First published in Apsara Magazine, Issue 1, 2009
– A SATURDAY MORNING FASCINATION WITH THE MARKET –
There is a palpable excitement in the air on Saturdays that is missing from the other days. Even the sky on Saturday always seems different from weekdays and Sundays. The weekend is starting and anything can happen. The possibilities on a Saturday morning always seem to me to be infinite – especially if the day was cloudless and sunny.
The infinite possibilities of my Saturday mornings are always linked to the market. One of my earliest memories comes from when I was three or four years old and is connected with the market. As I was walking through Bourda market with my parents, I picked a fruit up (maybe a shining red cashew) – in full view of my parents and the smiling vendor – and stubbornly refused to put it back. And although my mother sternly told me to put it back, the vendor said that I could keep it.
Years after the moment of that first memory, when my mother was working and living out of Guyana, one of my favourite rituals with my father was walking through Bourda for fruits and then to Plaisance for meat on Saturday mornings, bantering with all of the vendors we met and bought things from. And although twenty years have passed since then, I never lost my fascination for walking through the market: from walking with my wicker-basket fetching parents in the 1980s, pushing a bicycle through the concrete corridors of Bourda with my school friend, Javin, in the 90s, or driving there on my own and walking through alone now.
Who could say what strange and unusual things I might find at the market on Saturday? Or what sights I might meet. A man with a string of crabs shouting “crowbey” (translated “crab here”), monkey apples, stinking toe, primrose, fat pork, and a strange orange fruit called barahar that I’ve seen once every ten years or so. Jamoon might have come into season. Or seaside grapes.
There are still a few women selling there who can remember me as a little boy going with my father. These days they say to me when I go looking for jamoons and plums, “I never see your father now”. My retort to them is, “if you can see me, why would you want to see him?” Another one never allows me to pay for the green mangoes and tamarind I try to buy from her, despite my protests, because my father would always help her whenever she had legal problems, a calling I seem to have taken over from him: I once went with her to the Clerk of Markets, a position I would never have known existed were it not for her.
Later in my life, I was introduced to Mon Repos market – first for sheep entrails and then for fish eggs. I’ve always had a fascination for eating the weirdest things, which maybe can be blamed on my grandfather who taught me suck raw duck eggs from the shell. At Mon Repos I would buy sheep intestines, liver, lungs, and stomach and have pachownie, a curried combination of them all, made. I’ve also bought sheep blood, which is salted, seasoned, cut up like meat and fried, and sheep brains, which look like fried eggs when cooked. l’ve bought all kinds of strange fish eggs, the best being gilbaca for currying and snapper for frying – although I’ve also bought catfish, paku and cuirass eggs.
One day I was there at the Mon Repos market and saw some strange meat and asked what it was. Told that it was creketteh, snails, my interest raised: I’d only heard that people ate them but had never seen any selling anywhere. If there were so many on sale there, I presumed nothing would happen to me after eating them, so, I bought them. They taste much better than you’d expect snails to taste. As good, in fact, as any other meat you might find on your dining table.
Who knew all these strange things were on sale at the markets and could be cooked? I certainly didn’t grow up eating any of them (though, in addition to the duck eggs, my grandfather also made cottage cheese, dried shrimp omelettes, and a dried shrimp paste which he put on bread as a condiment), but I have very liberal parents and when I bring some snails home for currying, they say nothing. My mother, if no one else, will even sometimes venture to taste some of my stranger finds.
When I was a student in Barbados and Trinidad for two years each, I tried to recreate the market experience that I’d had in Guyana. So, early in the morning in Barbados I used to hop on to a ZR, as the minibuses are called, and go down to Bridgetown. The Cheapside market (named for its location and not for the cheapness of the things you can find there) is a minute’s walk from the bus park in Bridgetown. Some of the vendors there were Guyanese, but the things that could be bought there were not exotic at all, as at Bourda and Mon Repos. I could buy potatoes and onions anytime in an air conditioned super market, if I wanted. I wanted to hear shouts of “crowbey” and find whitey to buy. So, all I bought was fresh eschallots for the three-minute noodle ramen soup that I perfected as a student. In Trinidad it was the same. Tunapuna market on a Saturday morning was bustling, but where were the exotic things I’d grown accustomed to? Although both markets did something to recreate my Saturday morning life at home, neither came up to my expectations.
Many Guyanese abroad say that they are afraid to come back to Guyana because of the things they read in the newspapers. It might sound shallow, but I think that you get a better measure of a society by walking through its markets, buying things and talking to the people there than you can ever get from compiling statistics drawn from the newspapers.
One of the joys of living in Guyana is being able to go down to the market on a Saturday morning. You never know what you might find.