In South Africa, anyone over a certain age (somewhere in the 60s, I think) receives a pension. I’m not 100% sure if only families living below the poverty line get it, or if everyone does, but for all intents and purposes, everyone in my village gets a pension. It’s delivered to a specific spot in any given village one day a month, paid out in cash, and I believe it’s R1200 ($120). In my village, it’s given out in a few places, including across the street from my center, at the tribal office, and in a bushy area down by the river.
The food security project I work with often sells at the pension market, and I asked if I could go this week. Even though I’ve been in South Africa for two years, it was never feasible to go. In my old village, it was on the other side, which is a 5km walk from my school. So I’d have to miss school and walk 10km roundtrip, and I knew I wouldn’t buy much if I had to go. But I’ve been wanting to go to see a pension market for a long time.
It’s a cross between a farmer’s market and a flea market, with a good dose of rural Africaness added in for good measure. In other words, it’s utter chaos, but in a good way. We pulled up with our bakke full of beetroot, green pepper, and spinach a little while before they were paying out, but there was already a good crowd there, and we started selling right after we parked. Picture it: a beat up old bakke full of fresh veggies pulled onto the dirt along a tarred road, women sitting on bits of cardboard nearby, selling all manner of goods, chattering away in Tsonga.
I got a lot of looks, but far fewer than imagined. For laughs, I’ll let you know what I looked like: a young white lady in a nice knee length skirt, white cardigan, and mary jane shoes….I came straight from work and was a little overdressed. Oops. And I forgot my hat and/or umbrella. Double oops. Most of the women were in some form of traditional dress, so I definitely looked more out of place than usually. But it was all good!
We stayed there for a few hours (in the hot, hot sun), and sold almost everything, which was very encouraging. I bought a few avocados and bananas, and enjoyed seeing what was all for sale. Next month I plan to bring my new site mate to the market. They sell everything, and for really good prices: all sorts of produce, steel wool cleaning pads, ice cream, live chickens, tobacco, mealie meal, sugar, minchekas and xibelani skirts, beadwork, buckets, basins, mopani worms, funeral plans, life insurance, achar, vetkoeks, biscuits….so much stuff, and I didn’t even leave the bakke. I only saw a small portion of the market!!
I had an unpleasant experience with a very irate gentleman, and my race probably added insult to injury. He wanted us to move our bakke because we were in his friend’s spot (there aren’t assigned spots…mass chaos, remember?), and I couldn’t, and my counterpart was away looking for avocados. I didn’t have the keys, but it was also unreasonable for him to ask. Mind you, his friend wasn’t even there. It put me in the awful position of having to reinforce some racial stereotypes, which made me feel awful. Though his cussing me out didn’t make me feel any better.
Overall, it was a great day, and I really enjoyed seeing the market. I definitely got a kick out of the women I’d see carrying live chickens tucked under their arms….guess what’s for dinner. I look forward to going back, and I might just buy myself some traditional beadwork or a xibelani skirt. But probably not a live chicken. And, we sold quite a bit of produce, which supports our food security project!