The Mitumba maven

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By Frances Woodham

Take off your watch and those earrings. Probably would be safer to remove your wedding ring too. Just stuff your cash and phone into your bra. Are you ready? Let’s go.”

Georgina looks wide-eyed in terror as her no-nonsense friend Sally barks out instructions. She winces as her precious Italian leather handbag is wedged into a dirty crevice under the seat in Sally’s car. They are sitting, locked in and sweltering, in the centre of a shopping centre car park; not acting out a potential carjack situation but preparing for a foray into ‘mitumba’, the local second-hand clothes market.

“You should have worn a long skirt.” Sally says, eying Georgina, critically. “It’s so much easier for trying on.”

Soon Sally is marching along the pavement into mitumba, fabric shopping bag slung over her shoulder. Georgina struggles to keep pace. The comforting familiarity of glossy, tiled shopping centres and cappuccinos is all too quickly replaced by rows of rough wooden stalls set over an undulating maze of compacted mud pathways in the hot sun.

It was the promise of ‘good as new’ Ralph Lauren, Hollister, Timberland and Jack Wills that lured Georgina here. After two glasses of white wine at the tennis lunch it had all seemed like such a good idea. All of Sally’s best bargains have come from mitumba; from her Laura Ashley bedroom curtains to the salmon pink ‘Kate Middleton’ jeans from J Brand. Now here, Georgina is finding it hard to consider any of the musty smelling, wrinkled clothes and she suddenly feels an awfully long way from home. Until this point, TK Maxx is the most adventurous shopping that Georgina has ever done.

Each stall is decked with identical groups of tops, trousers or skirts stretched over distorted metal hangers. Trainers, boots and shoes are lined up in rows on the ground; roughly constructed tables are piled high with a jumble of colourful fleece jumpers, children’s clothes or a myriad choice of jeans or beige chinos. The stale smell of rubbish and dried fish wafts over periodically.

“Hey Mama, new trouser, looking is for free, very lovely clothes for you and your friend.”

Stall holders call out insistently from all directions, “Mama, Sister, Come.” They appear magically from the depths of each stall where bales of clothes from Oxfam, Care and Marie Curie are being unpacked. Some women with low slung breasts sit gossiping; others snooze while their bare bottomed babies crawl about unsupervised. A sharp whistling sound heralds the arrival of a handcart careering along the narrow path. Sally yanks Georgina out of the way as the cart narrowly misses an ankle. Georgina looks up to see the sweating back of a porter wearing a Rasta hat joggle a hundred cabbages away at top speed.

Sally forges on. Georgina politely feigns interest in some Gap cargo pants and a stall holder leans in to snag a sale.

“Just nine hundred shillings. Very nice style. Just for you.”

Georgina drops the trousers wordlessly and dashes off in search of her friend who is verbalising a shopping list;

“…Converse for Archie and anything from Hollister in his size. Jeans for me (hopefully), Ralph Lauren shirts for Jeremy….” Sally spots Georgina, “Ah there you are. Tabby has been begging me for a witch’s dress for the kindergarten Halloween party this Friday, although finding one could be tricky.”

The midday sun beats down remorselessly and Georgina’s mind is a blank. She wishes she had brought a hat, a bottle of water or had worn cooler clothes. As usual, an overcast morning has turned into a scorching day. Georgina stands perspiring as Sally rifles expertly through a pile of grubby looking hoodies then moves along to jeans.

“Anything from the tables is cheaper than the stuff on the hangers.” Sally advises before barking at a male stallholder who is sporting an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt and low riding jeans. “How much?” “Just 2,000/- for you.” He says with a charming grin. “Very nice quality and good like new.”

Within a moment, other salesmen emerge offering up a hundred alternative pairs of jeans and Sally switches to a bewildering Pidgin English.

“That lady over there; she selling me for less. Don’t give tourist price, I live here. Give me for 1,200/-, and then I come back many times.

1,200/- is best price. Okay?” The skinny jeans that Sally is bargaining for might have cost the same new in Primark but nevertheless Georgina admires Sally’s gutsy banter. After five minutes of hard haggling, an extended wait for change and spurred on by their first purchase the girls continue browsing.

“Wouldn’t this look darling on your Bella?” Sally asks, holding up a very pretty Monsoon dress three stalls down. “I would have taken it for Tabby but it’s definitely too small.”

The sun has mercifully gone behind a cloud and there’s a welcome breeze. Georgina handles the article of clothing appraisingly. Labels look quite new, no visible stains and the sequins are all still intact. This dress might have cost at least forty-five pounds in England and it could the perfect little outfit for her cousin’s summer wedding. Suddenly, Georgina’s getting the hang of this…

This story first appeard in The Telegraph


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