I dropped two daughters in Children's World (play centre) at Adams Arcade today and made a quick foray into Mitumba. I always plan to be very quick because the place sucks you in, sends you into a dither of panicked decision making and the whole process is never quick at all. If you go with a friend, it's doubly bad.
Wobbly tables are laden with piles of second hand clothes or otherwise clothes are arranged on palettes on the ground - it's not ideal shopping conditions. In the more permanent stalls the clothes are hung up on wire hangers which makes nice ones easier to spot from afar. On the whole the spectacle of all those clothes is overwhelming.
What makes it slightly easier is that the vendors often 'specialise' in one type of garment, be it jackets, spagetti strap tops, tracksuit pants, jeans, women's shoes etc. I once went there specifically in search of high heeled knee high boots and miraculously got exactly what I wanted within half an hour - a pair of real leather Bally boots (OK they are a half size too small, but just wearable without causing permanent damage for the odd evening out).
Just before going to England I set my heart on finding Converse All Stars for myself and my youngest daughter and eventually found the two Rasta men that I was looking for with a whole stand devoted to the brand - all colours of the rainbow hanging by their laces in pretty garlands Choosing a pair was quite a sweat. The fact that these guys were so well hidden in the middle of a maze of stall holders, made finding them all the sweeter. They even had a low bench for customers to try on - having said that the decision making was agony (pink or blue or brown or cow print?). The reason I wanted these shoes specifically was that I have learned to my agony that the fact I never walk in Kenya (always jumping in and out of the car), means that I suffer badly from sore feet due to inadequate shoes when visiting England - especially when tramping up and down town high streets during summer sales.
I can tell that you might be shocked, or covertly wincing about me stooping so low as second hand shoes, but I promise you, they are all cleaned up good as new and often pristine in colour too, many have barely been worn. A seasoned mitumba shopper will be good at checking out the writing inside the shoe to see if it is crisp or rubbed through wear.
This time I was in search of some good Timberland type of boots for our gardener x2. 1) because I felt guilty for forgetting to bring them anything from England for them and 2) I could see Jared's toes peeping out from between the leather and the sole of his boot yesterday (my husband says the expression is, 'his shoes are laughing') 3) I got two pairs each for Florence and Gladys in England to add insult to their injury.
I found two pairs of Timberland boots a couple of years ago for 1,500 shillings for the same reason - though when I handed them over, I noticed that they were never once worn for work. At that time there was a man in Mitumba who specialised in Timberlands exclusively. However, I no longer know my way around very well since the whole of Toi Market was razed to the ground during post election violence, and the whole place has had to be reassembled ('rebuilt' would be misleading as it's all very makeshift) - everything has changed.
Some vendors assured me that my guy was right to the centre of the market, far from the more salubrious (and expensive) stalls outside. I could tell that this was not going to be the quick trip I had planned. Stallholders outside the allocated 'market' area have problems with City Council officials periodically destroying their sites, but it is worthwhile for them to trade nearer proper shops, outside where perhaps business is brisker. To be honest, getting inside the market proper is a headache.
First there is the walk down the hill, then past Toi school, along a narrow alley way past the school wall and then deep into the market. Instead of the dark covered walkways of the past - which must have been huge fire hazard then, in fact the place must have gone up like matchsticks, daylight was much more in evidence this time with odd bits of thin plastic sheeting strung up overhead. The undulating, compacted mud under foot was the same - imagine Medieval London and you are somewhere close to the Mitumba experience.
It didn't take long to pass the clothes sellers and reach peripheral tables of cabbages, tomatoes and onions that led then to open ground. The market is now much smaller than it ever was before. Men pushing metal handcarts took no prisoners as they passed - the etiquette is to leap clear as fast as you can as they whistle to warn you of their approach.
Half an hour had passed and I still hadn't found the Timberland man, plus I was begining to worry about leaving my children so far away (though they did have my mobile number). When you get deep into the market, you feel very far from home, so I marched out and headed back. However, I was not ready to admit defeat. The last thing I wanted was to return home empty handed but as I passed the umpteeth jeans stand I thought I might wing it and ask if they had any 'Seven for all Mankind' jeans for me. (ever the shopaholic!) Each time I asked tentatively for 'Seven', I got a blank expression and handed a pair of Levis. I had bought Diesel jeans before, but thought I might be pushing my luck with this £100+ brand.
On the 3rd stand I struck gold. A man standing amid what must have been x1,000 pairs of women's jeans said 'yes' - he rifled through a pile and said 'we have one pair'. They seemed damp, 'straight from the wholesale market today' he said. All credit to him -I checked out the labels, they were genuine. Though I didn't try them on there and then (if I had been wearing a long skirt I would have tried them on underneath) I couldn't resist a punt and bought them. Got home to discover - perfect fit!
Now on a winning streak, I bargained for some good quality, heavy duty boots in the similar Timberland/Caterpiller style - one pair size 7, the other size 9. Jared popped them on as soon as I got home and by way of thanks shot me a broad grin.
It is widely accepted that Mitumba shopping is pricey these days. Due to the 21st century mass production of cheap garments, you often find that many of the second hand clothes are being sold in Africa for more than they would have cost new. When I first started going to Mitumba, some clothes were going for 20/- each if you were willing to dive into jumbled piles, now you are lucky to get anything for less than 200/-. For the brands I was looking for, and in spite of launching my best Swahili charm offensive, prices started at over 1,000/-. It's all fun though. I love the thrill of the chase!
Now I can stand proudly next to my sister and sister in law whose Seven jeans I admired when in England last month and when they ask about my lovely new pair I'll just say, 'oh, thanks....they're Seven' and no one will be any the wiser!