We went to the market the other day. The big, covered market in the Place de la République in Mamoudzou. We'd never gone inside before, never really gathered that there was actually something in there, just seen the big pink building from the outside. It's joined to the tourist office, which is also pink.
The covered market opened in 2009 and was welcomed as a godsend by the street sellers, supreme recognition of their jobs. The building stretches over 6160m². There are 224 9m² “boxes”, 23 fruit and vegetable stalls and 22 spice stalls, as well as a fishmonger’s and a bakery.
Well, the inside was a treasure trove. Imagine a large car park, with a hundred or so separate garages which close with a metal door. These doors were almost all open, and the inside of each garage had been transformed into a small shop. Each shop worked independently, though often selling exactly the same wares as the one next to it. Most of the salespeople were women, sitting or lying down in the middle of t-shirts or shoes set out around the sides. Often, they were fast asleep, using one arm as a pillow. Never mind selling and jumping on customers as soon as they arrive: these were women who were tired, who probably had several children and who couldn't afford childcare, so they brought their youngest to the market stalls with them. One had a little boy sleeping next to her. Hung on the walls and around the doorway to each "shop", t-shirts and cheap jewellery.
An interview in the paper explained why the sellers spent a lot of time asleep. “The people who come through the doors to this establishment”, said interviewee Madame Abdou Hassana, “are rare. And as we’re here from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., sleeping is the best way to kill time”. Customers are few and far between, and the ones that do visit the market often come and go without buying anything, as the prices are too high for most people. They have to be this way to cover the rent. Sellers pay 120€ monthly for these spots.
The t-shirts they were selling are the rather pretty sort that all the women and girls wear here, although they'd be considered fancy dress in England or France. Bright colours, lots of lace and beads around the necklines and sleeves, transparent gauzy bits on the shoulders and backs, embroidery, straps criss-crossing all over the place, generally very ornamental. Here, women wear these under their salouvas. The t-shirts are therefore hidden from the armpits down... so the visible part is highly decorated.
There were also a lot of flip-flops of different sorts, generally plastic in order to take the onslaught of sudden showers and deep puddles, with various decorations such as flowers, studs or glitter. Not a lot of men's flip-flops... not a lot for men at all, really. We were vaguely looking for flip-flops for P, but didn't get very far.
Delving into the centre of the maze, we found fruit, vegetable and spice stalls selling mainly bananas, tomatoes and salad leaves - not lettuce, I don't know if it has a name. People eat a lot of various leaves here, which often come from the side of the road. They marinate the leaves, then mix them with rice and eat them with chicken wings or legs.
Outside the market, there was a second market, slightly less hygienic. Wooden palettes acted as a floor over the concrete, and corrugated iron sheets, parasols and canopies covered almost the whole area, protecting the market from the rain. Under the canopies, there was a mixture of jeans, t-shirts, hair products (which aren't quite like the ones we find in European shops... their names run along the lines of "Hair Brilliantine to Stimulate Growth", "Vaseline for your Dry Hair", or my favourite, "Vegetal Placenta"), bananas, chilli peppers and cassava roots. Every five or six stalls, there would be a couple of makeshift brochettis, with people - generally women or girls - peeling breadfruit and cooking kebabs. These kebabs, once cooked, were placed on the corrugated iron roofs to keep warm. All this is about a foot above the ground, which was running with various substances that are better unnamed.
The outside market was in the papers this week because of its insalubrity. Originally constructed for mamas brochettis – women who make kebabs by the side of the road and sell them with cassava root and breadfruit – there aren’t enough shacks for everybody, although all the sellers pay 60€ monthly for a spot. It's worse in the rainy season, as the rain and mud ruin whatever people are selling (see above articles). The rain also gets under the palettes they use as makeshift floors, bringing rubbish with it, and the whole lot festers under there for a few months... disastrous health and safety consequences for all concerned. When the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which owns and supposedly manages the area, came to see what the conditions were like, the mamas brochettis dragged the delegation over to the iron shacks running with mucky water to show them exactly what was happening there. When the delegation reported their findings back to the President of the Chamber, he said that it wasn’t his problem, that the Conseil Général was supposed to be looking after that, and that he didn’t want to waste time over that particular problem. Return to square one, do not collect two hundred pounds.