It’s suprising how far you can get on a Carte Orange these days. Sure to have boarded the metro at the Porte d’Orleans station in Paris, France, I found it bizarre to get off at the Chateau Rouge stop and find myself smack in the middle of a bustling open air market in Anycity, West Africa. Aware of the history between France and many African nations and in Paris staying with friends who happen to be of African descent, I sort of get destructive after-effects of colonization. And, YES, of course I KNOW there are “African” areas of town and have EATEN in most of them but still, this experience was somewhat unique. I don’t know if it was an especially busy market day or the fact that I was fighting a bit of a fever, but everything going on around me seemed amplified.
A steady waterfall of urgent and sometimes sing-songy conversations in Bambara, Wolof, Songhay and a host of other languages whose names I don’t know, flowed freely all around me. The sun,which was directly above my head, seemed to radiate down on the quartier with extra intensity as if to assure me that it wasn’t my imagination – I really WAS in Africa.
All of the produce looked handpicked, as if from a nearby farm – so fresh and mouthwatering. Women dressed in happy, colorful African fabrics were milling about with their babies strapped to their backs and others dressed as western as they city they live in. Buyers played the haggling game with sellers just like back home – friendly but firm – to ensure they took home the very best fish at the very best price.
Packed with local Africans and African descendents, the market seemed so innocent, almost naive. Was it unaware that sat in the middle of a European city that thinks itself “white” and in which the majority of white residents, while they LOVE Africa for an “exotic” vacation, would probably like nothing better than to NEVER again see such a market on their own soil?
It was hot that day. I was hot. I think I started getting clausterphobic in the crowd – that, coupled with my weak physical condition – I started to feel feverish. I’d gone in search of authentic, handmade products from Africa but all I could find – store after store – was a bunch of disgusting, made-in-China-type skin-lightening creams and nasty hair concoctions. All of the stores with names like, “Exotic Products” and “African Products” seemed to be owned by Chinese or Arabs- selling this junk to Africans. The more I searched, the more dishearted I became and the more sick I felt. I KNEW there were places to buy these products here in Paris but with my fever going up and my patience going down, I figured it would have to be an adventure for another day.