We ran out of milk, so under normal circumstances I would hop in the car and head for the nearest shopping mall armed with a list of the things we need around the house and a bank card in my purse. Not so in Mozambique. Yes, there are shops in Mozambique and you can get everything you need if you are in town, but that would just be boring and we don’t do boring. We headed for the Xai Xai market instead. I have been to the market at Maputo and expected something similar to it – rows of vegetables and a few shops selling everything from birds to hair extensions, maybe a shop or two selling African art… was I in for a surprise!
We entered the market just off the main road through steel gates and something about the place reminded me of how ancient markets must have been like. It had people everywhere, all selling something as exotic flavors filled the air and bright colors caught your eye. The friendly, smiling faces of the women selling chillies and spices immediately attracted the attention of our group as we had a few peri-peri and chili lovers amongst us. They pulled out the cash for their purchase – no cards here.
The Xai Xai market is huge, at least four times the size of the one I saw in Maputo and the ambiance was busy and productive. To the right is the fresh produce section of the “shopping centre” – consisting of the covered shops under a huge canopy roof separated from the open air shops by the butchery, straight ahead is the tailor section and to your left is the hardware section and the bakery.
From the moment you enter the maize of shops and vendors little children of about 7 or 8 years old will start following you around with plastic bags, hoping to sell one to you the moment you buy something and realize that you don’t have anything to carry it in. They love watching you take photos and then see it come to life on the screen of your camera or your cellphone. Videos are the best – they jostle for position to watch the scene you had just recorded and laugh out of their little tummy’s when they see someone they know on the screen. Some of the adults are much more camera shy than the kids and will often hide their faces or wave a finger at you if you want to take a picture – bear in mind that especially the older generation have lots of superstitious beliefs. We were told that some believe you are taking their soul when you take a picture. The younger generations mostly don’t mind being in a photograph and will often welcome it, but be respectful of people’s preferences when you walk around the market.
The clothing section is lined with beautiful, brightly colored clothes and accessories, but it is in the back where the real magic is happening. Taylors are cutting and sowing dresses on the spot, working at a tremendous pace to finish as many clothing items as possible to sell. Some are old, some are still young. Their handiwork is neat and precise – betraying the rustic surroundings in which the items are made. We met a cobbler working on some shoes that had just come in and he told us that he used to work in South Africa in construction, but he had to come back since he was to old to get a job and still had to provide for his family, so he started fixing shoes – an honest job for an honest man.
Even a sangoma has a shop here.
We moved on to the DIY section that would make home depot and builder’s warehouse jealous. Everything from nails to locks and ceiling boards are available and you can get it at a good price.
We lost a few people in the narrow alleys of the shops under a low roof and ran around calling for each other as we covered the rest of the shops keeping everything else you will find in a mall – sports bags, curtains, t-shirts, shoes, perfume, creams and beauty products, hair extensions, pots and everything in between. If you have little children I suggest that you keep them close or carry them as a lost child in this crowded space can take a while to find – especially since there is no intercom system to make an announcement from.
We found Manda dancing to some really good African music at a sound shop and Michael showed up with the other half of our group near the bakery where we realized that I had lost my parents-in-law somewhere along the way – and no, it was not on purpose! Luckily they found us as we all drifted towards the smell of freshly baked paos. A pao is the best bread you will ever eat. It is a Mozambican delicacy that we eat every time we come here. Banting flies out the window the moment anybody smells pao.
Don’t let the size of the pao fool you – it may look like an ordinary bread roll but will feed a grown man to the full! It is nutritious and delicious and very, very addictive to bread lovers such as myself. Which is why we bought enough paos to feed our entire group for probably the rest of the year before we discovered another yummy Mozambican treat. The ladies at the bakery sold little cookies that tasted like south-african vetkoek or doughnuts without icing. They also sold soft salty cookies that was lightly spiced and also available in peri-peri. We ate bags of the stuff!
On your way out remember to stop for ice cream. Especially on a hot day!
This will be one shopping experience that you will not forget. Xai Xai market has friendly people working in the shops and you are treated kindly as a tourist and welcomed by the vendors. It is a definite must see for all tourists and a great place to stock up on supplies before heading North.
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Lizzie & Manda