Seven for $7 – a shopping spree in Bunia

A shopping spree in Bunia, Congo

This post is a girl thing. About shopping. You’ve been warned.

The truth is I really don’t like shopping. I don’t like malls and I don’t like trying on clothes. I do get bored with my clothes, though, and want “new” things, but am too cheap to buy much except at thrift stores, which I have a secret passion for. (OK, not so secret.)

Yesterday I decided to walk to town again, mostly to get exercise, and I enjoy observing cities at a walking pace. I didn’t have anywhere I needed to go, but ended up at the small, exceedingly shabby market near our church at the south end of town.

One row of wooden stalls at this market comprises the used clothing section. I’m not sure exactly how each merchant acquires their wares, but they come with a monstrous sack of clothes, usually of a certain category. One merchant might sell mostly coats, another baby clothes, another button-down shirts, another t-shirts, and so on. It’s surprisingly well organized. Many of the clothes still have the Goodwill or Value Village price tag attached, which tells you that these are clothes that even thrift store shoppers in America didn’t want, so they are shipped off to Africa.  The merchants usually hang clothes in several rows on the three walls of the shack, then pile the rest on the table in front, and I do mean pile – you have to dig through, looking for a color or fabric you like, then pull the item out to see what it looks like – the size, style, condition. It’s a bit like treasure hunting, and there’s a method and art to finding good things buried in a pile of clothes.

Everything (except baby clothes which are cheaper) costs $1 each. It’s seriously hard for me to resist buying clothes when they are only $1.  I found seven promising items, tried them on over my clothes, and bought them.

That evening on my way to a girl’s movie night at the Medair house, I told the women in the car about my delightful little shopping spree. I added that in the US I often try on 20 items at a thrift store and don’t buy a thing, and yet here I found seven, couldn’t see how they looked on me, but like everything I bought! They all said, “…perhaps it’s because you haven’t been shopping in a long time.” Hmm.  Could be.

It’s impossible to explain fully why I get jazzed by this sort of thing. Even when life is boring in a foreign country, there isn’t a day that goes by without some sort of cultural or environmental stimulation. Yesterday it was shopping, today…who knows, but there will be something: it could be a bizarre bug attack; butterflies in the house; a funny conversation with the gardener who speaks very little English and mixes up “ladder” with “water,” producing buckets of water for the wash when we asked him to bring the ladder to the back of the house; a severe tropical thunderstorm; meeting a beautiful, well-dressed, intelligent, educated, English-speaking Congolese woman selling used bags on the sidewalk and discovering that she is a secondary teacher, but reduced to this because the government can’t pay teachers’ salaries. I love all of this. It is chocolate for my soul (dark chocolate, to be specific). I need to learn to find these small joys no matter where I am, even in America.


  1. Miriam 20 July 2010 at 6:52 am #

    Well, I think you SCORED!! And you look adorable. 🙂

    Hey – if you want to bring back some pasalubong for me – pick up some HUGE dresses in a nice material. I’d love to see what I can make out of ’em!

    • lcadd 20 July 2010 at 11:38 pm #

      I would love to bring back pasalubong, but HUGE thrift store dresses wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. And I haven’t seen a lot of huge here.

  2. Bill Sjoblom 1 September 2010 at 2:06 am #

    Hey, Lu…no posts for a while, I miss them! What’s going on? Everything ok?

    • lcadd 1 September 2010 at 7:06 pm #

      There you have it, as requested Bill. Another post. Sorry for the long silence it didn’t feel like I had anything to write about.

  3. lkwalker44 3 September 2010 at 3:22 am #

    I went shopping at the Nairobi clothing markets and went nuts. There was so much to choose from and so cheap! You have some great finds there 🙂

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