Malagasy Market

Tsis, misoatra. No, thank you. I don’t want to buy, just look. To feel another culture, to wonder around the market as if I belonged there, as if I lived there and needed something. Hands reach out to me as I navigate the market aisles in an old cement warehouse, offering me spices, perfume, fruits. Tsis misoatra. I smell the perfume in homemade plastic bottles, the spices – vanilla, fresh from Madagascar. A room full of bright colors, life, smells of spices, sweat, fish, incense captivates me. A women sits on the floor staring into her daydream, a pile of greenish oranges splayed out next to her on a cloth. What are her dreams? 

A baby on the cracked cement ground brings my attention back to the narrow path. Mbolatsara – hello! A radiant smile greets me from the floor and crawls over to my feet. I return the smile as I hand pulls me away and gives me a plastic bottle full of colorful liquid. Perhaps tomatoes and onions were mashed up and poured into this used water bottle, sealed with Malagasy love to be sold at the market. I kindly give back the unidentified bottle, guessing at the contents inside, not brave enough to try. A row of full plastic bottles continues ahead of me, the contents replaced by thick, seedy sauces in shades of orange, pink, and red.

The back of the market is dark. A women with a yellow clay paste on her face sits on top of crates with wet, brown rocks inside. Her almond eyes shine gold against the clay mask, full lips enhance her high cheekbones which she fans leisurely. Rows of wet brown crates line the muddy cement path as I curiously peer at the contents inside. The women stops fanning and reaches for a stick at her side, poking the rocks that are not rocks at all. A muddy crab is lifted out of crate and claws grasp for the disruptor of the crate peace. I stare at the crab as it writhes, suspended by a stick, surrounded by wet dirty crabs and silently promise not to eat it. The full lips turn up into a smile and then into a laugh at the surprised observer.

The muddy crab isle turns into a full fish market – the distinct smell informs my nose before my eyes see the slimy creatures looking up at me. Small white, grey, and pink fish look up at me with one accusing fish eye, stacked sideways – are you going to eat me? I look back and walk on to the bigger fish, the smell intensifying as I step into the sun, walking through rows of flies and slippery fish, looking for an exit. Baskets of wet, pink shrimp lead me to the exit and I breathe deeply the sweet scent of fruit, replacing the pungent odor I left behind.

Street food greets me as I plunge deeper into the market that continues down a winding dirt road. Roti, fried balls of dough, brown, sticky coconut clusters are presented on a table. I point at what looks like a fried, dough covered banana – banana? A nod of confirmation and a smile. Airiary is exchanged and banana is grabbed. I happily walk away savoring my sweet, dough covered banana as I lose myself in the bustling market full of used clothes, shoes, pots, endless spices, and baskets. Women squat next to baskets of goods, yellow clay masks protect faces from the sun, flowery painted faces past me as I meander through the vibrant Malagasy market.

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