I love the smell of fish guts and fresh vegetables

Kenya’s major cities boast gleaming shopping centers and 24-hour big box marts (detailed previously).

Bush villages however rely on a more traditional option: sprawling open air markets.

I visited Ahero‘s weekly market last week to see and smell and taste. There, I met Tom Odero, a 56-year-old retired Army sergeant major, who is active in politics and now farms rice in his quiet days.

Odero led me around the market, introducing me to various vendors selling vegetables, grains, beans, meat, shoes, livestock and more. He also talked politics, leading me to the local offices of the Orange Democratic Party.

(Odero, like many Luo, believe the 2007 presidential election was stolen from ODM challenger Raila Odinga, himself a Luo, by incumbent president Mwai Kibaki. Kenya has a history of corrupt strong men leaders who like to play democratic republic. *cough* Daniel arap Moi *cough*

The resulting outcry lead to violence, much of it in the ghettos of Nairobi. Kibaki and Odinga eventually formed a unity government. Consensus among Kenyans I meet is that the government remains as corrupt as ever.)

Markets like the one at Ahero collectively are the economic engine of rural Kenya, Odero explained. Buyers and sellers will come from as far as 100 kilometers away just for the once-a-week affair. Nearby villages, such as Katito, have their own, different, weekly market days that are much the same.

The market performs multiple functions: community center, wholesale point for farmers, trading floor for buyers who transport goods to markets farther afield, grocery/general store for average villagers and anchor store for secondary businesses like barbers, tailors and cobblers.

The stalls bustle with activity from dawn until dusk. The din of the market is the blended shouts of haggling, the crunch of feet on gravel and the whack of a machete chopping meat.

“This is a true African market,” Odero said. “This is very important. People come from all over, very far.”

Odero led me past the many fish stalls where fresh (sort of) fish is butchered on demand. Dried fish of all sizes is also available. The people of this region, being so near to Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world, use fish as their major protein source. “It is what we eat because the lake is here.”

Tom came to the market after a visit to Kisumu. As a member of the middle class, he can afford to shop there at Nakumatt and Tusky’s, the two major supermarkets in Kenya. He appreciates the modern convenience, but notes: “There are many people who live here, in the country. Not everyone is just in Kisumu or Nairobi. They can’t afford to shop there.”

The network of markets, with vendors traveling a weekly circuit, creates a regional economy which helps stave off the effects of localized hardship — a specific crop failure or catastrophe, Odero said. But that still hasn’t done much given the drought that is wrecking crops in much of the country. Parts of Kenya haven’t seen meaningful rain in several years.

“(Drought) is still hurting many people. Prices go up. You don’t know how your crops will do. People need help,” Odero said.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “I love the smell of fish guts and fresh vegetables”

  1. Royal Says:
    September 22nd, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Kenyan caviar. A delicacy…in Kenya.

  2. ADAM JADHAV » Blog Archive » Things Africa taught me Says:
    May 12th, 2010 at 9:08 am

    [...] Also, you’d be surprised how long it takes to rid your nostrils of the smell of fish guts once you’ve been at an awesome-raw-disgusting market. [...]

Leave a Reply