Damascus, Dimashq, Syria
March 27, 2006
Well, to be honest, the first couple of times I visited these markets I hated it. I thought it was hot, dirty, disorganised, and at times disorientating. I couldn’t find half the things I was looking for and assumed that everyone who offered to help was involved in a scam of some sort. There were so many people that the narrow alleys between the stalls were impassable at times, and in the wider unpaved lanes there was a free for all between pedestrians, cyclists, and motorbikes.
Unlike the Artisanat market, here there was no time to linger for a second as you were literally pushed on by the crowds. A few weeks later I was reluctantly persuaded into going to the Marchée Rose area with a friend, and this time I felt completely different about the place. Because I didn’t actually have anything I needed to buy, I found it a much more leisurely experience. I realised that it was perfectly acceptable to barge through the crowd if the need arose, and that just standing repeating "Excusez-moi" was a non-starter in Mali. Thus, I learned the Malian version of crowd surfing by using the crowd to carry and deposit me at the stall of my choice.
Furthermore, if you need to stop for a rest then just ask a shopkeeper if you can sit on their bench or step. They usually agree on the grounds that you become a customer attraction and by extension, an endorsement of their goods. It almost always leads to interesting conversations. There is little pressure to buy, and a lot of the people who offer help are actually just nice people. Can you imagine a shopkeeper in the U.K. leaving his shop unattended in order to show you the way to another shop that sells similar items? Yet, to many Malians it is a basic courtesy to assist a stranger, even if it means leaving their work unattended. So not all offers of help are the precursor to a scam.
I also discovered that the market area does have an internal logic and that "types" of items for sale are often clustered together, with stalls selling similar items. Stalls selling children’s clothes, nylon bras, suit material, motor cycle parts, grain, second-hand clothes, prayer mats, very glittery shoes, and cosmetics all have there own product–specific area of the marketplace. It’s not rigid, but it’s there, and once you get the hang of it then the market is much easier to negotiate. If, like me after just a couple of brief visits, you decide you don’t like the Marchée Rose or surrounding street markets then give it just one more go. You might just change your mind.
From journal Bamako - Never Judge a Book by the Cover