Always ask the locals. My roommate and I were uncertain about where to go buy a basic kitchen table and chairs and a shelf. We talked about Treichville, which is a bit far from where we live, so we decided to ask our security guard, who was chatting with the phone cabin guys in the shade across the street. A young guy there recommended a place near Pharmacie Azur in the neighborhood of Plateau Dokui and said that any decent taxi driver should know it. So off we went!
And it was perfect! We got a great price with only a bit of bargaining and will probably be back for a couple other small tables.
One of my favorite things here is how you can get recommendations for almost anything you want from anyone you ask. I'm so used to resorting to google when I'm looking for a particular item, but because of google's lack of relevance here, as well as no street names if you do find the shop, it's much easier to use your loose social ties to find something. Basically, anyone who you might know for at least a week – security guards (who are always polite to me and generally willing to cut me some slack with my language skills), women selling fruits and vegetables, phone cabin guys, even store clerks – will offer up assistance if you ask politely.
While I miss the ability to find anything I want on the internet (have great access here, just less relevant), using the people around me is unarguably better for my language skills and for forming social ties.
Saturday I moved into my (hopefully) permanent apartment in Abidjan after moving around a bit. On Sunday, I went shopping at Adjamé market for a number of kitchen and household items. To buy lots of stuff, the trip was worth it. Supermarkets are quite expensive, but if you're willing to spend the time and brave the crowds, markets like Adjamé are wonderful.
My previous experience with African markets was in Dakar, where so many expats also go. There, you can't take a quick look at something without being harassed (and if you don't speak French, don't worry, many of the merchants speak enough English or German to tell you to look at their wares). But in Abidjan, my market day was completely different.
The most notable thing was that I was the only white person that I saw in the market, which is vast (both the market itself and the surrounding "black market"). One of the stores on the edge of the market, apparently some kind of restaurant supply store, was owned by a Lebanese couple, fairly common here, but I was surprised that it was frequented only by Africans.
I mentioned this later to a friend who has been here a couple of years, and she said that there were more expats before the crisis, so it was to be expected that there were few to none at this market especially, which is not in an expat neighborhood.
The other issue was that I was not overly harassed when walking by or when stopping to look at something. Certainly, I was asked quickly if I needed help or encouraged to buy another type of vegetable, but there was no pushiness behind it. If I responded no thanks, then that was taken as a given. I'm assuming this stems from a lack of recent tourism and that many of the markets in the city are geared toward actual local trade rather than tourist spots.
I don't write this to toot my horn about how "real" I am by shopping at a local market, just that my expectations from one country in the region didn't transfer directly to the reality in another country. And this is the core of my research, that a policy that might work in one place is sometimes inappropriate to the context of the place you are in because of history, politics, social relations, economics, and any other little thing you can think of. (Also relevant in humanitarianism and development aid.)
I love markets and am going back – if only for vegetables and to take photos of the giant land snails in buckets and tied-up chickens on the floor.
Travel and research notes
Fieldwork and travel in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Mali, as well as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, and wherever else I end up. Plus occasional research-related thoughts. And now ... Teaching!