Usipa and Musawa

By Whitney Camarena

In one word, the market is: loud. Bartering happens in mere seconds, every second. The vendors chant and whistle tantalizing offers for dresses, magazines, chickens. We weave our way through the shanties and some how ended up surrounded by the fish sector on all sides. There was no making it out of here without passing at least three tables I thought to myself, each piled high with usipa, small fish. I fought the desire to breath for as long as my lungs could bear the detachment from air, until I caved. Instantly, I regretted it.

The mounds were to my elbows and there was no escaping quickly because the crowd was also at my elbows. There is no sense of personal space in Malawi, or deodorant. I can’t say I mind it; in fact, I really like the community here. There is no putting on airs or pretending like I don’t want to hold everyone’s hand – or that I remembered to use deodorant either. We just sort of get close and try to not smell anything. I am hoping that a person get’s used to it – the smell – but I have a feeling that body odor never really becomes pleasant. No matter, it is a small price to pay for everything else. The fish are silver and their open eyes glitter in the sun. It is as if they mean to wink at clients and say “I’m a good price! Buy a half-kilo of me and my sisters; boss’ll give you a deal.”

We sit at a local BBQ joint. A group of men plays a game of marbles. It is called “ball game”. I can hear their howls and smack talk. They crunch on long poles of mujuwa, sugar cane, chewing and spitting out the thick fibers. One of them pauses to shout; the rest laugh at his taunt. The two players do not break concentration. They continue to play. The rest eat.

My friends are enjoying shish-kabobs of some meat. I think it is pork.
I did not have one, but I am thinking maybe next time I will. They smelled wonderful.


  1. You made us laugh. Intense writing, vivid in detail…made us laugh aloud. We love your writing!


  2. The vivid details take me to the market as though I am experiencing the excitement of the marketplace with you!


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