Something has always drawn me to the big markets-the large open markets. Complete with all the sights, sounds, smells (yes, smells) of thronging flesh, the haggling and bickering, the deceit, the pilfering and pick-pocketing- in a nutshell, the good, the bad and the ugly of the human experience.
Before I left home for medical school, I experienced the razzmatazz of one of West Africa’s largest open markets, the Onitsha Main Market, for the first time. It was a heady rush. Sandwiched between my parents and my elder sister, I tried to make some sense of all the noise, to make my way through the impossibly fast whirlpool of people. I tried to hold my head up, my back straight and to look everyone in the eye. I even tried my hand (or should I say my voice) at haggling, trying to get a better bargain at almost every stop. My efforts were mostly pathetic, but my bravery was commendable. I was able to get some pretty good deals eventually, although they were a lot fewer than I had expected. I tried, as I still do till today, to navigate through the endless sea of people without losing anything to the pick-pockets (proudly beats chest) and I have always been successful in that regard.
Approximately 4 years later, I was standing in another huge open market- the Barabashovo Market in Kharkiv, arguably Europe’s largest open market. I didn’t spend as much time there as I spent in Onitsha, however, in the crowd of people that pressed by, I could see and hear and smell and touch a little bit of me. I like to think that other people passing by must have felt the same way too as they cast the flimsiest of glances (there were some weird stares too) in my direction. As I stood on the fringes of the sprawling market, I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the middle of some historic moment. It was almost as if in that very moment, another civilization somewhere out there in the universe had just focused their seeing beams on that particular stretch of earth and were witnessing mankind scratching the oldest and most primal of itches- the need for human interaction, by exchanging goods, services and words in search of food, clothing, shelter and a host of other trifles. Maybe this is what draws me to the open markets- the subconscious need for human interaction, the double-edged freedom of familiar anonymity, the informal and casual flavor of proceedings. I don’t know and may never know. I just know that no matter how many times more stressful it is, how much longer it takes, or how uncomfortable it is, it still feels worth it when I visit the open markets.
Today I went to the Onitsha market and bought some things. I could have easily bought them from smaller local markets, but my sister insisted that we go there so that we could get better bargains on the things we wanted to buy. We had made at least 2 previous attempts at going, both unsuccessful, till today.
This morning, I woke as early as possible so that we could start the journey on time- Onitsha is at least 80 km from home. Alas, that was not to be, we eventually left around 10 o’clock in the morning and needless to say the market was already in full swing when we arrived.
The first thing on my list was some boxer shorts. I came back here for boxers because the last set I bought from here garnered some serious positive reviews (I’ll let you use your imagination as to from whom *wink). I ran into a woman peddling some really nice and colorful ones and proceeded to bargain. I had no problems with the price, no problems with the boxers’ designs and motifs, but I had a problem with a (now I realize it was) mislabeled boxer short I bought along with the last set here. It was labelled as Large (L) when it was indeed several Xs before L. It wouldn’t have made any difference if it had not been for the preceding events.
First, a little background story. When I was still in medical school, I wore a Medium (M) size for most clothes- of that I was sure. I also couldn’t (and still can’t) keep track of all my sizes in the different systems- European, American, British, French, (countries anyone?),so I mixed them up all the time and hence didn’t know my actual size, but an M whatever size it represented usually was a close fit for me.
When I returned home after graduating, I discovered that Ms were now too small for me, and I now needed Ls. Although I actually got a little pudgy when I came back, it definitely was not enough to move me from one weight (or in this case size) category to another. So, it was always quite confusing dealing with the new size system for my clothes. It never occurred to me (that is until now) that maybe the clothes were simply smaller here at home than at school and hence an M there might actually correlate with an L here.
Now boxers were a different story- I usually let the herd graze free (I didn’t just say that, did I?) while in the university- summers mostly. That is till I bought the famous boxers from this market and started getting rave reviews. In the euphoria, I never took the time to go through the sizes. I just really remember that one- the boxer shorts that never really fit and actually wasn’t even that good looking to start with and I remember it was labelled L.
Couple that with my confusion over my actual size, then maybe it is easy to understand why I ignored the woman’s pretty accurate assessment of my pelvis (remind me never to doubt a woman’s intuition in the future). I insisted on getting Ms, even though I was wearing L– size boxers right there, one which i got from that same market (i.e part of the famous 12) and which fit very comfortably. At her insistence, I got a few L- size boxers and now, more than 10 hours and 80 km later, I enthusiastically try them on, only to find out that the only ones that fit comfortably are the Ls she made me buy. All the Ms I chose are too small for me.
It is funny how little stupid things like this force me into introspection. Now, I’m thinking- if I had paid more attention, I would have noticed that the ill-fitting pair of boxers was an anomaly and I would not have let my decision-making for the next set of fabulous 12 depend on a silly assumption. Now, that I’m stuck with a number of really beautiful boxers that I can’t use, I have begun to figure a lot of things out, namely: the sizes here and at school are probably different, the boxers I had bought here before were actually L-size and they fit very well, the ill-fitting one was mislabeled, the woman was right in her assessment.
This is frankly speaking, too little, too late. Anyways, if I ever need to go shopping for boxers in the near future, I’ll make sure to read through this post again, although I doubt I will forget this lesson in a hurry.
Funny how things don’t seem clear, until we pay for our hazy vision with a mistake or two. So, with the world as witness, if ever I am in doubt, my boxers are a size L, that is if they are to fit comfortably, at least, while my waistline remains within this range. I wouldn’t want to make this mistake again… yea and Panda Cole makes really cool boxer shorts motifs.
Now, someone may ask, what is the point of this post. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll help you out, one last time- with an African folk tale.
A very long time ago, the lion asked the mother sheep to send one of her seven children to spend the festival holidays as his guest. Naturally, the sheep suspected that the lion was asking for one of her children in order to prepare a feast for his family during the festival. She thought carefully about what to do and gathered all her children together and asked them one by one
“How many times will something happen to you before you learn your lesson?” The first born lamb said
“Mother, I cannot just draw a conclusion from something happening to me once, I need to experience it again and again and re-examine the circumstances so that I can learn a lesson”
“So, how many times do you need it to happen to you before you learn from it?” The lamb thought deeply and answered,
“I think I need to experience it seven times, by then I would have thoroughly examined it to learn my lesson”
Mother sheep asked him to step aside and called the second lamb, repeating the question to him. The young lamb replied
“Mother, if something happens to me six times, definitely, I will learn my lesson”. Mother sheep asked him to go and play with his elder brother outside and called in the third lamb.
The third lamb said that she needed something to happen to her only four times before she learnt her lesson.
The sheep called in the fourth lamb, who said that he would need to experience something only three times before learning his lesson.
By now, mother sheep was agitated and feared greatly for her offspring. If she were to disobey the lion, that would mean definite genocide for her family. But she could not send out any of these ones seeing they would definitely end up as a meal for the lion and his family. With despair in her voice, she called for the fifth lamb and repeated her previous question to him. The young lamb confidently replied
” I don’t need something to happen to me many times before I learn my lesson. If something happens to me twice, I will learn my lesson”.
Mother sheep asked him to join his siblings outside and called in the second youngest lamb asking
“How many times do you need something to happen to you before you learn your lesson?”
She thought briefly and said
“Mother if anything happens to me once, I will definitely learn a lesson”
Exasperated and out of options, she called in the youngest lamb, who said
” I do not need anything to happen to me before I learn a lesson, I learn my lesson from the mistakes of others”.
Mother sheep gladly bathed him, dressed him up and informed him that he would be spending the festival holidays with the lion’s family.
When the young lamb got to the lion’s house, they welcomed him gladly, secretly salivating at their holiday present. Unknown to them, mother sheep had sent them her youngest, but wisest lamb. As the holidays went on, they fed the young lamb sumptuously, fattening it up for their eventual happy meal.
Each night, the lion came out to tuck in his children and to ensure they were really sleeping. Each night too, the sheep lay down in the same corner of the bed, pretending to be fast asleep. When the lion had finished making his rounds, he would nudge the lion’s middle child who was really a sound sleeper to the corner where he was and would sleep in the young cub’s spot.
On the night preceding the festival, everyone had fed especially sumptuously and pretty soon everyone was nodding off. The lion came and tucked in the kids, observing that the little lamb was sprawled out in his usual corner “fast asleep”. After the lion tucked them in, the lamb stood up and nudged the lion’s cub to the corner where he had been and laid down with his eyes closed. After some time, the lion came and without protocol snatched the figure sleeping at the corner, killed it and set forth to prepare it for the kids against the following day. Once the lion left the room, the young lamb climbed out through the window, with his luggage already packed and returned home. By the morning, the lion discovered his mistake, but then, it was already too late.
He that hath an ear let him hear.
p/s: the boxer shorts in the picture above are from a random google search. Hit like if you actually thought I would take a picture of my boxers and put them up for the world to see (they wouldn’t be so fabulous then right?)