The most difficult aspect of the trip so far,has been getting up close. The overprotective nature of my family, coupled with all of the warnings of robbers and the like, made the initial trip a bit trying for someone like me, but enter my cousin’s wife Fatimah. A beautiful woman with a mischievous grin and a sparkle in her eye, she sensed I needed to be in the thick of it, so she became my personal tour guide and navigator when it came time to go shopping.
For this first shopping trip, I wanted to buy cloth for myself. My hope was to get a few items made while I was in Lagos. The tailors, as they are called, are kept very busy here. As Cousin Fatimah explained, “In Lagos, there is a party every week, so we have clothes made for every occasion.” Being ,what I have termed a “cloth culture”, Nigerians use cloth to symbolize occasions, solidarity and community. At any wedding, wake or naming ceremony, it is not unusual for colors to be called. The colors are then incorporated into the cloth purchases and sewn into everything from traditional “native” to modern and Western designs. What would seem extravagant and over-the-top in the U.S. is commonplace and everyday in Lagos and I love it! I was ready to join the fray, but first, I had to pick out my cloth.
Walking through the marketplace is a lesson in focus. The energy is fast-paced and tight; there is no space for a leisurely stroll of a tourist. We made a beeline for the cloth stalls. Yards and yards of patterns from the muted to the vibrant greeted me as I walked down the lane. It was overwhelming trying to figure out where to begin, so I just followed and kept pace with Cousins Fatimah and Saddiqa. I was looking for ankara,which is what most of the everyday clothes are made out of and is pretty common all of over Nigeria. We found a few shops, but settled in on one run by two younger gentlemen.
The key to shopping for anything in Nigeria is not to appear too eager. I had to put on the stern face. With my shades in place, I began to look around. My cousin Saddiqa is the a serious negotiator. She was already warming up as we went through patterns. When she asked “How much?” and didn’t like the price, her face would screw up like she was offended. Her response, “Ah, why?” It was hard to keep a straight face, but I finally managed to get down a few patterns that I liked. Once settled, the time for price negotiation was now upon us.
We had spent almost 25 minutes selecting cloth. There was cloth everywhere. For better viewing, the sellers lay out selections on the floor and drape it on hangers. This goes on until the buyer is ready to settle up. My cousins begin the negotiations by offering a price much lower than quoted and the back and forth begins. The sellers are explaining why the price is fair and my cousins are telling them, no and offering their own prices. There is nothing more complex and fascinating to watch than the bargaining session. Just when I thought we had hit a compromise, my cousins drop everything and say, “Let’s go.” We commence with the walk away and the sellers finally give in. I walked away with two very snazzy patterns that will be transformed into custom-made magic within 48 hours. What a rush!
Tomorrow I leave for Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, to see more family and hopefully some more public art. There will be more adventures I am sure, so stay tuned.
Click here for Part 1