The first time I ever bought myself a pair of jeans was in a sprawling, hectic place called Toi Market.
Buying jeans at Toi is an adventure, to say the least.
First thing to know is that the better prices are usually in the way back of the market where you have to wind your way around tightly packed stalls, hopping over ditches and moving out of the way for men jogging by pushing large two-wheeled carts. Word of advice: for the sake of your nose, avoid the side closest to the fish market.
After navigating the various obstacles, you will find yourself surrounded by huge piles of every imaginable article of clothing and people milling around among them, including that one man who persists in yelling “5obob50bob5obob” as if that will attract new customers.
What next? Step up to the first pile, look over the stack and tug out any pair that looks good. Once you’ve accumulated a few pairs that seem to be in good shape and will probably fit, the next step is to find a “dressing room.” Many of the stalls will provide this accommodation via a flimsy sheet hung over some twine on one side, and bright blue plastic tarp on the other three sides. The customer service is so good that the mama running the stall will even send some nearby toto scampering away to find the one mirror shared by everyone in that section. At this point, it’s a good idea to have a friend handy who can keep the changing room together, hold up the mirror, and provide running commentary on your selection of jeans.
Eventually a pair will be found that fits and has no noticeable stains, broken zippers, or gaping holes. This is when the fun really begins in the artful and scientific process of bartering. My favorite person to watch barter is my Mom. I have known her to successfully complete bartered transactions in the US- a country where most prices come preordained on stickers. Also, Mom once bartered a guy down hundreds of shillings by shouting prices back and forth while he ran alongside her car window for the length of an entire roundabout in Nairobi traffic. She is hands-down the queen of bartering.
Once both customer and owner have gone back and forth long enough and are satisfied with the final offer, the jeans are rolled up, wrapped in a black plastic bag, and proudly toted home where they are shown off to all and sundry.
And that is how one buys jeans at Toi Market.
When I first came to America I had a difficult time buying jeans. For one thing I could not get over the fact that anyone would pay $20 for a pair of jeans. I very clearly remember the first time Mom and I walked into a Kohl’s to buy clothing for my freshman year. We walked in the doors, felt a little overwhelmed, turned around and walked out.
Last weekend, though, I had an experience which makes me proud because I think it shows how far I have come in the past four years. I needed a new pair of jeans, so my friend Sarah drove me to a Walmart. We marched straight to the section where I had bought my last pair of jeans, grabbed the right size and style, didn’t even try them on (!) and went to the register where I did not attempt to argue with the clerk over the price. I paid for my jeans, took them home, and now I have a new pair of jeans.
I believe that was a big coming-of-age moment.
I kind of feel like a grown-up.