Behind them sit shacks of cement or other materials with tin or plastic corrugated roofs. Women are doing their wash outside their homes, and children shout "Mzungu!" add the odd-colored foreigners. Chickens peck here and there. Men are using handsaws and nails on the furniture they're fashioning to add to the mind-boggling selection.
It smells like exhaust, sawdust, and the uneven, littered, red dirt that all of the furniture sits in. I had this vision of a dream being fulfilled--crazy, I know: I was there in this long, colorful skirt that the breeze occasionally blew around my sweaty legs standing there in the dirt in these industrial-strength sandals we were supposed to buy to endure Ugandan terrain. I had pictured that in college when I thought about how much I wanted to go to Africa. This was so fun!
We came yesterday afternoon to purchase our furniture. (Note to the mzungu: Wear sunscreen next time. Owie.) Because we're white, we are often initially charged double or triple--I told our driver that I have expensive skin!--but you're expected to haggle. They're almost disappointed if you don't. So one of our biggest godsends yesterday was Peter, our driver, whom we paid for the whole afternoon, and who saved us a whole lot more than we paid him.
Here's how it worked:
- Mzungus John and Janel picked out some furniture they liked from the pieces they agreed they'd need.Sometimes they are invited inside to view more of the selections, which was a bit scary considering this involves a dark little cove inside one of the shacks with Africans of varying ages staring at you from where they lounge in the furniture and their children toddle around barefooted.
- John and Janel talk with Peter about what they like and what they think is a fair price based on the price given. This takes about one minute.
- Peter haggles with furniture dealer in Luganda, the area's tribal language. This takes about ten minutes, and like table tennis, the dialogue ping-pongs back and forth with dramatic flair. All parties usevery educational and amusing expressions and gestures that give mzungus an entertaining idea of what's going on. John and Janel learn about Ugandan body language.
- All parties crack jokes with one another: "I can make you that for that price, but your children might fall through the chair." "This table seats twelve? How does that work? Do you stack the guests on top of each other?"
- John and Janel occasionally ask in their best Ugandan accent for pieces that "have that finish, with that design, and that wood. Can you do that? How much? Can you have it by Wed-nes-day?"
- Considerably lower price is agreed upon. Parties shake hands. John and Janel make everyone laugh with one of their three Luganda phrases: "Webale nyo, Cebo." Thanks, man!
- John and Janel return with Peter, presumably next Wed-nes-day or Thuhs-day to confirm that the furniture is satisfactory--before a houseful made from exotic woods is delivered to our door! (HOORAY!) This is deeply satisfying to John and Janel, who up till now have had relatively unproductive days purchasing things that cost considerably more than expected.