We are excited to announce that we have finally placed an order for the furniture for our new library! We have spent many days in town, talking to shop owners and furniture makers. We basically had two options: buy furniture in town that was over-priced (especially for us, as mzungu) or have it custom made. We finally hit our breaking point in town when we walked into a shop and asked for the price of a loveseat made from fake leather. The woman working took a look at us, thought for a few moments and then announced, ‘one million.’
Here in Tanzania, almost nothing has a fixed price. Everything is negotiated, including furniture. Unfortunately, this means that most of the quotes we got on items in town ended up being wildly overpriced due to the assumption that all foreigners are rich. We ended up deciding that having things made would be a better bang for our buck. We went out to one place and got a quote for what we wanted. We went to another place in an attempt to get a quote–they were closed. The next day, a man from the second place came to us and we talked about what we wanted. Today, we went back to the first place in an attempt to get them to lower the quote they gave us on tables and chairs.
Here’s how it went down:
We showed up to the ‘store.’
We sat. For a very long time. Like, a very long time. Teddy, our manager, negotiated her cute tush off for us (Best. Shopping. Partner. Ever.). We talked about chair design and pretended like we had any idea what they were talking about in Kiswalhili. We tried to figure out how to explain the concept of cubbies, similar to the kind you’d find at Ikea or Pottery Barn. Here, there are no computer programs to design and visualize your concepts. There is no online inventory to browse. When we finally got tired of miming, we let Teddy continue to talk to the employees while we had a little look around.
Finally, they settled on a reasonable price. We placed our order: a couch, two big comfy chairs, two round kid-sized tables, eight kid-sized chairs and two giant what-we’re-hoping-is-like-a-Pottery-Barn-cubby. To finalize the order, we had to pay half up front. We went to the car to count out our dollah-bills. Have you ever wondered what close to two million in cold, hard shillings looks like? Behold.
We brought back our wad of cash, only to find out that their accountant had to come from town to collect the money and issue a receipt. Cue more sitting. We attempted to call him to see if we could meet him in town, but at that point he was already on a motorcycle taxi and too busy clinging to the bike for dear life (<– at least, that’s what I imagine riding a motorcycle taxi in town is like). When he arrived, he took us around back to a respectable, legitimate-looking reception area. Stuffed paper envelope in hand, walking into the back alley… I absolutely did not feel like we were in the middle of a sketchy drug deal about to go bad.
While a rogue turkey wandered near my feet, a stray kitten joined in the transaction fun with Joost… because, really, why wouldn’t there be a stray kitten hanging out with us while we ordered furniture?
At long last, Teddy signed the final paperwork: a small piece of paper that said, ‘one million eght hundred and twenty two thousand only deposite for table, chair, wadrope and coach.’
Our best hope is that we will have a furnished library in three weeks–but this is Africa, so who knows!