NPR logo

Going to Market in Madagascar

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5149503/5149504" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Going to Market in Madagascar

Going to Market in Madagascar

Going to Market in Madagascar

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5149503/5149504" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Filmmaker Celia Beasley recently moved to Madagascar. She says one of the more intriguing experiences of her new life is visiting the markets.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand and this is DAY TO DAY.

Celia Beasley, formerly a Seattle-based filmmaker, took the chance of a lifetime, leaving it all behind to move to Madagascar. Beasley is fluent in French, as are most of the island's residents, but seemingly simple tasks like grocery shopping are still more difficult than she expected.

(Soundbite of voices)

Ms. CELIA BEASLEY: Welcome to the market in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

(Soundbite of rooster crowing; voices)

Ms. BEASLEY: Hundreds of rickety wooden stands crowd under a sea of umbrellas. Women stack their fruits and vegetables into neat pyramids, men hack big chunks off a side of beef, and a woman deftly steps around a band of chickens, a dozen live geese riding in a woven basket on her head. It's an exciting, chaotic and intimidating world, especially if, like me, you want to buy something.

I, like many Westerners, don't like to bargain. Yet Madagascar is one of those places where you have to bargain if you want to get a decent price, which is my problem. I don't know what a decent price is here. Is a dollar too much to pay for a pound of mangoes? Am I being had? Should I try to get my mangoes for 75 cents instead of a dollar? Is it really worth fighting for 25 cents?

The alternative to all this anxiety is to shop at Jumbo. Jumbo is a perfectly Western, perfectly familiar supermarket; no unidentifiable cow parts or mysterious vegetables here. Not only is everything in French, so I can tell if I'm buying instant soup or laundry detergent but all the prices are labeled; no bargaining required. Unfortunately, Jumbo is also exceedingly expensive.

The average monthly salary for a Malagasy is 70,000 ariary, or $35 US dollars. A liter of cooking oil at Jumbo, $6. I realize that most people in this country will never be able to buy their food here, and I felt ashamed. I came to Madagascar to be challenged, and here I was hiding out in an overpriced supermarket just to avoid worrying whether I'd overpaid for mangoes. Right then and there, I decided to confront my fear of bargaining and buy my food at the Malagasy market.

The next day, I surveyed by fiance's Malagasy co-workers and got an approximate price for a kilo of bananas--1,600 ariary, about 80 cents. I marched up to the closest produce stand and asked for a kilo of bananas.

(Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. BEASLEY: Three thousand ariary. `That's the foreigner price,' I said, and you know what she did? She nodded.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEASLEY: `I want the Malagasy price,' I said.

(Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. BEASLEY: Huh? She'd given me the Malagasy price all right in Malagasy. I realized then that bargaining isn't just about getting the lowest price. It's about having a human interaction. She was telling me that I have to earn the Malagasy price, and just like that, we'd established a relationship. Sure, I can shop only at supermarkets where I know I'll get the same price as everyone else, but there's nothing challenging or human about that.

In the end, she brought the price down, and by that time, we'd attracted the attention of everyone around us and we all laughed together at my failed attempt to bargain. I still paid more than the Malagasy price, but if that was the cost of being invited into their world, it was worth it. It was still cheaper than Jumbo.

BRAND: Seattle-based filmmaker Celia Beasley will spend the next several months living in Madagascar.

DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.