Wednesday, May 8, 2013

conquering the salaula

I went to get Bronwyn dressed the other day and found that her cute little belly was pushing the limits of her pants. 

As I rummaged through her other clothes I started to worry a little bit as everything was fitting a bit snug. When we left the states I brought with us clothes of size 3 months up to 24 months and figured that that would obviously get us through to our next trip home. (after all, I was convinced she was going to be a starving African baby and be half the size of her cousins… oh fear, why did you get the better of me!) 

At any rate, here we are, our perfect one year old busting out of 24mo clothing. I should have known better given her combination of genetic material. So with few articles of clothing left, I had little choice other than to dive in and conquer THE SALAULA. Salaula is the Bemba word for the used clothes piles at the market. Shop keepers buy clothes in large bales and then rip them open and decide how much each item is worth. They make different piles – the $3 pile, the $2 pile, the 50 cent pile, the 10 cent pile. It’s all rather intimidating and stressful, actually. There is no rhyme or reason, no categorization by size. And these are only found at the local market in Mansa. It’s so hard to explain these small town markets. You kind of have to see them (and smell them) for yourself. Restaurateurs are butchering chickens out front. Hoards of alcohol seeking men have nothing better to do than heckle the token white people. It’s often hot and always crowded with people waiting for a bus to somewhere else. And there always seems to be a dust storm blowing through.

When a new bale is opened, women swarm to see what treasures they might unearth. There’s always a guy with a megaphone standing above each pile, yelling to shoppers, “Two kwacha one item! Two kwacha one item!” Even long before Bronwyn came on the scene, I remember thinking to myself, “Poking around in those piles might be a kick, but I never want to have to find baby clothes in those piles.”

And yet my button popping, muffin top baby girl pushes me out of my comfort zone yet again. In I went. I took Jeremy for backup in case mamas got pushy or inebriated dudes put us in danger. I‘ve actually been salaula shopping a few times now and I seem to get smarter about it every time. Some lessons:

1. Don’t even try to get in on the newly opened bails. Not worth the insanity.

2. Don’t go any time after 9 am. It’s too hot and too busy and people pay far too much attention to the white folks.

3. Go to the salaula piles run by women. They are nicer and more helpful than the guys who try to use your baby as a marketing scheme for their own piles.

4. Have no expectations. Sometimes you’ll find awesome pieces, other times nothing but rags.

5. Pick up clothes that are bigger than what you need right now. It will alleviate some of the “find clothes or your baby goes naked” pressure later.

There is a lot of gross in the piles. I’m not sure who donates poop stained, hole laden, stretched, torn, faded, ratty clothes, but there sure are a lot of them. Fortunately, someone is dropping off hardly worn, sturdy fabric, cute-to-boot stuff too. Like this darling dress:

And these items I’m excited for her to grow into soon:

I wish ya’ll could come and “shop” with me one of these days… you may never look at baby carters the same way again. =)

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