Retail therapy – Ugandan Style
Typically in the UK on a sunday we go for lovely long walks in the beautiful British countryside It’s not so simple to do this here and so Sundays have become a bit of a funny day for us. As we are mid rainy season at the moment the weather is unpredictable to say the least. It will rain but it’s difficult to say when. Last week it regularly rained heavily during the night but the last couple of days the day has dawned fine and then a big storm full of rain and thunder has blown in off the lake and over Kampala. Today followed this pattern. We had plans which involved being outside but we saw the clouds coming and decided that it was time for a spot of retail therapy in town. We both needed some new clothes and had specific items in mind that we needed. Town has been a bit of a no go zone for a few days due to some protests and demonstrations so we took the opportunity to head downtown whilst all was calm.
Retail therapy in Kampala does not typically involve going to a mall but going to the clothes market. The clothes market in Kampala is called Owino. I’ve only been to Owino once before and I was quite overwhelmed by how hectic it was. But today we were ready for it. I left all valuables at home and put 25k USH in small change in my pockets and off we went. Owino reminds me of an arabic souk at first look. Small alleys, loosely covered by holey tarps and makeshift shelters. Traders are set out in different ways; some in actual shop spaces but most with all of their items rolled out on a tarpaulin on the ground. Some have tables and others use crates and boxes to elevate their stalls.
The market has some sort of order and rationale to it with everything is in specific sections, mens, womens, sports etc. We were looking for sports wear. We are both doing a lot more exercise here than we were back home but we didn’t bring much in the way of sports wear with us. By chance we ended up in ‘sportswear alley’ when we entered the market. The traders quickly clocked the muzungus and everyone was vying for our attention. ‘Jangu! Jangu! Muzungu!’ – ‘Come! Come! Muzungu!’ We stopped at various tarpaulin stalls and told the traders what we were looking for.
Each trader has a big plastic bin liner full of clothes. The clothes are all scrunched up from the shipping and squashed in to fill the bags. Each trader rolls out item of clothing after item of clothing whilst shouting in luganda to attract customers. Each bag of clothes is seemingly organised into a specific type of clothing. Clothes are divided up by sports, tops, trousers, blouses, skirts, t shirts, shirts and so on. These clothes are shipped to Uganda (and other parts of Africa) from various parts of the world. Many will come directly from the UK. When you give clothes to charity shops many of these items never make it into a UK store. Instead they are bagged up and shipped to Africa where they are sold of the side of the alleys of Owino for usually under a £ per item. The clothes we were looking at today were also from the US, Japan and Australia. From branded items such as billabong boardie shorts, adidas and nike sports wear to H&M jeans you literally can find anything in Owino. That is if you have the patience to persevere.
We toured the market from ‘sportswear alley’ through ‘stationary and bills and bank statements alley’ to ‘women’s shorts alley’ and ‘women’s t-shirts alley’. By that point the rain had come and the makeshift shelters and tarp roofs were not holding up and so we hot footed it back to the car. However our retail therapy was successful, I have 4 new tops and 2 new pairs of shorts for under £4 equivalent and Alex came away with some boardies, an adidas top and a nike top for next to nothing. We had some great banter with the traders, no one tried to steal anything and we didn’t get that wet. Successful Sunday all round.
Above (picture not taken by me) a typical scene in Owino market.