My friends, let me tell you about this one day in Abidjan when I went to what might be the most terrifying market in the world (at least of all that I have gone to.) Suffice it to say I only went there once - and only once in my 2 months in Abidjan. Abobo market in Northern Abidjan - eish, there is only one.
My sweet couchsurfing host had said that the best market for me to get anything and everything under the sun was in Abobo market. I planned to simply take a taxi by myself to this market, but my friend kept on insisting that I let her know when I was planning to go, so that she could send someone to chaperone me. I felt like I was taking advantage of her kindness and thought to myself, "surely, I don't need someone to take me to the market." I was wrong. One morning my friend told me her cousin would take me to the market. I initially thought her cousin was going to the market either way and was going to join me. I later realized that her sole purpose of going to the market was to take me there....Really really kind people.
8am - my friend's cousin (Marie) comes to my place - we hop into a taxi - ride for 15 minutes, then jump out and jump into a minivan (I lie - not really a minivan - it was a "face me brother".) Anyone who ever plied the South B to South C route circa early 1990s would know what a face me brother is. Definitely not for those who like comfort...and avoiding eye contact....and abhor close physical contact with strangers. Marie only spoke a few words of English. I had my shopping list and my dictionary. I spent quality time in the face-me-brother translating my list into French so that our time at the market would be easier. ...ginger - Le gingembre...spices - les epices...ok.
10am - Finally get to the market. Chaos, chaos, chaos. Mikokoteni (hand carts) swinging past us! Fait attention! Lots of people, human traffic, surrounded by many vendors trying to get you to their stall. "Madamoiselle! Madamoiselle!" Turning to see women speaking to me in rapid French (none of which I could understand) but pushing buckets with live crabs to my face. Panic! Fear! Anything could happen here. Marie, where is Marie? Oh gosh, we've been separated. I see her off in the distance looking for me. MARIE!! MARIE! Here here! Pushing past women waving fish that look like snakes at me. "Non! Non! Merci! Non! Non! Merci!" Oh Lord, why did I want to come to the market again? I'm not built for chaotic situations with aggressive vendors yelling at me in a language I barely understand. Holding hands with Marie and not letting her leave my side. If I get lost here, I don't even know how to get home? How do I even find the face-me-brothers for my route? Woi, French kangez (touts)...Will I even know what is being said? Pleaaaaaaaase don't leave me! Pleaaaaase don't leave me.
11am - We have survived the main veggie section and are now going deep into the heart of the market - to the meat section...Jesus! What were those women with the buckets of crabs in our faces if not the meat section? Rogue traders? You mean there is another part of the market that has more meat than where we were? I will not leave this market alive. Getting there. The ground is wet and splashy. Looks down - fish offal floating in muddy water...animal intestines all over the place...Fight the gag reflex! Fight it! You cannot throw up here - it's already gross enough - last thing it needs is the ground covered with fish eyes, animal offals and puke...Looking around - seeing all sorts of gross looking meat. Pig legs....cow heads...fish with human heads. Jesus! I can't! Can we just leave the market? Marie: Ciku do you like this fish? (as she holds a full fish in front of me. Ciku: (thinking quietly to myself) Can I really ever eat meat again? Why does the fish have scales and wings?? Wings? No, thinking back to primary school science book - pectoral fin, dorsal fin etc....Oh my god! Those are fins? Maybe I have never actually seen a fish in its just-been-killed-but-not-prepared-for-human-consumption-capacity? Marie: Here, look - the way to tell if it's fresh is to look at the gills. Come - touch it. Ciku (thinking to myself) : Gasp! I have to touch the raw fish to see if it's fresh? Gills - gross!!! Is this fear factor? Ciku to Marie: I trust your judgement....
11:45am - Marie: Now we go get le poulet, Ciku: Ah c'est parfait! Chicken I understand. It cannot be as terrifying as the fish place.
Cluck! Cluck! Cluck! What's that noise? Oh Lord! The chicken is not yet cut into 1/8s, cleaned up and rid of all funny body parts (head, feet, intestines etc)? You want me to point to a live chicken - play the role of judge and executioner and say "that one! Kill that one - off with his head!" Ok - that one! God no - not that one - he's looking at me with pitiful eyes - ok the other one...Oh, this is evil. Can I really eat a chicken when I am responsible for its untimely death? Ciku to Mr. Chicken guy: (pointing to my head) remove that! (pointing to my stomach) pull that out! I throw imaginary intestines to the stomach to dramatize just how much I don't want them to end up with them....This guy! Seriously he doesn't understand my dramatization...Ok, let's try again "I want you to Marie Antoinette this chicken!" Get that? No head! No head! No, I do not want you to put the head, intestines and feet in another plastic bag for me. I never want to see them again - ever!
Noon: Mr. Chicken guy comes back with a black paperbag that hopefully contains the chicken, as he points to his bleeding hand. I accidentally cut up my hand as I was chopping up your chicken - hands bloody paperbag to Ciku. Which of this is is chicken blood and which is human blood?
12:15pm - We struggle to leave the market. "Madamoiselle! Madamoiselle!" Pails of snails in my face - huge huge snails! "Madamoiselle! Escargot!" Non, non!
12:30pm - In a taxi with Marie, homebound. Enough with this face-me-brother business. We have had a tough day....Let's splurge on a taxi ride. We have earned it.
1pm: At home. Marie: Ciku, let me descale the fish for you and remove all the unwanted pieces. I will also wash the chicken with vinegar for you to fix the blood situation, Ciku: God bless your soul! I was already having nightmares of having to have closer contact with that meat other than flinging it directly from a paperbag into a cooking pot.
1:30pm: Ciku naps and has recurring nightmares of fish with human heads, a chicken in the afterlife with judging eyes that has prayed that due to my sins I will come back in my next lifetime as a crab scampering out of a bucket in Abobo or a snail thinking of the good old days before someone discovered we are edible. Vows to become a vegetarian.