Vendors in the Mbita Market, Downtown Mbita

A couple of days ago, I wrote about prices in the local market. In that post there were some pictures of some local sellers. To be fair, I printed them out and took copies to the people in the pictures as a way of saying thanks. Prints are cheap, and people get excited about having pictures of themselves around. It’s a small price to pay for invading someone’s space for a while.

Someone saw me giving out copies and pretty soon nearly the entire market was asking to have their picture taken. In Malawi, taking pictures in a market is a big no-no. Here it’s entirely ok.

Photographing people in a crowded market in the middle of the day is kind of a challenge and, to be honest, I don’t like having my camera out in the open. It draws attention and attracts young thieves. I’m consoled, though, by newspaper reports of market thieves being burned alive (whatever you do, don’t Google it).

Upon first looking at the pictures, I was fairly underwhelmed. Shots of people I’ve had the chance to speak to are always far better than just shots of people I don’t know at all; the story is everything. I must have shot nearly 50 people in a span of 3 minutes so there really wasn’t much time for conversation. To me, these were just some rushed shots of some random people in the market.

However, looking at them again, I discovered something interesting. I realized that every single one of the people in the pictures made a point of demonstrating their trade, or wanted themselves to be featured at their stand clearly identifying themselves as the owners.

All of them took the time to make themselves look good before having their picture taken. Some put on their “uniform,” which was usually an apron. A few even went out of their way to look like they were passing goods to customers, emphasizing that they are merchants who believe in what they sell.

Nearly all of the vendors in the market are women. Some are in their 80’s. Some are just kids. Some have small children with them. All of them appear to know each other well. Almost none of them speak English, indicating that few have been to school.

It’s clear from the pictures that every one of the market vendors is immensely proud of what they do, even if its just selling a few tomatoes, having a small cooking oil stand or dealing in kitchen goods. I’m certainly not denigrating market sellers, but the level of pride evident in this small, out of the way market in this isolated corner of the planet was pretty inspiring.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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