Sunday, January 8, 2012

Do they have supermarkets and department stores and malls like we have here or is it more small stores and open markets?

Great question! There are many markets which sell fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fabric, local crafts, etc...This is where many of the locals do the majority their shopping. You'll find these types of markets both in Kigali and in the provinces. There are also small grocery stores all around Kigali (and in bigger towns outside of the city) that provide bread, candy, canned/boxed goods, hygiene products, and much more.

Finally, there is every ex-patriot or western travelers favorite store: Nakumatt. Nakumatt is a Kenyan, Western-inspired supermarket with everything you can imagine. When I came in September, there was only one located in the Union Trade Center. Now, there is another one a mere 5 minutes walk away from there! I don't exactly understand the marketing scheme behind this, but this is Africa, right? Anyway, some of the things I buy in Nakumatt include: Oreos and Ritz crackers (imported from Indonesia), Heinz ketchup, and soy sauce. Perhaps these seem like random items, but to a girl who lives to eat, it's heaven. There is a similar supermarket called Simba, but I only shop there when I can't find what I want at Nakumatt (which is rare).

Nakumatt and Simba are really the only big stores that can compare to what we have back in the US. There are no malls or department stores. The streets of Kigali are lined with small shops selling everything you can imagine and in most cases, set prices do not exist. You'll have to haggle to get the best deal possible. If you're a muzungu (white person) this can prove to be difficult. I always ask someone how much an item should cost before I go to buy it so I have a ballpark to work with. It's very common for a shopkeeper to charge a white person double the price. But when you throw out a few words in kinyarwanda ("oya" meaning "no" and "umusazi" meaning "crazy" are my favorites to use in these types of situations) you can whittle the price down to something reasonable.

One final thing I should mention, mostly because it blows my mind, is the method in which Rwandans use to buy clothing. There is no Wal Mart or JC Penny. Instead, there are street vendors who walk around with a pile of jeans on their heads and t-shirts in their arms. Interested in a pair of jeans? Flag one of these guys down and he'll be more than happy to help you! Can't find what you're looking for? At the market there are tons and tons of used clothes (ever wonder where old Salvation Army, GoodWill, and other donated clothes go when they can't be sold?) that you can barter your little heart out on!


Liz said...

Thanks Elena. You have answered my next question too. I wondered if prices were set or if you had to haggle. When Rusty travelled to Singapore and Malaysia many years ago he had to haggle to buy items. The local that he was with yelled at him because he didn't haggle enough to get the price lower. Said he was ruining it for the locals. Rusty thought that the price was already a bargain compared to here.

Elena said...

Yeah, people here will definitely take advantage of you if you're white. It does make it really difficult when a bunch of tourists settle for the first price they are given because then the vendors expect all white people to act that way. I've had cases where I couldn't get a price I believed to be correct so I had a Rwandan friend go and buy it for me. It was easy for them to get the real price. I get frustrated sometimes, but if a merchant is willing to give me a fair price, I often go back to them repeatedly. I have a woman at the market who is the only person I buy fabric from. None of the other sellers even try to get my business anymore because they know I wont buy from someone who marks things up double the price.