By 9am on Monday morning the market is thumping. Stalls selling tools and electric cables, drums of paint and bottles of Tipo Tinto, Mozambique’s infamous plastic-bottled rum, line the sandy street. Bakkies hoot loudly in their haste to pass. Further down the street women sit on upturned buckets, selling piles of juicy naartjies (10MZN for five), soft Portuguese rolls (5MZN for two), oblong tomatoes (10MZN for three), onions, bananas, giant pineapples. Young boys push wheelbarrows filled with household necessities: washing powder, long bars of soap, batteries, clothes pegs, combs. Hawkers shout out the prices of mismatched shirts, pants, jackets (charity donations from the first world that have become market fodder) piled in front of them – you have to dig through the jumble to find what you need.
There is a great commotion across the street. A flatbed truck is parked under a tree, laden with sheets of colourful fabric – the capulanas women wrap around their waists; a symbol of Mozambique. Women crowd around one side, shouting and pointing out the pieces they want to the man standing on the piles.
I join the chaos, pushing my way to the truck, wondering at the colours, the patterns, the variety. I pull out a piece – it’s bright green, and heavy. I ask the price. 600 mets, he says. At least that’s what I understand. For all six metres, he indicates. Ah okay, I think I understand now.
You pick the sheets of fabric you like – you haul them out yourself or point them out to the man or to other women to pass to you – and then you carry your heavy load to one of the other men. These men have scissors and will cut you one, two three pieces. Each piece is 1.8 metres long and prices range from 120 mets (R40) to 160 mets (R52).
I start chatting to the red-capped man I’ve wandered over to. He speaks English and has been in Johannesburg. I ask him the prices of the fabric I’ve chosen. We bargain and agree on the amounts. He cuts up the pieces, measuring by each fold and taking care not to let the material touch the dusty ground.
I left with nine pieces of seven different patterns. The total is 1030 mets (R340). I feel like I got a bargain and can’t wait to turn these colours into clothes to brighten my wardrobe; a reminder of the places I’ve been.