Mapping market chaos

By Malcolm Oglesby

Editor’s note: Students from Michigan State University and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources are exploring frugal market innovations in Malawi. This is one of their reports.

On a cold morning, August 8th, 2016, I woke up from my second night in Malawi. We reunited with the LUANAR ( Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources) students, assembled into our groups from yesterday and headed to our designated market: Tsoka.

My group consisted of  two students from Michigan State and three LUANAR students. While the Tsoka market was given to my group, we were told that this was the largest market. As the bus drove its way to the market, I filled up with excitement. The first day at the market was something to remember.

I’ve seen hundreds of people walking, barefoot, shirtless, and in a hurry. I couldn’t believe that I was seeing with my own eyes people actually selling and buying outside in eccentric conditions. The first area of the market we went to was made up of vendors selling clothes. There were many markets that consist of clothes and shoes that were scattered from their mates. The infrastructure was dilapidated sheds that the vendor made themselves. Debris everywhere.

As I was walking frantic and confused, the consumers and retailers were calm and collective within the overcrowded area. My group and I walked through the market in hopes of mapping the it, a task that seems improbable. As a person foreign to this part of the world, the LUANAR students became our guide leading us throughout the market.

I was shocked to find that this was just half of the market. A task of mapping the market that seemed improbable just became impossible. A man-made bridge connected both halves of the market. We all paid 20 kwachas each to cross it. It creaked, twisted and turned through every step.

After crossing the bridge, I was now introduced into the market that sold food such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, and live chickens. The dynamics of the half of the market were similar as it contained overcrowded areas and weak infrastructure.  At this point, we knew that mapping the market will be impossible. We still made the effort by continuing to walk around. Thirty minutes later, our bus came back to take us back to our living accommodations. As I went back to my room,disappointed I couldn’t complete the task, I was astounded that this phenomenon was a way of life for many.

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