“Slim, what can I sell you today?” asks a rather round-face woman to which I politely respond “Just looking, thanks.”
Then comes the inevitable question “Gyal would you like your hair braided?” to which I inadvertently cringe, recalling the number of sleepless nights spent tossing and turning with colorful beads interrupting an already fitful sleep. Fitful as it was Spring Break ’04 when I decided to ignore the advice of my wise mum and not lather myself in sunblock. The result: pink salmon skin, a sunburn that will forever remind me to reach for sun protection. That said, I do believe the burn and braids were acquired in the same sitting.
By the umpteenth vendor, of which there are hundreds spread over the 37,000 square feet that define Downtown Nassau’s straw market, I find I am on auto-pilot – turning down sales before there is even a glimpse of hope that one may ever happen.
It’s my second jaunt to a tourist-trap in two weeks, my first being Ardastra Gardens, and again I find I am wonderfully surprised. Yes, the rumors – if you can call them that – are unfortunately true; In response to demand ripoff handbags are being sold behind discreet doors, by far less discreet sellers. Then again Nassau’s Straw Market is like the many markets of the world: bartering is strongly encouraged, along the dusty narrow walkways the urban term “hustling” is redefined, and hope hangs thick like a cloud in the air.
Everyone, even the child who should be in school, woke up with the hope of making a dollar.
However, not to be overshadowed by the larger retailers competing for tourists dollars, or even the replica handbags, is a true craft. The art of straw-plaiting, passed down from one generation to the next. Often children learning at the feet of their mothers and by watching the arthritic hands of their grandmothers. In recognition of this cultural tradition, in celebration of it even, I wanted to share my 7 purchase-worthy souvenirs.
Vintage License Plate. Vendor #198.
Although selfish qualms about divulging this best-kept secret obviously tormented me I had to ask myself, “if I want to be among those to inspire change in demand, can I really keep this a secret?”
Personalized Straw Bag.
For our Island “I Do” engagement session I purchased a straw tote and asked for my soon to be last name sewn at top, using it then as a prop.
Gold Clasped Straw Clutch. Hard to find among the endless stalls, ask around and you too shall find.
Long Island Sponge. Vendor Clarence L. Moxey, owner of stall #495, also sells miniature sailboats made out of wood and coconut. He can easily be considered the straw market’s Minister of Tourism as he is a wealth of information when it comes to travel among the out-islands.
The Experience. Arguably best souvenir of all.
“I’m just pretending to be busy, you know? So then you will stop and look.”
ON LOCATION: Downtown Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas | VANESSA’S TUNIC: Goombay Bahamas | PHOTOGRAPHY: AndMarie