The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.
Was Confucius right?
I don’t know, but I do know people need to eat, to drink, to live. And to do that they have to trade. And to do that they need to know what sells, and for what price.
Welcome to Wuse market, in the centre of Abuja.
Dust, heat, cars, people. All combine in a heady mix of trade.
Everyone comes here, young and old, rich and poor. The car park reveals the demographics. Expensive SUVs with darkened windows and rows of battered green public taxis. Side by side.
Everything is on sale here. And I mean everything. And you can forget that ‘I’m only browsing’ line. The minute you enter the market you are propositioned, cajoled. And seduced.
This is no department store, but there are clearly defined areas for those in the know. Food, textiles, electrical, books, and probably things you didn’t know you needed, and would rather not buy.
The smells of the market are an intoxicating stew of food, spices and sweat. And pervading it all, the exhaust fumes of the myriad portable generators that keep the whole place humming.
Oh, and the smiles. I have never met people who can smile as the people in this market smile. Perched on a wooden stool in a tiny gap between stalls, those smiles disarm and beguile.
You want water? A truck arrives in the car park. Ignoring the attempts of the security guard from the bank at which a long line of people wait to withdraw the grease that oils the gears, that keeps the trade flowing. That makes those smiles wider. That makes the aching hunger lessen. A little. For today, at least. The truck is full of plastic sachets of ‘table water’. They are distributed in style as men, women and children carry them in buckets, basins and baskets atop their heads. And I tell you, the grace and fluidity, the sensuality of their walk as they ply their trade, can’t be learned in any modelling school.
The clamour never stops. The salesmen, eager to take you deeper into the market, to close the deal, compete for space with the boys with the barrows. No need to slide a coin into a supermarket trolley here. Want help? A boy with a barrow will pile all your purchases on board and off you go. For a price. Of course. Everything here has its price.
My friend from last night, David, took me to the market. I watched in awe as he selected ingredients for a vegetable soup, relaxed and easy, bargaining and smiling. Laughing and enjoying the moment.
And the food, oh the food. A trip to a supermarket will never be the same after this.
Colours and smells. Confused piles of the familiar and unfamiliar. Piles of coiled and dried catfish. A goat, its legs up in the air, throat cut, shared a table with assorted offal and body parts.
Confucius. What did he know?
These people know what will sell, and for how much. They also smile, they are real, they live and love. And every day they come back and do it all again. And again.
Who decides what is right?