Want to learn about a city that you are visiting? Then head to a local market and it is there that all will be revealed. Here in Kigali, Rwanda, the market that we visited was the Kimironko Market. The moment a car stops, these green jacketed ‘guides’ descend like vultures…all trying to make a deal with the occupants to show them around or to purchase items on their behalf. Although they can be seen as intimidating, they are friendly and not as aggressive as some of the market staff I have interacted with in other cities. Luckily our taxi driver accompanied us inside so we were left alone after the initial contact.
This particular market seems to have more seamstresses under one roof than I have experienced in any other market. Aside from ready-to-wear garments, they will make you bespoke clothes to suit your measurements and your choice of fabric. All of them use vintage Singer machines, which just goes to show how reliable that product is.
Interesting fact #21: Singer Corporation is an American manufacturer of domestic sewing machines, first established as I. M. Singer & Co. in 1851 by Isaac Merritt Singer with New York lawyer Edward Clark. Best known for its sewing machines, it was renamed Singer Manufacturing Company in 1865, then The Singer Company in 1963.(sourced from Wikipedia)
Some of the women on a break while they contemplating if we are potential customers or not. The latter proved to be true although my wife did buy a purse from one of them. Haggling here is a must as that is seen as culturally correct. It means that you wish to interact with the seller rather than just handing over an amount of money. Price is always negotiable in markets like this, as there are many people selling similar items who will be prepared to ‘discuss’ price. So don’t buy the first object you see…
Modern technology has reached into the side alleys of this market. It must be most frustrating waiting for tourists or locals to come and buy, so having a phone and connectivity is a must. One of the stalls even has an Instagram account!
Aside from the phones and hand-held calculators, I did not see any electronic card machines. I suggest that you come armed with small denomination notes and coins as that makes it easier to haggle. It seems that the market is split roughly 50/50 between fruit and vegetables and clothing and household items. All the edible goods appear to be sold by weight and these old-fashioned scales can be found all over.
The next generation of stallholder? I did not find either fish or meat products, meaning that the overriding smell is that of fruit and vegetables, rather than fresh(?) protein. Some of the markets that I have visited in Africa and Vietnam have such a pungent odour that gas masks are almost compulsory.
I bet that you can find anything from a shoe to a pot and most things in-between in these cramped alleyways. Thank goodness for the skylights that allow light to reach even the furthest corners of the covered market. Unlike a market in Saigon, where I was left feeling claustrophobic and wanting to leave, here I was comfortable to wander and interact with the locals.
A moment to catch up on family news? All the produce that needs to be cleaned, sifted, sorted or graded is done by hand. The pace here appeared to be slow and steady even though the market gave the impression of being bustling and busy.
If you are looking for hand made clothes, a unique souvenir, or some fresh produce to munch on as you tour the city, then the Kimironko Market should be on your must-visit list while in Kigali. Allow yourself about 40-60 minutes here. Recommended.
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