Thift Shopping



Thrift Shopping


A middle-aged, paunchy African man flailing both arms over his head, is at the gate and directs her to one or two meters further ahead. A stream of exiting vehicles warrants another stop before she drives through the main entrance of the fenced compound.

"Early morning shoppers," she says.

 A bit flustered, she realizes that to the curious onlooker it would appear that she did not know where she was going, and she remembers to take heed from her more perceptive younger kin.

“You are venturing solo into unfamiliar territory. Thieves and other criminals are on the prowl scoping visitors. Dress in more commonly worn garb, and after parking adopt their swagger to merge unobtrusively with the crowd.”

She sees a vacant park in front of the first building, a large shed-like painted concrete structure, greater in length than in width, with a gable zinc sheeted roof blackened with age.

Two buildings aligned longitudinally, of like design and construction comprise the market, with limited space reserved on both sides of the buildings for one-way vehicular traffic.

She hears a loud, grating voice and turns her gaze in the direction of a self-proclaimed guardian of the entrance.

 "You cannot park here."

She observes a dark, shrivelled up woman of advanced age, raggedly dressed, seated huddled on a box in front of the entrance, her etched face betraying her continuing penury existence.

Her vocals are unexpectedly strong and authoritative, which contrast sharply to the bent frail frame. Twig-like arms, waving excitedly front and back over her head, point to an empty park closer to building.

"Park over there," the old woman says to her. "In front reserve for maxi taxis.”

She observes one such vehicle driving up to this designated turning point allowing passengers to disembark, reverses, then exits the compound.

"Another wave of shoppers," she says.

She parks and steps up through the doorway and finds herself standing in an open space with arranged tables and customer seating. She sees enclosed vending booths set up along the walls, six to eight on opposite sides and at the centre of the room. Earlier shoppers enticed by the tempting aromas are partaking of a variety of the local breakfast fare on sale: fried bake, fried fish, saltfish buljol, baigan choka, and corn soup.

She sees a man manoeuvring his way to the front nearer to her, as though lying-in wait! He is a thickset, dark-skinned, unshaven overweight East Indian, dressed in a sleeveless red jersey and short jeans cutting under his knees.

He raises both hairy muscular arms and beckons to her, practically blocking her path. Shaking a plastic bag containing six to eight small, green limes with both hands, he shoves it in her face.

"$5.00," he says in a tone which suggests that he is actually doing her a favour, giving it away.

Caught by surprise, the uninitiated fumbles in her purse and says,

“Here,”  and readily surrenders her cash. "Deal!" she mutters reassuringly. "I've not been inveigled."

She walks through the doorway and sees concrete stalls on either side of the interior. Chunks of meat on the counters suggest that she is in the butchers’ area; fish vending stalls are to her left and she heads across. Twenty or so stalls are located against the side wall and on the opposite side of the passageway. To her dismay, she notices that the fish is heaped on the counters and exposed to the ambient temperature.

"Fish fresh from north coast; catch last night. Bring them in this morning," a stout, African fish monger assures her.

His paraphernalia she observes, is a slab of wood, his improvised cutting board jagged and grimy, while his knives and cutlass are near at hand to deliver a sale. She sees no signs of potable water; a plastic bucket filled with reddish brownish bloody water substitutes.

"You don’t have running water! And where is the ice!" She asks disgusted by this blatant lack of sanitation.


"We takin’ the whole one," order two aged African female customers, standing next to her and pointing to a kingfish.

She observes the fish monger as he slices and cleans the kingfish, repeatedly rinsing his bloody knife in the foul water. She presses her lips together, horrified at the thought of the increased bacterial load transferred to the fish. This lack of sanitation is further compounded as he washes a rag in the bucket and wipes down his “cutting board”. She sees drips from the rag running under the fish heaps.

"But this is too gross!!!" she says scrutinizing his messy hands and blood-splattered vest.

"Not our fault; it is the authorities," he says wearing a scowl, he, only a victim and having to endure such deplorable working conditions!

“And the authorities! Have you complained to the City Corporation?” Silence again!

"Over here," comes a chorus from two, three other fish mongers.

 "$45.00 per lb for kingfish; $40.00 for carite; $15.00 for cavalli; $10.00 for salmon!"

"We have shark too, $10.00," shouts a slim young East Indian haggler, bearing his discoloured teeth, as he strips the skin off a young shark with his sharp knife for a waiting customer. She notices the same bloody unsightly mess of all the fish vendors.

"Fish scarce," she says to them. "I will pass back on my way out."

“That is provided the fish retains some kind of quality,” she grumbles to herself, and takes her leave of the fish vendors.

She comes to an area delineated by a semi-circular concrete lip. On her right she sees a thin, middle-aged, East Indian woman, with wisps of unruly grey hair cascading over her forehead. She is sitting on a stool in front of a table with six or seven ochros tainted and soft to the touch and displayed in heaps.

"$5.00," the vendor says pursing her lips together, showing anything but a pleasing smile.

"Fresh?" she asks, unconvinced but still swallows the bait. "Another good buy!" 

Another female East Indian vendor sits close by, obese, her grey hair pulled back into a knot at the top of her head. Her produce small malformed pimentos. She stretches out an arm which jiggles dreadfully as she thrusts a bag into the shopper’s eager hands.


Quickly exchanging cash for produce, the novice mentally calculates,

"How many dollars have I saved so far!"

Moving along, she sees small-sized cucumbers; six, seven conveniently piled on a table in plastic bags.

"Weighed correctly?" she asks.

The aged female East Indian vendor barks contemptuously, 

"$10.00," with no hint of compromise!

Visibly disconcerted by this unexpected hostility she sighs,

"Beats the supermarket," adding, "slim chance of sealing a better deal?"

Almost delirious with happiness, she exits the first building, and steps out into a slightly sloping covered passageway. Vendors stout, mature African women with their heads tied up in colourful scarves are standing next to their goods arrayed on tables on either side of the passageway: common spices, cinnamon, bay leaf, nutmeg, parsley etc rolled and secured with rubber bands and twine and other unidentifiable powdery concoctions in small plastic bags.

She walks pass and enters the narrow passageway leading into the second building. It is a beehive of activity. Shoppers dominating in the melee represent the island’s two major ethnic groups: East Indians and Africans, males, females, of all ages, mixed with a sprinkle of minorities, Chinese locals, in particular, and a few, from their looks, newly arrived. Shoppers have cast covid caution to the wind and are not wearing masks!

“This is too congested for my liking,” she says hastily pulling her mask over her mouth and nose.

She sees shoppers who all are carrying plastic bags: yellow, blue, floral, green, red, and blue stripes sold at $1.00 apiece and filled with produce.

She proceeds to an open asphalted area further afield to her right. Makeshift covered tents with tables are encroaching the edge of the asphalted area. Heaps of root tubers, “ground provisions” are on sale. These provisions are in the main, weekly imports for hucksters coming in from the other smaller Caribbean islands. A wizened white bearded old African man stands behind a stall. He is balding at the top, and his haggardness speaks to a dint of gruelling work, and evidence of a commitment to subsistence farming. She quickly assesses his prices.

"Have to balance between savings and convenience," she says, “But they need to be washed and properly scrubbed!"

She carefully selects her produce, and hands the best of the bad lot, oddly shaped sweet potatoes to a thin, underage East Indian boy, an equal object of misery who has suddenly surfaced from somewhere behind the stall; the old man has mysteriously vanished into thin air!

"Sweet potatoes TT$6.00; cassava $6.00," he says.

"Nice! Money saved." Overwhelmed and feeling a bit obligated to him, she willingly completes the sale.

“Dasheen scarce!  Only two left," bellows a tall, heavy-set, middle-aged African woman. The adventurer hastily seized them up and the vendor weighs them; they cost the pricey sum of TT$48.00!

Having been unprepared to part with that kind of money, she issues a veiled threat to the vendor,

"I'll be returning to retrieve my money, if they don't cook properly," she says woefully considering money ill-spent. And further grumbles.

" Slippery seller, slim chance of catching sight of her again, if I do return!"

"Pumpkin, TT$5.00; green plantains, TT$6.00 per lb," more shouts from a young male African.

"Unbelievable," she says as she piles produce into her basket, jostling through the crowd.

"Sweet peppers here, $6.00 per lb"

“Incredible!" She is ecstatic!

She encounters a very amiable mixed middle-aged couple-husband African and wife, East Indian in charge of a side stall at the front of the second building.

 "Come," they say encouragingly to her. "The last one. We don't have to weigh it; $10.00."

She and the couple haggle and our buyer is adamant.

"Weigh it," she says wishing to ensure that the vendor is not ripping her off.

"That not necessary," the couple cajoles. She squeezes her eyebrows together as she looks suspiciously at the wily couple, and again raises her objection,

"I want it weighed!" then she capitulates and reluctantly relinquishes $10.00, only to have her fears later confirmed, when the paw paw proves rottener, than ripened.

She ventures further into the interior of the second building. Her eyes open wide, inquisitive, piqued. Ah shucks.... what does she behold, so tantalising and staring her in the face! A cornucopia of fresh garden produce, a shopper’s delight: limes large, in heaps, yellow, green; a copious, freshly harvested spread of pimentos, large, brilliantly red, others of a light green sheen; ochros, young, fresh; cucumbers; paw paws, bell peppers, fresh bundles of herbs, melongene, patchoi.

"Limes, $1.00; pimentos, twenty for $5.00."

"Ochros, fifteen for $5.00."

Cucumbers, $5.00."

 Fresh goods to challenge those for which she had already exchanged cash.

She, not wishing to be undone, stoically repeats her purchases to her heart's content.

Retracing her steps she re-enters the first building, and once again approaches the fish stalls on her right. She sees the north coast fish monger, his “bloody” pathetic appearance so much more appalling! His eyes light up; as she draws nearer, his expression once more turns into a scowl.

So irked is she by this bitter experience, well-honed vending tactics, and more perspicacious, fish quality now topping her list of priorities, she unsparingly vents her pent-up chagrin on him.

“I’m skipping fish today!" she says briskly.

And hurriedly makes her way to the front door, down the steps, her basket full to the brim.

Filled with angst, she sits for one or minutes in her parked car, trying to regain her composure and counting her losses. Then she departs recounting thrift shopping at the Port of Spain Central Market, debating whether or not she will ever return.


 Ann Churney Gadentra Jobity


A Fisheries Expert for over 30 years and co-author of five published scientific papers, columnist, and feature writer on fisheries-related issues in Trinidad and Tobago three daily newspapers spanning seven years and currently storyteller. Ann was a participant in the Yale 2016 Writers’ Conference and has produced three podcasts two of which explored creative non-fiction and other historical themes. After a hiatus she is once again committed to bringing to light contemporary issues in creative non-fiction as author and writer.

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