One of the goals on my life list is to haggle in a market. The reason I wanted to do this is because, quite frankly, it’s something I was nervous about doing. The idea of walking up to a stranger in their store, looking at their goods and then try to come up with a price where I’m not getting ripped off puts me out of my comfort zone. And since an adventure often involves doing things I’m not used to doing, it went on my list.

On my last day in Nairobi, the team and I went to visit an arts and crafts market located in the heart of downtown. The market took

Downtown Nairobi

Downtown Nairobi

up an entire city block and had dozens of artisans selling everything from jewelry to clothes to wedding knots and doorstops. I’ve been to a lot of arts and craft markets but the one in Narobi had some of the most beautiful items I’ve seen anywhere.

Our guide warned us that since we were all of Caucasian or Hispanic descent our light skin might as well be covered in dollar signs. She also warned us about brokers who would be happy to haggle on our behalf but would charge excessively high prices in return.

As soon as we got out of the van outside of the gate to the market, brokers swarmed us and started asking questions like where we were from and what kinds of items we were looking for. Inside the market, artists had their goods spread out on blankets on the ground with narrow walkways between them. Between the narrow walkways, the brokers and all the shoppers it was a bit overwhelming at first.

The brokers kept asking me questions like what country I was from, what I was looking for, and how much I paid for the flower beaded necklace I was wearing. They seem disappointed when I told them it was a gift from the Samburu people.

Since this was my first attempt at haggling, I decided to start small. I spotted a couple of key chains in the shape of a beaded elephant. I knelt down by the blanket and got the seller’s attention.

“How much?”
“100 shillings.” (at the time, 80 shillings equaled 1 US dollar)
“I’ll give you 100 for 2.”
“No, 150.”
“125”
“140”
“130”
“Deal.”

And with that, my first foray into haggling was done. It wasn’t difficult to do, the seller was in no way offended by my offers and at the

Goodies from the Nairobi market

Goodies from the Nairobi market

end we both got a deal we were happy with. So I kept shopping and haggling for about another hour. For the most part, the haggling went well.

But on two occasions, I ended up walking away from a deal. One was when I ended up talking to a broker but didn’t realize at first. I was interested in a small decorated bowl but suspected that the guy talking to me wasn’t the owner since he wasn’t near the stall at first. Even when I asked him if he was the stall owner, he said he was. But once he asked me to write my bid down on a piece of paper, I knew something was up. And when he quoted a price that was more then six times what I actually ended up paying, I was done with him.  Another time, a seller was trying to work through a broker to deal with me. I got so fed up with trying to deal with both of them that I walked off. But in both situations, there were no repercussions for breaking off a deal. In fact, it made other sellers more eager to deal with me.

At the risk of sounding biased, I found the women much easier to deal with then the men. It may be because that the women in general are less aggressive then the men are. In fact, all the time I walked out of a deal it was with men. Most women let me look at their goods without pressuring me too much to buy.

One interesting twist on haggling happened when some of the sellers took an interest in a Sharpie pen that one of my team members had. It was just an ordinary pen by US standards, but in Kenya that type of pen was either not sold there or hard to find. So my friend ended up trading his pen for a small carved elephant. Another member ended up doing a cash and items trade for a drum. If any team member happened to be carrying items from the US, many vendors wanted to trade for them. It added an interesting twist to the haggling process.

At the end of the market trip, I’m glad I haggled. I enjoyed dealing directly with the people who made the items. I never felt like I got a bad deal, and if I didn’t like the way things were going, I could just walk away. It’s a fun way to do business. Now I feel much more confident in handling any kind of haggling situation, whether it’s halfway around the world or right in my hometown.

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