Saturday, July 28, 2007

In Praise of the (In)formal Economy

Living in the centre of Stone Town definitely has its perks. One of them is convenience shopping. For someone who absolutely hates the activity, this is an earth shattering statement.

My dislike for shopping stems from the time and energy needed to invest in it, especially in Toronto; all the effort and time invested in tracking items down and then traveling across the city and getting stuck in traffic just to see if it was something truly desirable, would always make my blood curdle. Why should I have to spend my precious time and money on transportation visiting multiple stores to meet my basic needs? Why can't the stores come to me?

Given this is the age of the internet, I guess that can quite easily happen from the comfort of a connected home. But I was never one for internet shopping, believing it makes people prone to the whimsical whims of hackers and cyber thieves. Perhaps this is an ungrounded thought born out of my superficial knowledge of how online shopping works, but I'd rather not take any chances thank you very much.

Internet aside, I've found that Stone Town (and Dar es Salaam's city centre) fulfil my shopping fantasy! There is no need to drive/ wait twenty minutes for the public bus to travel to the nearest store many kilometres away to get the most basic of amenities, as is the case living in suburbia Toronto. Instead Stone Town’s informal economy offers everything everyone could possibly need to live comfortably. The best part is THE STORES COME TO YOU!

A hypothetical example that closely mirrors reality: If you're in need of bathroom tissue, just visit one of the many makeshift vendors that line the narrow streets near your centrally located palace home. It only takes a minute. If you have other items on your list peanuts, bottled water, toothpaste and a cell phone voucher (it’s all "pay as you go" here), you can purchase those too, if not from the toilet paper vendor then his neighbour two meters away. Neat, eh?

Now, lets say you would like to expand your wardrobe beyond the fossil coloured quick-dry campy "I'm a Canadian traveller" look you've been rewashing every other night. Why not take time to upgrade your style and browse through the selection of khakis, dress shirts and fashion belts slung over the shoulders of another vendor? He appeared from behind a tree beside the toilet paper vendor and thinks you're in need of some fashion.

Why not complete your new look with styling sunglasses? After all, someone just appeared behind you balancing his store - a large Styrofoam platter displaying dozens of sunglasses – on top of his head. And while you’re picking out your new shades, why not chew on an orange? They can be bought from the fruit seller who's passing by with a wagon full of them, pre-peeled and ready to enjoy. And once you've done all of that, catch up on local and world news by purchasing one of six newspaper from another seller, who saw you from a distance stopping every mobile vendor within your reach (you want to finish all of your monthly shopping requirements in one go) and decided to mosey on over to try his luck.

Shopping where the stores come to you? Damn, now that's convenient.


Adam Hooper said...

Haha, I love it.

My favourite: a guy coming up to a restaurant patio, selling bedsheets.

(Oh, and meat-on-a-stick through a bus window.)

Caitlin said...

Down with suburbia! Long live urban centres!

Christina said...

Zanzibar mzungu; you seem to enjoying ur stay in Zanzibar!!!! Fantastic!! JISIKIE NYUMBANI!

Anonymous said...

Now, that's my kind of shopping.



Kristen said...

That's the most positive spin I think anyone could have put on this system. I must admit I was much more annoyed and grumpy about constantly being approached and harangued to buy junk. I'll try and adopt your attitude from now on :)

Ady said...

Keep up the good work.