Barley Buying Business

I had the pleasure of going to the nearby market today to purchase 600 kilos of barley for the goat site. Now, ideally you would buy barley in 100 kilo grain sacks here. While, I wouldn’t necessarily call that method a quick process, it is quicker than what I had to go through today. Much to our dismay there are no scales at the local market, so nothing is sold by kilo. Instead, everything is measured using an old can of powdered milk. Yes, that means if you want to buy 600 kilos of barley, you will get it measured for you can by can. 7 cans = 5 kilos, so 100 kilos = 140 cans. Or in other words, 600 kilos = 840 cans of barley being counted one by one and poured into a grain sack, while you stand and wait.

This is how I wanted to buy it.

This is how they made me buy it.

Picutre the market with me for a minute. An area twice the size of a football field, filled with various countryside women selling their goods. Seeds, crops, grains, woven baskets, pottery and much much more being sold in a crowded dirt area made even more crowded by the numerous donkeys and horse buggies coming in and out. Each woman sells her individual product out of a grain sack and they all brought their goods a long way and they all want you to buy from them.

When we pulled up to the barley section of the market, I noticed that there were numerous grain sacks laying nearby that were already filled and sewn and in my opinion ready to be sold to the first taker. Or so I thought. I had a very long and lengthy discussion with my guard, who was helping me navigate the market, about just exactly why I couldn’t buy the bag of grain as it was and be done. I guess the amount of barley in those sacks had not been measured, so I was not allowed to purchase it as it was. My guard insisted, as did the lady selling the barley, that I allow her to count out each can and pour it into a new grain sack. He assured me that it would go very quickly, even after I did the math and informed him that we were talking about close to 900 cans being counted. He told me again that it would be quick. He lied. And what’s worse was I knew it was a lie when it came out of his mouth.

About an hour later, we (by we, I mean they) had only finished filling two grain sacks with barley and my guard had told me to go and sit and wait in the truck to get out of the sun. I think he was really just trying to get rid of me.  I watched from the truck as all the different ladies hassled him to buy barley from them and I thought how glad I was not to be doing this alone. Naturally, I was getting impatient. I would have been more than happy to pay a few dollars extra and just haul away an already filled bag of barley. The idea would have been ludicrous to my guard who would rather count it out can by can than pay even a few cents more than we should have. I was reminded today that the locals here are rich in time and low on cash. Whereas, I have a comparative abundance of money, but highly value the use of my time. An interesting observation I made while I was sitting and contemplating life in Africa.

We didn’t get our 600 kilos today. I called it quits after just 200 with the hope of going up the mountain to another market, where they use scales, next week. As we got in the truck, my guard told me that it was better to buy barley where we were today – that we would get more for our money there, based off of the can and not the kilo. I just nodded and decided I might not tell him when I go to the next market.

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