If you are reading this post on a Thursday, then the big market square and the adjacent streets in Laska are bustling right now with sellers, buyers, mediators, onlookers, porters, pack animals and lorries. The big Thursday markets take place on a large square between Upper Laska (Laska Simba) and Lower Laska (Laska Baakkalla), which can easily be seen when you zoom in on Laska in Google maps here. (NB: The “square” is rather a big triangle or trapezium to the southwest of the pin.) The Google satellite image was of course not taken on a Thursday: the market is empty!
People from all over Baskeet and from neighbouring areas (i.e. Galila, Dime, Gofa and Melo) come to the Thursday market with their produce and the whole day the streets, shops, cafés, bars and eateries of Laska are full of people. Since farmers from Hadiyya, Wolaitta and Konso have been resettled to the Baskeet lowlands (in Angila and Bunibas) a couple of years ago, you can also hear languages other than Baskeet (and Amharic) on the market in Laska.
The Thursday market is a market for everything: food, household items, clothes, animals etc. It is an economic event and a social event. A shopping centre and an open-air bar.
It took me a while to understand the structure of the market and to find what I wanted to buy. For a newcomer everything looks so unorganised at first — but a clear structure becomes visible after a couple of visits! The market square is located on a slope and the arrangement of the market sections is as follows: At the upper end of the market (left on the picture above), you find small stalls (see the blue and orange roofs) with imported household items (plates, buckets, pots etc.) and clothes as well as small stalls of local tailors and mechanics.
Below the stalls there is the big food section, which is subdivided into a fruit section (e.g. bananas, papayas, mangos, avocados, passion fruits), a coffee and grain section (e.g. maize, barley, millet, wheat), a section for spices, herbs and coffee leaves (see picture above), a section for onions and garlic, a vegetable and tubers section (e.g. beetroots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, taro) and an enset and cabbage section. The Baskeet mainly make use of the tuber (corm) of the enset* plants, which is boiled and then served with cabbage. At the market you can buy half a tuber, a quarter or an eighth:
Below the food section, you’ll find the open-air bar where market women serve their customers self-made beer and brandy or self-made soft drinks.
Below the bar there is the section of local craftsmen with a subsection for tools (e.g. knifes, hatchets and axes), a subsection for furniture (e.g. stools, benches and chests), a subsection of products woven from palm leaves and bamboo (e.g. baskets, beer filters, winnowing plates and roofs), a subsection for ropes and mats, a subsection for leather products (leather ropes, harnesses) and the big pot market.
In the pot section, one can buy clay griddles, water pots, beer brewing pots, cooking pots, coffee pots and mugs produced by local Baskeet potters. Even the biggest pots are carried to the market on the back – see the woman in the green skirt on the picture below.
At the lower end of the market square is the fenced section of the cattle market where cows, sheep and goats are sold:
What are the main dangers of the Laska market for a newcomer?
- Getting lost: In the first weeks it is hard not to lose one’s bearings and to find all the things that you want to buy, especially if you don’t know which products are sold in which sections and if your conversation skills are limited.
- Getting stuck: Especially before holidays (Easter, Timket, Meskel), the market can be really crowded and it can be very difficult to squeeze through the masses of people.
- Slipping: Even if the pictures above don’t show it to you, the market is on a slope and one heavy rain is enough to turn the market into an ice skating rink. For reasons unknown to me, the South Ethiopian mud is so much more slippery than any mud I have ever encountered elsewhere.
I go to the Thursday market regularly, to buy fruits and vegetables, to practice my Baskeet conversation skills, to look out for new products whose names are unknown to me and to take the odd picture here and there for my illustrated dictionary in the making.