As we attempt to present the most candid and nuanced view of what life in Kinshasa is like, we'll be posting entries describing some of our daily activities that we consider interesting, though-provoking, uncomfortable, or just plain confusing. This week: the market.
Though you may not expect it, Kinshasa is a very expensive place to call home. And as a small, struggling business, this reality makes every purchase, especially food shopping worth some scrutiny.
As a general practice, we try to shop in Marché Zigida for local produce on Saturday mornings and the more western style supermarkets lit by fluorescent lights and lined with oreo cookies, Camembert cheese, and organic pasta once a week. Located about half a kilometer away from the Stade de Martyr and about 2 kilometers from our quieter, expat and business neighborhood of Gombé, the experience at Marché Zigida is a hot, sticky, dirty, and loud one. Once our humble Nissan makes it over bridges dammed with garbage and past construction sites promising modern high rises or sprawling government buildings, we're typically approached by 3-4 Congolese kids with tattered, plastic baskets in hand trying to be hired as our porters (for about an hours worth of work, we pay 400 FC - about $.45).
Depending on the season, the market offers a good selection of pineapples, papaya, mangosteen, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, mint, cilantro, and manioc, an important staple in the typical Congolese diet as well as live goats, chicken, and dried and smoked fish. The market also has a selection of other food staples like rice, tomato paste, freshly ground peanut butter (no additives!), creepy crawly live grubs and some cooked food. This week, Eric came along and sampled a freshly fried beignet claiming that he's hooked.
Like market experiences the world over, the prices of Marché Zigida fluctuate based on clientele. Though we do engage in some bargaining, we acknowledge that the mundele—the Lingala word for foreigner—tax just sort of comes with the territory and have neither the patience nor the skills to really participate in the kind of bargaining that locals are accustomed to. Once you accept this, it can be a fun and engaging experience that almost always ends with bags of fresh produce and a small cadeau. On a typical market day, we'll spend the equivalent of about $30 for a weeks worth of produce for two households.
As might be expected, the western style supermarkets mostly located in Gombé charge considerably more. Just about everything besides the small selection of locally grown produce is imported from Europe, the U.S., or South Africa. Prices reflect the distance traveled. Celery or leeks can cost as much as $8/kilo. Yogurt will run you $9 for a 6-pack. There is a certain comfort in the familiarity of the whole experience; instinct tells you exactly where to find rice cakes or cashews, the A/C blasts, prices are fixed, groceries are bagged, and you're in and out with minimal interaction with anyone besides the cashier who will have change for your hundred dollar bill.
Despite the vast natural resources that exist in DRCongo, very little money is reinvested into any sort of agricultural or food processing infrastructure. The western palate so accustomed to choices within a hands reach is not one that is accessible to local population living on a local income. And that we rely so heavily on these western supermarchés is just another reminder that our presence here is not even close to being sustainable.