“Monrovia” “Gbarnga” “Monrovia”. Men yell out destinations they are sure our “otherness” is looking for. A sea of red-black faces stare through the heat. Children, clad in stained tattered tops or woolen footed pajamas, hide their faces, stare, or simply ignore the bustle and movement around them.

I notice the noise less. Instead, the colors and smells vie for attention. The bright  greens, reds, and blues of the plastic buckets and strainers fight against the deep reddish brown of palm oil; and the slightly dulled white of a wheelbarrow full of sugar is set against the unassuming lime-green of ripening passion fruit.

The smells waft in and out dependant on my place in the market. The beginning of the dry season, dust flies up and mingles with the work and sweat of the day in a gritty pungent musk that engulfs everyone. The dried shrimp, small and pink – the size of a few large beans- rest haphazardly beside crabs almost as small. They smell of the ocean. Further into the array of stalls, beyond the colorful lapas bright and inviting against the orange brown dirt, the smell of drying fish stakes claim. Their brittle bones show where the flesh has broken and flaked away into fishy dust.

The occasional chicken scratches under a table…beside a man crouched on the ground eating lunch.

A crowded stall, women and men sitting on low benches and peering at those passing by, is home to palm wine. The milky-white drink is poured from 25 liter jugs – orange brown smudges on the outside -into plastic cups and half liter water bottles.

Ginger and tomato paste, an assortment of beans and tomatoes, are all familiar even in their slightly varied incarnations. But there are mysteries there as well…a red powder heaped on the table, small berries of varying sizes and color, even a table full of “medicine”. Powders, barks, and metal jewelry – in South Africa it would be muti (moo-tee) but I haven’t learned its West African moniker.

On our way out, a single stalk of sugarcane rested on a plastic mat. An old man with missing teeth answered our question, “how much?” with “five dollars”. A ten LD (liberty dollars) was handed over and then the old man looked purposefully uncomprehending – stubbornly ignoring that he had said five dollars twice.

Back where we started, a bundle of taxis scream out “Monrovia” “Gbarnga”, and we are piled into the rolling wreck – seven deep. The breeze from the open windows whispers cooly as the rubber trees race us home and the market recedes.

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