Monday, August 4, 2008

Donuts! Donuts! 15 Kwacha!

I’ve always loved markets. The frantic bustle of a community coming to life through the art of haggling thrills me and I usually make a point of hitting the Saturday bonanza. Usually, I’m on the receiving end of increased prices – since I’m clearly not local – and the frantic cries of vendors distinguishing themselves, not by merchandise or value, but by the level of their voices. But not this weekend.

Madam Domasi, a neighbor to the cassava flour factory, has a small business selling lunch and snacks at the market. Always looking to supplement my meager volunteer stipend, (and the opportunity to penetrate the vendor community in search of lower prices) I managed to get a job with the Madam as a donut vendor.

Malawian donuts are slightly different from those in Canada, but the idea is pretty much the same. Dough, rolled into a donut shape is fried in oil with delicious but regrettably unhealthy results. The difference here was that we made them over a fire. Although donut making clearly wasn’t one of my natural talents, with the help of patient Madame Domasi, we soon had a basket full of donuts and were off to the market.

Initially, I set up shop on a corner lot between some clothing vendors (trousers! Yao! Yao! Yao! 300! 300! trousers!) but soon found that customers here were more interested in browsing. I needed more volume, impulse purchases, and people with the munchies. I headed for the bar.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking: “Surely Duncan, dim lighting, oak countertops, and ale on tap are not to be found in rural Malawi.” Well, you’re right. The bar was a small straw hut enclosed by a fence of high elephant grass on each side. Inside, an older woman tends to three large cauldrons of fermented maize.

If Guiness is the beer that eats like a meal, then “masese” is the beer that eats like a Thanksgiving feast. More of a porridge than a beverage, large quantities of this filling brew are sold for roughly 35 cents. I had found my donut selling hotspot.

A mzungu (westerner) selling donuts in the market was a spectacle; here it was out of control. I got as many requests for donuts as I did for chatting, tasting the local brew, and singing in the local language. I did all three (in moderation of course) and sold a lot of donuts in the process.

More than anything, it was good fun. It took me about three hours to empty my basket but queries about when I would be hawking donuts again continued throughout the week. Under pressure from the community, I ended up returning to work the following Saturday and might be back for a third if I can make it. I still need to go back for my discount trousers and my donut enterprise, “Duncan Donuts,” looks like it’s primed to be a million Kwacha idea.

45 comments:

Florin Gheorghe said...

Dude, your bat and donut stories are hilarious. Keep up the great posts!

When I have time this weekend I'll try to match your animal story with a tale of hippo attack on yours truly.

Take care and have fun! (oh, and impact)

-Flo

patb said...

Duncan, this blog is brilliant! Your positive and modest outlook is inspiring. I spent 5 years in Malawi in the early 90s and hope to go back soon as a volunteer. Someone aptly described Malawi as a "Beginner's introduction to Africa". Stick with it. Cheers and best wishes, Pat.

Arnold Kaswa said...

Oh my goodness! Duncan, you must be having fun in Malawi. Enjoy yourself. I miss the Malawi donuts.

Arnold Kaswa, UK, Wolverhampton

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Some people cannot see the wood for the trees. ............................................................

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you did a good job..................................................

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Anto Evans said...

I am seeking to establish contact with someone who lived in Chikangwe Village in 1988. Any tips on how to do that?