When you hear "Uzo! Uzo! Uzo there or..!" -those are the voices of the barrow pushers asking you to make way. You'd notice the contrast between the rippling of the beautiful muscles of their forearms and the sweaty scowl on their faces. Quickly move aside for them and their vehicles laden with bags of rice,beans,dried pepper or cartons of provision. They don't mind toppling over whatever stands in their way, including you.
There are the young carefree hawkers balancing their trays of bananas and groundnuts, Gala and Lacasera, plantain and potato chips on their heads without holding or touching the trays, and you'd wonder how the trays sit comfortably on their heads as they count their money or check their worn NOKIA phones for text messages. They sell to tired passengers in buses and sometimes when the driver grows impatient, they'd run after the moving buses to get their change.
Don't feel embarrassed when the men selling female underwears pull them by their elastic bands and dangle them in your face, calling out to you, "Baby! This is your size...Baby I know your size."
Even the men at the meat stalls would try to guess your name: "Ezinne...Chi-Chi... Uloaku...come and buy my meat. I will put jara for you", while they swipe their knives' with magician skills as they whet the edges. And if you hold a fancy phone, say a blackberry, the market women would call, "Pinging baby! Come and buy my Pinging tomatoes...My pinging onions...pinging ginger. It pings like you."
However, if you require to buy grains that would be meted out in cups, you need to be vigilant. Or haven't you heard of these traders' profound cunningness? Some fill in their measuring cups with candle wax, and if you are not watching, they'd use the bottom of their cups to met out to you, and when you get home you'd check your bags for holes, wondering where all your grains leaked out to.
Don't be a sentimental shopper. One day an old woman selling stock fish said to me, "My child please buy my stock fish. I haven't sold any since morning." I took pity on her and bought her fish, but when I got home to prepare it, they were all ridden with innumerable ants. I was so shaken!
Haggling is an indispensable skill you have to master if you are coming shopping. But don't feel so bad if perchance you come upon an uncouth market woman having a bad day. Perhaps she sells greens.
"I sell a bunch for N150," she'd say to you, and in your attempt to haggle, you'd reply, "Won't you sell them for N50?"
She'd look you up and down and yell at you,"This early morning...? This early morning and you want to bring me bad luck?". Gently move away before she starts to throw you carefully selected diatribes: "May your head harden like coconut! May a rabid dog lick your eyes since you want me to sell these my lovely greens that I suffered to tend for pittance....Mtchew!"
And you'd better be careful not to knock down an angry woman's pyramid of oranges. She won't let you go scot-free.
The young men who own make shift boutiques could be aggressive. When you pass by, they'd run after you,grab your hands and try to pull you into their shops, "Fine babe...come check out my shop. I get the latest designers wear..." When you push their hands away,the naughty ones would feign anger and shout as you walk away, "You no fine sef! See your bom-bom flat like blackboard!"
Whenever it rains, shopping could be a very bad experience. On those days, never wear heels for you'd need to skirt around puddles of murky water and if you fall, the traders would be kind enough to say "Sorry" and offer you water to clean up, but they'd spice up their pity with chuckles and dramatize your fall. If unfortunately the rain meets you while shopping, the waters may come up to your knees. One day I saw a shopper take off his italian shoes as he waddled in the water and when I looked at him askance, he said to me, "You don't know how much I bought these shoes?"
When you are done shopping, do not forget to be kind and give alms to the beggars- those children from Chad that hold on to you, touching their bellies and mouth claiming they hadn't eaten for days; the blind woman being led by a child. But don't feel cheated when much later, you find the child and the cleared-eye beggar in a corner counting their spoil with much eagerness. They've made a mess of this profession no one can tell the truly blind folks from the shysters. Just shake your head and go home. Tomorrow is another day.