I’ve been in this market since 1982.
Gertrude has just come from church. She is all dressed up and looking very smart. She’s come to swap places with her sister Juliet, who has been watching their produce stand all morning. Their mother stays home with Juliet’s little boy, who is three years old.
Juliet is 24 years old. As she gets her nails done for 5,000 UGX as she eats her lunch, she proudly shows me photos of her son. She got the photos taken professionally at a studio in the market for 2,500 UGX.
Amidst casually chatting, eating lunch, and spending leisure time together in between customer arrivals, the ladies explain some of the Bugolobi Market inner-workings.
“It’s like this – there are two types,” explains Gertrude. “Some pay direct here, others, we pay to the owners. If it’s not yours, you pay monthly, and you pay the owner of the space. So it depends. For us, this first one here, we pay the owner and the council. We pay the owner 30,000 per month. And then KCCA, it’s 9,100 per month. And from here, the KCCA collects the money and takes it to the headquarters.”
“Hey!” Gertrude shouts. A truck is backing into the tent that we are sitting under. The driver stops, looks behind, and moves forward.
“It’s could also be a different price depending on the location of your stand,” she continues. “But in our building, everyone pays the same.”
Gertrude starts talking to the Margarets, discussing how much the shops around the market pay per month.
“Expensive,” says Juliet.
“The rent for the shops, inside and outside, is expensive,” agrees Margaret.
“Like 250,000 per month,” says the other Margaret.
They continue to chat about it amongst themselves in Luganda, and then turn back to me to explain in English.
“They pay according to the business type. And even the place, where you can get the customers,” says Margaret.
“You cannot compare this place that is down here to this place that is back there. Because this place down here could receive many customers,” says Juliet.
“And even up there, you cannot compare with the down here,” says Margaret.
Juliet has a Bible in her lap. She was reading the book of Job. I explain that this morning, I read Hebrews 11.
I ask about the runner system of women who deliver lunches to the shop owners around the market. How do the women work together, and who does what task?
“Some women they do it. Some they give to others to do. You can’t do it alone,” explains Gertrude.
“You can get tired,” says Margaret.
“One place has like four or five people. This one cooks meat and the other cooks beans, and after that, they serve,” continues Gertrude. She then changes the subject. “But how do you like Uganda?” I explain that I love Uganda, especially the people and the fruit.
“Eating fruit in Uganda makes me never want to eat fruit in America. You can’t even compare,” I state.
“You cannot compare?!” they all laugh. “Yes, ours is very good. But is it possible to start a fruit business in America? Is it possible to take?”
“I’m not sure what America imports from Uganda. I will Google search it and get back to you,” I say. They are all satisfied with this idea. “So how do prices change?”
“During seasons,” says Margaret. “This time, these days, Irish potatoes are the most expensive.” The season for Irish ends in February, and then starts up again in June. There are multiple growing seasons in Uganda.
“What’s the cheapest item right now?” I ask.
“Matoke. Not very high. And sweet potatoes. From January up until now, it is a bit down. But by March up to April, it will be up again. Then in May up to July, again it will be down. Again August up to December, high. That one very high price,” explains Margaret.
“So do Ugandans stop eating matoke when the price gets very high?”
“No, we eat! But in high price, nothing to do,” says Margaret. She goes on to explain that she has her own shop. “Me, I have my own. Selling matoke. And this one also [referring to the other Margaret]. She also has her own. We just pay stakeholders direct,” says Margaret. They just pay 9,100 UGX to the KCCA.
“I’ve been in the market since 1995,” says Margaret. “But this one has stayed longer.”
“1982,” says the other Margaret. She was here at Bugolobi Market during the rule of Idi Amin. Margaret raises her eyebrows. She gets her matoke by truck from Mbarara, close to her home village.
“Even before I was born,” exclaims Juliet.
“Is it hard to get a shop? Is there a waiting list?” I ask.
“No, it is easy,” they reply.
Suddenly the chatting in Luganda gets very serious. A man walks up, and the women talk with him and point.
“The trash there,” points Gertrude. “You see there, across in the cavera. They are not supposed to put trash there, but they pour rubbish there. And they told these people to put it some place else, and the vehicles would pick it. But now they have refused to help us take care of the rubbish. So we’ve decided to put the rubbish in front of KCCA. We shall bring it here. We have just brought it and now flies are like this. When someone comes and finds rubbish there, they cannot eat food. It smells badly.”
They continue discussing the rubbish issue, and Gertrude explains that the man with whom they are speaking “works in the market, but they gave him rubbish from the flats to drop in the market.”
Oliver’s granddaughter puts one of the soda bottle caps in her mouth. Margaret alerts Oliver, who immediately removes the cap from her granddaughter’s mouth.
“We used to gather rubbish outside,” continues Juliet. “They chased the rubbish from out there and put in some nice grass. So now they tell us that we are to put the rubbish there. In the market!” It is quite a heated conversation as the women alert other women of their plan to stack the garbage in front of the KCCA market office.