A flea market experience
One fascinating day each week, people congregate in an interesting flea market in the northern Luzon town of Alcala, Cagayan. The market goes by its archaic Ilocano name, “Dapun,” whose meaning hints at its origin as an old meeting place for folks from the sitios and pueblos of yore. It lies in the heart of Cagayan, at a three-way road inter-section that leads separately to the coastal towns, the hinterlands, and the valleys.
All sorts of farm produce are brought from mountain homesteads to the Dapun. Yields of the land from various towns and neighboring provinces are transported in abundant quantities to this trading outpost. Apart from the customary assortment of fruits and vegetables, one occasionally finds heirloom and rare varieties of agricultural crops. There are pigs, goats, ducks, and chicken for sale. Saltwater and freshwater fish and shellfish, frogs, and edible insects are likewise sold. There are also herbal potions, dried tobacco leaves, and farm implements.
Every Wednesday, the Dapun transforms a hectare of empty lot into a hustling and bustling place of traders and buyers from communities near and far. Retailers troop to this market to replenish their stocks because of cheap farm-gate prices. The flurry of market activities starts at 5 in the morning, and the place is desolate again at noon time.
Before COVID-19 disrupted our lives, my weekly routine had been to spend workdays in Makati City and weekends in Alcala where my family resides. The lockdown left me with no chance to visit the Dapun, and I had to content myself listening to my wife’s enthralling stories about it. The strict lockdown rules prevented me from visiting the marketplace even if I was stranded in Alcala during the extreme quarantine period.
Two days after quarantine rules were eased up in Cagayan, we had a harvest of mangoes that was way beyond our capacity to consume at home. Excitedly, I planned my first trip to the Dapun, not as a buyer but as a vendor of our excess mango produce.
At the break of dawn last Wednesday, I trooped to the Dapun with 40 kilos of native green mangoes that were just starting to turn yellow. I spread my mangoes on a small table and I decided to conform to the prices of the other mango vendors—P40/kilo for the small sizes and P50/kilo for the bigger ones. On propped-up paperboards, I advertised my mangoes as naturally sweet because they’ll fully ripen without kalburo.
For 30 agonizing minutes, I had no buyers. People walked past my stand. I imagined being a subsistence farmer, and going home without having sold anything to support my family. I looked at the other mango vendors, and I thought that it was a mistake not to have used kalburo in order to have mangoes that had ripened to yellow perfection, pleasing to the eyes.
My gloomy thoughts were interrupted when an old woman stopped to inspect my mangoes and then she haggled to buy one kilo at a P10 discount. I readily agreed to the discount, remembering a previous advice to me that I would have good luck if I make a buena mano sale even at a lowered price.
For the next 30 minutes, sporadic groups of customers came buying one, two, three, five, and 10 kilos, until I sold all my mangoes. My buyers were voicing out their preference for green mangoes, while others professed bias for naturally ripened mangoes.
I happily packed up and went around to buy some of my family’s food provisions. With per kilo prices of P15 for tomatoes, P50 for native onions, P20 for green peppers, P15 for ampalaya, and P40 for rare green eggplants, the P2,000 sales earnings in my pocket was a princely sum. Rural folk survive in abundance even when they have income considered meager by city standards.
For the almost three months that I’ve spent in quarantine, I’ve lived in the flea market of ideas that is the online web, where I endure the daily bombardment of
belligerent political views and frightening pandemic statistics, like everyone else. What a welcome respite to be in a real flea market where one celebrates and enjoys the bounties of the earth.
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