The MarchéBougou project evolved out of a challenge faced by AfricaBougou: Emilio Caravatti, head of the organization, would receive used clothes from his friends in Italy regularly. They believed that they would do good to „poor“ Malians with their donations. Hence, before every trip to Mali he would stuff his bags with these textiles, only to store them in CasaBougou. Classified by age and gender, the shelves were filled with them. Yet what would make sense? Sustainable cooperation between a European organization and an African village can never be built upon gifts. Therefore, the clothes piled up in our house. Aside from our closest friends, we could not give them to anyone. But what about selling? That works, it isn’t complicated, and could be an interesting experiment: standing behind the counter as a light-skinned person. So we loaded the car and drove to the village on market day. We had not informed anyone but were already expected. We did not give further explanations as to what purpose we would sell the clothing for. We didn’t even have a clear idea ourselves. Naturally, the money was supposed to be channeled into a project of AfrikaBougou. We kept the prices low compared to the local market value of European secondhand clothing. Of course, this did not please the other market sellers but we considered it to be right since it was a charitable initiative for a limited period of time.
Yelekebougou is the principal village of a rural commune AficaBougou has already worked with a lot in the past. The sales team on this day consisted of Emil, Lazar, Modibo, and me. When we arrived at the entrance of the long drawn-out village, we were already making our first sales. The workers did not let us go on and wanted to get hold of the best stuff. They had no time to go to the market. We sold them what they wanted and slowly mastered our way into the village. Once we had arrived at a friend’s boutique, we spread out our stuff on his forecourt. People came pouring in, rummaged, negotiated and purchased. The first day – a great success! We had small plastic toys as gifts. Everyone was happy and we went back home with empty boxes. Children’s and men’s clothes were a total success. Also shoes were sold like hot cakes.
Mobido, our good friend and helper, asked us to come to his village to offer the clothes to the people that don’t have the opportunity to come to the weekly market in Yelekebougou. Of course we complied with his request. Emil and I headed off. We spent a quiet but very cheery market day with our friends in N’Golofala. The children were delighted with small bags and new shoes, while the women haggled over our prices. Our location was next to the infirmary, so the patients could also make use of our improvised market.
Once again, to Yelekebougou on market day– everything has to be sold! This time we had no helpers. Emil and I took care of it alone. We gathered all the things left in our storage room, hoping to sell everything. It was supposed to be our last market experience. As always, we gave it our all! But this time the ladies were very persistent. They practically didn’t want to pay anything, although our prices were lower than the last time. We had a lot of discussions and someone remarked: „We know that you get the stuff for free, why do you sell it?“ Also this time we had these little plastic gifts which they permanently requested. Emil got soft and took the little gifts out of the car. They were pulled out of his hands. When the day was over, we packed together exhaustedly. A box with clothes was left. The goal was almost achieved. Disillusioned by strenuous sale and low revenue, we decided on the way back that this was our last market day.
The experience to stand as a saleswoman at an African market for once was valuable. There were beautiful moments and I was able to gain proximity to the people. We had also found a solution to our storage problem. We faced the general problem of secondhand clothing donations as donations in kind and as products on the African market. After all, we made a profit of 100 euros. The foundation to finance a part of the next project was laid.