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As always in West Africa, people usually dress in vibrant colors, especially the women. It’s a beautiful sight to see. Around Boukombé, the markets are the most animated during the dry season. People are not otherwise occupied with agricultural labor, and harvests are in, so there is plenty to buy. The temperature that time of the year can be HOT…really hot.

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The sweat will be pouring off of you, running into your eyes, even, the entire time. Some of the little hangars have metal roofs, creating ovens. Just bring water, it’s all part of the charm! 

Once you wade through the sea of old bicycles at the entrance, the scene unfolds. Food vendors are mostly women, sitting behind mounds and basins full of grain or beans, or small piles of fresh or dried leafy vegetables, tomatoes, fruit or tubers. They sell Baobab Powder, Baobab Seeds and Shea Butter. Some are busy frying bean cakes or yam chips. Others have assortments of batteries, canned tomato paste, soap, sardines or other sundries. The dried fish stalls are particularly pungent! Hunters may be walking around with grotesque looking dried game such as rats, rabbits, pigeons, partridges and squirrels. If someone slaughters a pig, sheep or cow, he’ll be sitting behind piles of hacked up meat and offal. There are usually vendors walking around selling live chickens, guinea hens, sheep and goats; squawking and bleating up a storm.

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The cacophony of people shouting and bargaining and laughing, mixed with the animal sounds is something to behold! In one corner of the markets around Boukombé, old men on stools tap magic canes in concert with someone sitting on the ground in front of them. They trace lines in the sand, and throw cowrie shells and small coins. These are the soothsayers or oracles. They can help people to see the future, or determine what sacrifices to make to the ancestors to maintain good health in their families. Blue Cross Blue Shield, Otammari style.

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About half of the marketplace is where you would go to buy or sell necessary items. It is best to go before noon to make sure you get what you need. Later in the day, the other side of the market gets very animated. Dozens of ladies with big clay jars, plastic buckets and gourds have come from their homes and villages to sell Tchoukoutou, an actively fermenting, warm and unfiltered sorghum beer that they have been brewing for three days. Tchouk is a huge part of the culture there. And let’s just say it really adds to the ambiance at the market! People start getting buzzed and clap, sing, argue and create quite a hubbub. This is the prime place to meet people, practice language and just party down! The walk or ride home after the market winds down around 6 PM is quite funny. A lot of people have a good buzz, and are wobbling down the road singing and shouting.

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And, the next day, there is another market in the area for people to go to with a similar ambiance. On a final note, markets are also communication hubs. This is where people meet to negotiate family and business matters. Lacking much of any other communication infrastructure, this is where things get done. Atacora plans many of our Fair Partnership activities around market days because so many of our village contacts will be present.

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Atacora will be redesigning its African Marketplace page to better convey the experience of the real thing.  We are designing it to be interactive, with lots of visuals and sound.  Certainly, there will be market stalls for Baobab, Neem, Red Palm Oil, Fonio, Shea Butter, African Honey and Timuti Bracelets woven into the larger market!  Stay tuned!

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