May 10, Alex Pinto and the vendors

Dispatch from Kenya

Alexander L. Pinto 

May 10, 2010  (Sent May 12)

            Today our group took a trip to the Sweetwater game preserve. However, Shannon Kaye will be writing about that. I shall give a quick summary about what happened after. On the way back we stopped at the market at Nanyuki, whose chief claim to fame was its placement of directly on the equator. A favorite tourists attraction there is the water “trick”.  Taking a bowl with a small hole in the bottom, a vendor will move twenty paces north of the equator, drain the water and it spirals in a clockwise direction. The same thing is done twenty paces south of the equator and the water spirals in a counter clockwise. Finally, whilst standing directly on the equator, the water will drain straight down ward without spiraling. This is due to the corollas effect, we were told.  We were somewhat skeptical, but unable to figure out how this was possible.  It was, however, quite entertaining.

Due to its popularity as a tourist stop, quite a few vendors have permanently set up shop to cater to the many tourists who stop there. As we arrived there today we were immediately set upon by a multitude of vendors and coaxed into the various shops. We had been warned of the high prices that the vendors offered, and we had already experienced this first hand, the first day we arrived in Kenya in the open-air market in Nairobi.  There I for one was conned into paying 470 Kenyan Shillings, about 7 American dollars, for a cheap bracelet made from beads. There were similar stories from my other classmates as well. Needless to say, we were determined not to be cheated for such exorbitant prices again.

As soon as we stepped outside of our van we were set upon by 20+ vendors all assuring us that we had no obligation to buy but at the same time were strongly urging us to “bring business to their shop” by buying a small memento. The small memento often proved to be one of the most expensive items in the store without exception. My shopping experience began with a vender offering to sell me a set of animal bookends for the insane price of 7,500 shillings, $100.00. He insisted that they were made of ebony, but a closer inspection easily debunked that claim. Unwilling to waste time arguing the point with him I turned my attention to a Maasai shield hanging in the back of the shop. Following my gaze, the vendor took it down, and offered me the price of 9,000 shillings. I stared at him for a few seconds and then turned on my heels and made my way to the exit. Within a second he apologetically called after me and said he had perhaps been a bit over zealous in his choosing of the price. He asked for me to name a price to which I promptly replied 600 shillings. It took some time and a good deal of haggling but I eventually persuaded him to let me have the shield and a spear for 1700 shillings, and with a little more persuasion, convinced him to throw in a Kikuyu arrow in the bag as well. We shook hands and I paid him the agreed sum, but as soon as the money left my hand I was informed that “his brother would be very happy to wrap it up for me” and I was taken to the adjoining shop. And thus the whole cycle began anew.

Once again I was informed that I was under no obligation to buy but it would also be very generous of me to contribute to the overall well being of their shop. This process continued for quite some time until I had accumulated a shield, spear, arrow, a Maasai mask, and two ornate letter openers with animals carved into the tops. This being done, I was told I needed to go to the next shop to get change for the cash I’d paid.   “Here we go again”, I said to myself.

            Nick and I entered the last shop with a very casual air and I got my change. I had learned that it was very unwise to even glance at an item you desired and was certain death to ask how much the item cost was, for if the vender knew of your interest, he would most surely start with a price that put most shops in La Encantada to shame.  Nick and I then decided to try to have a little fun. Before beginning the bargaining session the venders would always ask us our name and where we were from. While we truthfully informed them of our names, we also told them that we were from the country of Mexico, (we had discovered that the average price increase for telling someone you were from America was around 2000 shillings). We went on to inform them that English was our second language and we were not very well versed in its usage. So, through the usage of Spanish, that the Kenyans couldn’t understand, we decided on a bargaining strategy that would hopefully maximize our buying chances.

            We set our sights on a pair of ornate spears stacked in the corner of the shop. We asked the vendor the price and were informed that, since we were from Mexico and since Mexico plays football (soccer), he would be most generous and give us the spears for the sum total of 9,000 shillings. After a few hurried words in Spanish we counter offered with 1,000 shillings. The vender shook his head in horror and said that the lowest he would go was 7,000. Nick then remarked scathingly that spears in the overpriced market in Nairobi were 700 shillings apiece. We then laid the remaining 1,200 shillings in my wallet down on the table and told him that was all we had. The process continued on like this for quite some time. Offer, counter offer, head shakes on either side, and then more offers. Finally, after buttering the vendor up with some “American” gum, probably made in China, we agreed on a price of 2,000 shillings if the vendor threw in another ornate Maasai painted mask. We left the shop content, and carried our spears to the waiting place; the others had gotten tired of waiting for us and had gone to get some tea and bread. One more vendor approached me and offered the same offer that we had heard ten times before. I apologized but as I had no money there was no way I could buy anything of his. He then suggested a trade. My Citizen watch for on small animal carving. I didn’t say it but the price of that watch could have quite easily purchased the entire store’s supply and probably the store as well. I saw the van rounding the corner and turned to leave but as I left the store he gave me a better offer: my ten years old cheap plastic wallet that had long since fallen apart for a handsome lion statuette. We shook hands, exchanged items, and I sprinted to the van, just making it as it pulled away from the curb.