Going to the market early on Saturday mornings is like a breath of fresh air.
It is as fresh and as sweet as the fruit and vegetables and ground provisions on sale.
And as Barbados marks its 52nd Anniversary of Independence this year, the market tradition is very much still alive—like the hearty laughter of vendors at their stalls while they engage in conversation with each other or with their loyal customers, offering some of the best bargains and friendliest advice—as a Barbados TODAY team journeyed to the public indoor and outdoor market at Cheapside, Bridgetown.
It was a fun and memorable experience, one that the youth of the country should be exposed to, to teach them not just the importance of farming and healthy living, but also about a piece of living Barbadian culture.
From as early as 5 a.m.—although some vendors arrived long before then to set up—scores of shoppers were moving from stall to stall, purchasing their fresh fruits and veggies.
Vendors were busy arranging the contents on their wooden trays and greeting their customers.
“What going on with yuh, young girl?” an elderly vendor shouted to a shopper she was signalling to come over to her stall.
“I coming there now, gran, I ain’t forget you,” the younger woman replied.
Some of the vendors, particularly the older folk, were engaged in conversation with familiar customers.
The smell of ripened guavas, passion fruits, soursops, and five fingers competed with that of homemade salt bread, sweet bread, pastries and cakes.
Of course, the scent of the aromatic herbs and spices was impossible to ignore.
White and brown eggs were laid out in trays, waiting to be collected.
A group of people gathered at the back of a van where they enjoyed the water and jelly from freshly cut coconuts. As a few lowered the coconuts from their heads and wiped away the water that ran down their cheeks, the contented look on their faces suggested that what they had just consumed was delicious.
A few old women were spotted shelling pigeon peas and bagging them off. Those bags of peas sold quickly.
On Ismay Worrell’s wooden tray were a few breadfruits, mangoes, cucumbers, and soursops, among other items.
Wearing a bright smile, Worrell, who indicated that she did domestic work on weekdays to feed and clothe her six children, said she enjoys going to the market to chat with other vendors and customers.
“Only if I am sick, well, I would can’t come,” she explained.
“I have been selling in the market for a long time now. I used to sell outside. I don’t really grow my things, but I get from people to sell. People like the local fruits you know, and even if people don’t buy, they still come to the market to see what going on. And the tourists does come in and admire the things.”
Ruby Maynard is that special vendor who peels the ground provisions for her customers.
Sitting with a tray of sweet potatoes resting on her legs, Maynard confessed that she lives for the market, explaining that she has been vending for over 30 years and cannot see herself stopping now.
“I does come to see the things and the people, and the people does come to see me,” she declared, as she sat among other vendors who have also been plying their trade for many years.
Seibert Edwards declared that he has been selling at the market for over three decades, way before the indoor facility was built.
And even though at times his tray is half empty, because he may not have reaped any crops, “we does still get the early bus and come down”.
“We holding on here till we dead. We coming till we dead. We gine come till we can’t come anymore,” Edwards testified, as a few women within earshot laughed.
All kinds of meat in the butchers’ section were cut and ready to be sold.
As some of the older butchers chatted with each other, a few of the younger ones were ready to show off their skills in cutting pork on the sharp bladed machine.
One butcher was cutting up the fresh herbs and English potatoes to be added to turtle meat which was already cooking in boiling water.
The Barbados TODAY team caught up with the President of the Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN), Alistair Alexander at his stall, where he declared that the market tradition is “very alive”.
As he attended to customers, Alexander who has been in the industry for almost 30 years, said that for some people, shopping in the market is a different experience to going to the supermarket.
“And that is why they come, to experience something different,” he said.
“Vending is like a drug you cannot give up. You have generations involved in what you would call the market tradition, both when it comes to vendors and shoppers. I have customers who have shopped with me for years and now their children come and shop too. My father was a vendor before me….I decided to continue. Right now, I have two nephews that have stalls in the market, they love it too. You know, there are just some things that are a part of you. The market tradition is more than money,” added Alexander who says he purchases his vegetables from his brother who is a farmer.
“The market is the first commercial thing we did after Emancipation. So, I call vending the mother of all black economic enfranchisement in Barbados.”
At a stall not too far from him, was Karen Spice Watson, who is known for the Caribbean spices she has for sale.
“The turmeric, the cayenne pepper and ginger are the things that people come looking for, for their health. These are spices of the Caribbean. I package them off in small packets so people can afford it,” Watson said, as her daughter stood not too far from her, peeling cane to be packaged and sold.
Merlyn Harris was busy squeezing the juice from oranges to be bottled and ready for her customers when they arrive. It was after 9 a.m., and she had been doing it since 6 a.m.
“We press the oranges directly on the spot. I get here from about 6 a.m. to start pressing. Lots of people come and buy. We often cook our vegetables, but when you consume them from juicing, they go directly into the system and directly to the cells. A lot of people have diabetes and different health complications, so we actually research what fruits and vegetables can help them. People support us because they know that they are getting something fresh on the spot,” Harris said, noting that it is important for people to consume locally grown foods to fight Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations, and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services in exchange for money from buyers.
Markets are scattered all across Barbados, and as the vendors who Barbados TODAY spoke to indicate, have played an integral role in the country’s social and economic landscape.
“This market around longer than you even born. Well you still young, but never mind, it around for nuff years,” Maynard told Barbados TODAY reporter Anesta Henry.