The market is loud and bustling with people, although not quite as crowded as some days. My friend and I duck under an umbrella and step into one of the alleyways that wind back from the open road. Everything is covered here, although you can catch glimpses of the sky between buildings and the tarps that hang from one wall to the other overhead.
Vendors sit in their booths and stalls, one practically on top of the other. Across from me is a man selling woven hand fans, on my other side a woman has piles of jewelry – rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings being displayed. Ahead, as far as I can see there are shoes, clothes, jewelry, pots, pans, electronics and more lined up along the edges of the narrow pathway.
We pick our way gingerly over the warped pieces of wood that cover the ditch. I’m not sure if the ditches were built originally to catch trash or run off during rainy season, but the pieces of wood on top of them have now literally become the path. My friend motions for me to pay attention to where I step. Some of the wood pieces are a bit rickety.
I notice women here or there, sitting with a small assortment of vegetables. Others have little plastic bags of peanut butter or monkey bread fruit or dried bissap flowers. We don’t stop. We’re looking for dresses and shoes for a wedding and my friend leads me purposefully towards a vendor who she knows.
We exchange traditional greetings, and look around, but there is nothing that catches my eye here. My friend explains what we’re wanting and a few guys head out to search the market for us. Pretty soon we are getting calls from all over to come this way and that – with no success.
Eventually we peek into a small booth, packed full of dresses and shoes. None of the dresses look very appealing at first, but I do notice a couple of pairs of sandals that might work. We ask how much they are. The vendor’s first price is predictably high. My friend calmly leans on the counter, looks at him with a sweet, but no-nonsense expression on her face and says, “Waññil.” I am to discover that this is a Wolof word which basically means “Lower your price.”
For the next ten to fifteen, maybe even twenty minutes we stand in his booth. I step back to watch and have to bite my lip to keep from smiling. If the bartering that is going on in front of me was a boxing match, my friend would be winning without question. Smile firmly in place, she listens every time the vendor starts giving his list of reasons why he can’t lower his price. And then she counters with one word. “Waññil.”
I won’t be forgetting that word any time soon, and it will always make me want to laugh.
“I can’t give it to you lower than this because… reasons.”
“I really can’t go any lower than this.
“What if you…”
“Waññil.” Smile still in place. “Waññil. Waññil. Waññil.”
Eventually, we actually walk out of there with almost everything we need. Since they spent so long discussing the price I managed to spot dresses that I liked for all of the younger girls.
I am happy. So is my friend. The vendor perhaps slightly less so, but overall he seems content. I tuck that word into my mental vocabulary notebook and make a note for the next time I need to barter.
“Waññil.” With a smile.
Women are hard to barter with, and that’s the pure truth of it.