Thursday, February 17, 2011

Grande Marche

Feb. 17th, 9am cab ride down to the Grande Marche, the Grand Market. Vendors everywhere you turn in small stalls packed with goods. Many of them are just out walking the streets with all their wares piled high upon their heads.

Now is when I get the impression reinforced that Africans have a stronger 6th sense. I wrote the above words on my notepad in a fabric shop where another member of our party was negotiating a purchase. Someone had kindly brought out a stool for me to sit on while waiting. When the transaction was finished, the proprietor, an alert young man in his 30s, jokingly puts all the purchased fabric on the top of his head, looks directly at me (for the first time) giving me a big smile and a knowing look.

In the cab I'm asked to say: where are we really going? Not sure how to respond I say, "the market bardo, a Rebirth Station, a Way Station of sorts." Narrow alleyways, walkways, passageways, a maze of shops and stalls, throngs of people - wannabe guides and attention seducers on all sides. Multiple omnidimensional interconnected choice points. Things to buy, to look at, to smell - sweet smelling inscense wafting from the religious stalls. Holy men in robes wandering about, their heads wrapped with scarves on a hot day not breaking a sweat. Street hustlers, hawkers, wanting to be your guide to take you to their favorite rebirth chamber, their shop or someone they know who will kick back some of the profit.

Propelled through the market via focussed intention or automatically from karmic momentum? Or the fishhooks of seduced, distracted attention, the colors of the psychedelic fabric designs, the sounds of loud distorted reggae and West African funk, the bright glitter of the silver and gold jewelry, holy beads, plastic beads, the occasional ancient artifact, a piece of pottery or an antique looking glass, beads from Roman times, the occasional treasure buried beneath multiple redundant identical chinese goods that could be radioactive because they don't regulate radioactive material in China. Voyaging through the market bardo sometimes seems like stepping into a William S. Burroughs novel - the Interzone, the place between worlds.

Later in the day, I'm asked for and provide a copy of the Clear Light prayer for a young friend getting ready to leave.

Early in our journey, before we'd stepped into the Interzone proper, Eo haggles for a nice shirt at a stall on the street. A relaxed back and forth comic/drama all done in good nature even disagreeing in good nature. Ther's an art to bargaining in West Africa. The price is not right, Eo gives the shirt back and we start walking away. Get almost through the next stall before the shop owner's raised voice indicates a new offer.

The back and forth bartering resumes . . . an army guy, apparently unarmed is there observing. He introduces himself, appears straight-up, clean and direct with his presence, and friendly. Checking out the proceedings in a casual way while ostensibly looking at things.

Another shop steward tells the shirt saleperson to " give him a good price, he gives money to the beggars and the "garibous." Garibous are young children who sing songs of praise to Mohammed and Allah for change. Indeed, Eo makes a point to give a coin to every beggar he sees.

After a bit, the Military officer also tells the proprietor to give Eo a fair price. The whole drama lasts 15 - 20 minutes before getting settled. The price had started at 11,000 cfa, he ended up getting it for 7,500 cfa, everyone satisfied with the transaction.

Lunch at Amandine. A cosmopolitan crowd, Japanese, Africans, French, Americans and maybe some indefinites who only wear their national identities at certain times like a mask to get over the border past passport control. A thought passes: must be an International Hotel nearby, as a crowd of "toubabous" (white people) stroll up.

Two middle-aged male twins enter stage right looking like CIA operatives from a movie where they want you to know they're CIA operatives. They order a 40 ouncer of beer, must be off duty.

An older African wearing dark shades, sitting in the shade, dressed in fatigues at a table close, but not that close gives Eo a very intense look as Eo speaks passionately of his disapproval of the "military machine." I switch the subject keeping my eye on him. After awhile he relaxes and his attention diffuses. I don't see any calls made - we appear to have passed his surveillance.

This cafe carries the feeling of being at the crossroads of the World, the crossroads of something, I'm not sure what?

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