How to buy mosquito nets (lots of them)

Jul 5 2016

We have decided to provide mosquito nets, locally called 'supanetis' for our Rutonde children. We needed a sackfull and more than would go into a couple of backpacks. The process turned out to be surprisingly easy. Try this at home if you want to but your mileage may vary.

1. Find a market
There are several large markets in Kigali. Kimironko was chosen for this exercise because it is on the bus route from Kacyru. Not quite the size of the Barras but a place where you can still find a surprising variety of whatever it is you are looking for.

2. Find a trader
Across from the bus station and beside the main market are several bed mattress shops. One might have thought this was an obvious place to find mosquito nets. But that's not the way things work around here. These shops are focused and dedicated to just one product - mattresses. But it's worth asking because, just as everywhere else in Africa, if they don't sell it, they know someone who does, especially if there is something in it for them. I might just as easily have asked at the plumbers' merchant up the road.

3. Negotiate a price
The supaneti trader wanted ten thousand francs per net. A general rule in Africa is to halve the first offer. Five didn't sit well and ten thousand fell to six. I phone a friend, in this case Stephen, our trusty minder. Six thousand is reasonable he says. Now the hard part - we want thirty nets. A look of confusion slowly turns to glee and frantic conversation among the group that has gathered.

4. Wait a few days
Thirty nets is clearly going to be more than one trader will carry. Despite assurances that we can have all we want today, it is worth giving the consortium which has emerged from the surrounding traders a few days to find their stock. Having made sure that they understand how many nets we are looking for, 'zagaruka Kuwambiri seems to be understood - I will return on Tuesday.

5. Collect the nets
On the appointed day, return to the market. Finding the trader is not difficult. The musumgo has been spotted as soon as he walks through the market gates. Thirty nets are counted from two bags onto an empty market stall, and then back into the two bags. These are the African equivalent of a bag for life and commonly seen carrying second-hand clothes to market.

6. Find a boy
Thirty mosquito nets are heavy, despite being mostly air. A supermarket trolley would be the obvious solution but such practicalities haven't made their way to the open markets of Kigali's suburbs yet. The next best thing though is a boy, eager for work, who will balance anything on his head and follow behind for a couple of coins. Kimironko market is teaming with such help, so with boy in tow, getting on to the bus station and on to a bus back to Kacyru was a breeze.

7. Repeat step 6
After getting off the bus at Kacyru, there is still a half-mile walk back to Scripture Union. It doesn't take long before another eager young lad appears from nowhere to do the balance-anything-on-the-head trick. In ten minutes we are back at the room without sweat being broken. Easy.