By Mehdy Ghannad
Today we had a morning and early afternoon dedicated to experience Swakopmund. It was Monday--unlike yesterday the city was full of people, cars, and a lot of movement, making it much more alive than on a Sunday. We hit the streets with our camera gear to see what we could find. This encapsulates what the whole backpacking mentality is all about--wandering around with no real agenda, hoping to uncover a gem of an experience. We walked towards the lighthouse, roughly a 15 minute walk from the hostel, as Devin and Evan discovered a market earlier that morning. My Middle Eastern roots make it impossible for me to stay away from markets; it’s in our blood.
As we approached the area where the markets were located, it seemed that there were a lot of people sitting around. It was not even 11 am, and locals were gathered on the grass talking and enjoying the sun. All this puzzled me. Shouldn’t they be at work? But I guess this makes sense--Namibia's last record of unemployment was a whopping 51.2% in 2008. I am sure it has not drastically improved since then. Here in the US we are roughly hovering around 8.5 % at the moment, and Namibia has more than 5 times that rate. I started to converse with a few of the locals who were sitting on the grass to see if I could get some more information. I was expecting to hear a sob story or something, but everyone I spoke with or who glanced over at me were all smiles. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Even as I am writing this, I get goose bumps--they all were just happy to be alive and breathing. Can thinking so simply really change your attitude and outlook on life? I would love to master that way of thinking instead of the constant worries about small things that we all make into really large things in our head.
Before we actually reached the market, a man came up to me and asked me where I was from and what we were doing. I gave him the whole spiel and then he grabbed my hand and asked me to visit his booth to view his goods that he has for sale. We were easily 100 meters away from the market; so I had no idea how he spotted us from this far away. I can only guess he smelled tourists. It also seemed that we were the only ones at this market. I quickly noticed this was a market definitely targeted for tourists. There were no meats, fruits, spices, furniture, and so forth. It was all arts and crafts that a tourist would buy. Items such as wart hog tusk bottle openers, necklaces made with bones of many of the animals we just saw in Etosha, statues of animals carved in wood, and much more items of that nature. Really impressively made things, but once again definitely targeted towards tourists. However the enjoyable part for me is the negotiating and bargaining that goes on at these markets, so even at a tourist shop I could have some fun.
We had all the cameras out, and everyone wanted to see what the commotion was when we walked around the souvenir lap. The market was an oval racetrack shape and the vendors had all their goods spread across a cloth or carpet. Most of the bargaining tactics that I am used to involve a calculator. A vendor will start punching numbers on his calculator and then hit the minus sign or divide sign to show you that he is giving you a special deal. But one guy actually was scratching prices on their forearm with a small rock, and then slashing prices by putting an “X” through the price and then proceed to write with the stone again on his arm showing the new “more reasonable” price. But as I mentioned before, I love bargaining in markets and I like to think I learned from the best.
To this day, after many years of school and vast experiences around the world, the best business skills I have learned have been from my mother. During my high school years I lived in Italy, and I watched her work over the market vendors like crazy in her broken Italian. It got to a point that the market vendors would just give my mom a fair price right off the bat to avoid the whole negotiating process. But for some reason the vendors at that market all still loved her and called her a friend.
So I like to think that this really wasn’t fair as I had an advantage. Devin, who purchased one of these wart hog tusk bottle openers told me he purchased it for 350 Namibian Dollars. This equates to roughly $45.00 American. So in order to see if I truly mastered the art of negotiating and bargaining from my mother, I picked that product to start off with. I already had a reference price thanks to Devin. So back and forth we went on the price. I threw up my hands several times telling him he had to be kidding me, and even walked away a dozen or so times acting like I was insulted by the price. Finally we agreed on a price. I got two of those wart hog tusk bottle openers for 150 Namibian Dollars ($19.75). The market vendor actually threw in one of those bone necklaces as well, so I think Mamma would be proud. From that point on, whenever one of the crew wanted to purchase a souvenir, I was called upon to use my skills.
We checked out a few more of the local attractions, and then hopped back into the rental car as we had a 270-kilometer (165 miles) drive back to Windhoek and the Cardboard Box Hostel. In Namibia it’s a good idea not to drive in the dark because there are many animals on the road, and apparently on this stretch of road it was common that people would get into accidents by hitting the occasional Oryx, Kudu, and other antelopes. Before we left, the owners and managers of the Gruner Kranz gave us a send off shot of jagermeister! And the funny thing is that was the same drink we were welcomed back with at the Cardboard Box Hostel back in Windhoek.