Giving Good Price


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, April 14, 2004 was originally posted on April 17, 2004.

DAY 179:  One way to help aid a developing nation like Zambia is to pump foreign money into its economy.  And what better way to do so as a tourist than by buying souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home.  By the end of the day, it seemed that Deann bought enough to increase Zambia’s Gross National Product tenfold.

WHEN DEANN WOKE UP IN SHELLE’S ROOM and I woke up in the temporary spare room in the ZEHRP flat that morning in Lusaka, Cristina was already on the computer in the living room, working from home, preparing all her reports.  It was her last week of working at the project; she had already given her two weeks notice and was taking a job at the U.S. embassy in town.  Shelle, who was still contracted at ZEHRP until the end of June, had gone to work, but left her guests a handwritten map and directions to local craft markets. 

A TAXI TOOK DEANN AND MYSELF TO THE NORTHMEAD CRAFT MARKET, in the Northmead neighborhood in town, a somewhat touristy area — well, as touristy as a place like Lusaka can get; it isn’t exactly on the top of a traveler’s “must-see” list unless they have business there or people to visit.  The market was a small “town,” consisting of five rows of stalls, many of which sold identical wood carvings and other assorted chotchskies (picture above). 

With the similarities in products — the vendors here are “middle men,” buying carvings from similar small villages to sell in the city — getting the attention of the mzungus was a fierce game, especially on a weekday.  Most of them had similar tactics and the same pitches:

“Come in and look.  Looking is free.”

“Madam, I give you good price.”

“I give you discount because you are my first customer.”

Of course, this is followed by an opening price by the vendor that is twice what you should pay, if not more.  You say, “No, that’s too high,” and say one-third the price until they come down and you go a little up and they come down again and you say “That’s still too high.”  Then you play the game of collecting multiple items that you may or may not want and quote a collective price for all of it and start over again. 

The whole bargaining game comes to a close when you make motions to leave, at which point they cave and give you the last price you quoted before you just go to the next stall who has the same exact stuff.  Sometimes, it is literally the same exact stuff; they bring the items from one stall to another and have the next guy continue the bargaining if you never sealed the deal.

Deann had one of these collective propositions on the table with one vendor who kept on transferring the goods down the line, stall to stall.  It included some wood carvings and a “Zambian silver” bracelet that Deann said, if it was real silver, she would probably pay about twenty bucks for it in The States.  The vendors heard this and kept on insisting on around that price.  They would come down to a really low price on the other things, provided that she bought the bracelet at ZK100,000 — which prompted me to advise, “It must not be real silver worth twenty dollars; they’re probably coming down low on the carvings knowing they’d make back the money in the bracelet.”  Deann was headstrong and refused the deal over and over, even though we were pretty much stalked the entire day by someone who just wanted to sell the bracelet.

DEANN AND I WALKED THE ROWS OF VENDORS looking at the different masks, statues, wire sculptures and baskets — Deann more than me because she was leaving in a couple of days and had a list of people to get things for.  Between the two of us, I was the only one with kwacha currency, so she had to keep on “withdrawing” money from me like an ATM, until she just bought some kwacha off of me with dollars during lunch.  By the end of the day, she bought enough gifts to complete most of her list — only when the price was right — and even had measurements taken for some custom-made dresses and skirts for herself that she was having made by a friendly seamstress that Cristina recommended.

I was a different story; I still had many miles and many months to go, and I knew that buying anything that would weigh me down — it was bad enough I was lugging a laptop computer around.  My money that day went to a haircut I got from a dusty little shack of a barber shop.  However, I did play around with the bargaining game every now and then, chatting to different vendors who eagerly tried to sell me things, after of which I’d say something like “Thank you.  I’m still looking around, but I know you are here.”

Other than the wooden chairs and some handmade postcards, one thing that caught my attention was the African board game nsolo, a traditional game that was used to resolve disputes in the villages.  Using a wooden board with four rows of eight “cups,” two players, transfer rocks from each cup to the next in a counter-clockwise position, grab the contents of the spot they landed in and continue.  The rules are too hard and boring to explain here, but long story short:  the one with all the stones on his/her side wins. 

I learned this all when I hung out with in a vendor’s stall as he demonstrated the whole game to me, playing with a little girl.  (The girl won.)  Of course he capitalized on my interest using a tactic I had not heard before.

“I know you are not a tourist with a lot of money.  You are a volunteer here, right?”

“Yes.”  (Little did he know that the extent of my volunteer work in Africa was washing a couple of dogs.)

“Where do you volunteer?”


“I know you are good and here to help the Zambian people, so I give you good price.”  He made me look at him straight in the eye to establish that he was being honest with me.  In the end, we went from ZK300,000 to ZK160,000.  I really didn’t want it — it’s way to heavy for my travels — but entertained him by telling him that I’d think about it overnight and perhaps just come another day; I was a “volunteer at ZEHRP” and was “living in Lusaka” after all.

Meanwhile, Deann was shopping and still avoiding the stalker that was trying to sell her the silver bracelet, even in the parking lot.  We eventually lost him real quick in the maze and got into a taxi before he could catch up with his “good price.”

BACK AT THE FLATS THAT NIGHT wasn’t nearly as hectic.  After a beer run with Cristina at the local convenience store, the night was a chilled out one with beers, delivered pizza pies (including one named “Something Meaty”) and The Office and The Simpsons on DVD.

Deann spent some of her time back at the flat sorting out all her purchases of the day, or, as she put it, “doing inventory.”  While it seemed Deann may have pumped enough money to increase the Gross National Product tenfold, Shelle told me that that was nothing compared to when her sister Stacie came; from what I heard, Stacie probably could have personally funded a legitimate Zambian space program.

Next entry: Donations to a Country Going to Mars

Previous entry: Acronyms and Flea Shampoo

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Comments for “Giving Good Price”

  • yippee! Time zone advantage -  I’m first again smile  So Erik, since you were being dragged around shopping, were you the guy holding the bags too? wink

    Posted by Liz  on  04/17  at  11:01 AM

  • “wasn’t nearly has hectic” = wasn’t nearly as hectic….

    fix it fool…hahha

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/17  at  12:13 PM

  • MARKYT:  fixed.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/17  at  01:27 PM

  • i’m finally caught up with all the new posts.  enjoyable as always.

    Posted by Alyson  on  04/17  at  02:40 PM

  • Yippeee! I made the journal!  Sounds like your shopping in the market was just like my experience back in December.  Make sure you pick up at least one utensil set, one bowl, and one elephant key holder no matter how heavy your bags get! smile

    Shelle’s sister

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/17  at  09:53 PM

  • I’ve played that game - I can’t remember what the name was when I learned it. We used small glass nuggets instead of rocks. I’m glad to know that it REALLY does have an African origin and that it wasn’t just something my stepmom told me!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/18  at  07:27 AM

  • STACIE:  Hey there Shelle’s sister, welcome to The Fellowship of The Blog!  Spread the word! 

    I went on a shopping spree yesterday, only at the ShopRite in Manda Hill, not the craft market…  does buying a can opener count towards ‘utensils?’ wink

    Posted by Erik  on  04/18  at  11:40 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Donations to a Country Going to Mars

Previous entry:
Acronyms and Flea Shampoo


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