Almost everyday, boats from our island make the short trek over relatively calm water to our local market. This market which is a mere thirty minute boat ride from our house is located in our nearby provincial capital. Our island friends go there to sell their fish, which is their specialty in a market dominated by mainly produce. It takes place every Tuesday through Saturday and stretches along the shoreline for about a quarter mile.
Beth loves it because she tries to cook healthy for our family and the market is the simple way to get everything we need to keep everyone alive and well. Each Saturday she sends a lady from our village with a list and our cooler to go and get supplies for us. She pays the ladies boat fare both ways, which is a helpful for them since she chooses someone who is already planning on going. The cost to go on one of the boats to town is about K16 round trip, which is $8.00 US. This works out well, because Beth doesn’t have to go in each week but we still get our fresh food weekly. The boats leave really early in the morning (5:30am-6:00am) and often do not return till late afternoon, so it’s a long day for whoever goes.
Personally, I have gotten produce at the market for Beth a few times and I hate it. To me, it is similar to going to a store and doing grocery shopping back in the States. I don’t know where anything is so I spend most of my time frustrated and back tracking. She is way more efficient than me when it comes to that stuff. Also, I have never been able to tell if anything is ripe enough or a good enough price. Although, one time in America someone taught me how to tell if a cantaloupe was ripe (smell the bottom), but I forget who that was…and it does me no good here because there is no cantaloupe available to buy here. Further proving my point, I do not know what I am doing in the market!
Thankfully, because the market is located on the shoreline, you don’t have the smell of majority world markets, if you know what I mean. Beth & I were in Cambodia a few years ago and it did not smell pretty in the market. The one down side to the market is that there is “buai” spit all over the place. (Buai, also known as betel nut, is a mild stimulant that people chew with limestone that makes the mouth and spit red) Also, trash is piled up all over the market, most of it near one end of the market, and there are gross, mangy dogs picking through it trying to find something to eat.
People come from hours away to sell stuff, and different groups of people are known for selling different things. I mentioned above that our ladies sell fresh fish. There is a whole group of people who come from a higher elevation (cooler climate) area who brings all of the fresh vegetables to the market. Mostly you will find that women are usually the ones doing the actual selling, even though there are often men around who sometimes will assist when needed. When someone sells at the market, they are required to pay a small fee to a worker who wanders around checking up on everyone and giving out fee slips.
So, What Can You Get at the Market?
So, what can you actually get at the market? Well first of all everything depends on the season. It’s not like a grocery store where you can get almost everything you want, whenever you want it b/c it is being shipped from all over the world. Here it is just local and if it’s in season you can fill up. If not though, you can’t get it and you will probably wait months before you see it again. Most weeks Beth will get only half of what she asked for because it’s just not available. This has taken some getting used too.
The following food items are available dependent upon their season, but not always: papaya, various kinds of bananas, avocados, cucumbers, tomatoes, various kinds of lettuce, carrots, pineapples, pumpkin, guavas, star fruit, garlic, onions, crabs, coconuts, watermelons, sugar cane, various kinds of kaukau (kinda like sweet potatoes), oranges, cooked oysters, lemons, green beans, pomelos, field corn, all kinds of fresh & smoked fish, fried flour balls, various kinds of greens and homemade doughnuts.
Some people at the market also sell drinks like Coke and flavored syrup drinks (i.e. water mixed with orange syrup) and frozen, flavored popsicle like things. They sell lolipops, candy, bubble gum and bags of “cheeto like” chips called “Twisties”.
Other non-food items include matches, lighters, loose tobacco, cigarettes, rolling papers (old newspapers), betel nut items, loose shaving razors, prepaid phone cards, cooking, oil, shirts, bags, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and baskets.
Some Market Tips
Here are some tips we have learned for the market. For one, never step over food items. To them, this would be like dropping your food on the ground and it would make them feel like its ruined now. Secondly, its important to have small bills. Making change is kind of an annoyance and its just more helpful for everyone it you don’t buy a pineapple that is eight kina with a one hundred kina bill. Third, bring your own bags. You can buy plastic bags at the market, but if you find yourself regularly going, its better to have your own sturdy bags. Fourth, some of you might be wondering about bartering. PNG is not a bartering type country like most places in Asia. The price they ask for something is the price they want and expect. Unfortunately some vendors will up their prices when they see our white face and in that case Beth just smiles and says “no thanks” and moves along to the next person who will keep their price the same as for everyone else.
Its actually interesting being a student of culture and observing local resident Asian peoples in the market, who are used to bartering, as they buy food. They will barter, and the seller will actually go down in price, but the seller concludes that the buyer is simply really stingy, which feeds into common stereotypes PNG citizens have of Asian people.
Fifthly and finally, the best days to go to market are Fridays and Saturdays, because they have the most stuff and are the days that the people from the higher elevations usually come down with vegetables. If you come on a Saturday, though, the market is super crowded and that is irritating, to me at least.
We love having the market so close and are so thankful that we have found people willing and eager to assist us by picking up produce for us. We actually look at it as a provision of the Lord as we are pretty health conscious people and were concerned about what we would have to eat the rest of our time living in Papua New Guinea.