythm of life here, a swell of heart and voice, a beat that is both serene and frantic all at once. Above all there is the interaction of people as they buy and sell and chat and laugh and socialize. For a market here is not just a shop. It’s a meeting place. A soul reviving fount that fills us all up. Old men sit and reflect, and watch. School kids wheel through looking for the latest trend. Preachers urge us to consider our lives – and the rattling money box. Mothers fret over their kids. Young men are tanked up on the vibe and shout prices and joust for our attention. A young man selling women’s panties catches my eye and bursts into laughter. I laugh in response and one hundred people, all watching this mzungu, laugh together. What a powerful thread is suddenly sewn through all of us, a linking which needs no common tongue but a shared sense of the absurd and humourous. Henry warms up.
“I can see you are not interested in money. You’re having too much fun.”
“Thanks Henry, that’s true. I am keen to capture something about the folk here. My friends back home enjoy seeing something about how other people live. And there is a dynamic here, a feisty zest for life that would be great to somehow capture.”
He looks a little puzzled and I am poised to break that down somehow when he nods. “I know. There is a buzz of community here that is its own reward.”
He shakes my hands. “Stay safe my friend. And enjoy our markets.” No fear of that Henry, I can barely get enough of them.
Still, for all the Henrys there are still the occasional explosions and as we walk away from our tea hotel I brace myself for a whipping as an older guy bears down on me with a stick and lots of excited shouts. I had turned down his request for money on the other side of the street about half an hour ago and suddenly he materialized out of the crowd. I shift my camera to my other hand and tell myself he is allowed one strike, thereafter he will be on his arse with his own stick around his ears. But, just as I shift and skip my feet and get ready for him, a truck drives between us and by the time everyone has negotiated it he has gone. I grin at Michael and we walk on, the crowd folding back in around us. It’s such a great, fabulous, energetic, warm, soul reviving place. Mind your step here – every single one revives me. I can’t get enough of it.
Diary 31 October 2013