By Melissa O’Grady, DSPP 2011
Flinders University

This morning I was fortunate enough to have been afforded the opportunity to visit Maumere’s (Flores) traditional market to observe the local sellers trade their goods for the day.

When we first arrived, I felt slightly nervous about approaching the predominantly all female traders – afraid as to how they might accept me as a foreigner wandering through their place of work. However, this feeling quickly subsided as I was greeted with many warm, betel nut stained smiles and ‘selamat pagi’s’ wherever I went.

The first group of traders that Gonce (my non-English speaking driver) and I approached were a number of older Sikkanese women who were adorned in their beautiful, traditional ikat sarongs. Their main produce consisted of fruit and vegetables such as bananas, corn, avocados, papaya, and coconut, as well as ground black coffee that Flores is renowned for. Having broken the ice with a warm greeting, I tried to communicate with the women in my best Bahasa and sign language, explaining to them that I was a university student from Australia visiting their beautiful country for a short period of time. They seemed to understand, but even if they didn’t, they humoured me with a nod and a smile. They were even so gracious as to allow me to take their picture. When I showed them the result on the camera’s small screen – the air was filled with chortles of laughter and some audible concerns about the state of their hair – needless to say, there were a number of ‘take two’s’.

As we continued to wander around the market, the role of men and women in the market place became increasingly clearer to define. The majority of the female traders were selling the fruit and vegetables – that I later learnt they hoe themselves in small patches of land near their home – and wherever there was a presence of men in the market, they were found amongst the chicken coups, the thousands of dried fish, the freshly cut and fly covered meats, the mountains of tobacco, and stacks of bamboo. While men were predominant in these areas of trade, there were a small number of women scattered throughout the fish market, along with their young children who sat patiently amid the tall heaps of fish.

While I observed that the majority of the traders were women, so too did I observe that the majority of clientele were women – most probably buying fresh ingredients for the day’s meals and I dare say using the opportunity to get out of the house to catch up on the latest gossip.

As we meandered through the many rows of market stalls, I spotted four little boys, or rather, they spotted me. We played a game of hide and seek, which involved them following me for a few lengths of the market before screeching with laughter when I turned around quickly to smile at them. I am uncertain of their age, but wonder why they are not at school (perhaps they are not old enough yet), and cannot help but stop to consider what the fate of these boys – who are innocent and full of life and laughter now – is likely to be in the future.

The presence of children at the markets was far less than I expected. Apart from the four young boys, the handful of others that I saw were of a young age – say between one and two – who remained close to their mothers. The children looked very healthy, happy and above all, loved, as the women proudly showed them off and embraced them warmly.

As we ventured across to see the chicken coups, we came across a lovely woman who, by the looks of her belly, is expecting a child. She was the only woman that I could visibly see was pregnant at the markets. I was a little surprised to see her working in what seems to be a predominantly male trade – particularly given her pregnant state. However, she appeared to be physically healthy and very happy among her male counterparts. Her working hours are long, from 7am-7pm – and that is just her ‘market’ job. I wonder how many hours she puts in domestically per day, whether she gets any help and whether she is feeling tired – but of course, these are all questions that I am unable to get the answers to.

It was a wonderful experience to be able to gain a small insight into the everyday lives of the women and men of Maumere, Flores. I hope that I may be able to return in the near future – with a firm grasp of the language – to further my understanding of the complex mosaic that is NTT.