What Happens on Thursdays
Every Thursday morning, I go downstairs after waking up from school to an empty house other than my sleeping brother in the bedroom upstairs. That’s because every Thursday morning my two maids go to the Agora Market for our fresh grocery needs. All I knew about the market was that it had fresh meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables, and other miscellaneous things. I have been to many different outdoor markets, indoor supermarkets in malls, and places called tianges like Divisoria and Greenhills that sell different things like clothes and accessories in little cramped lined up stalls. The main difference with the Agora Market to all these other places was that it was an indoor semi-underground fresh market.
I told our maids on Wednesday night that I would be joining them the next Thursday for their weekly trip, and the two of them got instantly excited to show me around. The next morning, I woke up early and got ready for the trip.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the stairway to the market downstairs was the pungent smell of the place. It hit me all at once, and it took me a while to steady myself and try not to gag at the stench. It was really a bad combination of all the strong smells inside; the raw meat, fish, poultry, coconut milk, vegetables, cheese, fruits, flowers, and so much more. They were all just mixed together and very over powering, and the stench only got stronger the deeper inside you went. When you first enter the market, aside from the strong smell, you notice how dim the lights are, and how squishy the floor is from the cases of ice, water, and produce that are carried in and out of the market every day. All around you are the sounds of people laughing, shouting, and talking, accompanied by the regular beat of the meat cleaver and the splashes of fish guts being thrown into buckets.
Being there and taking it all in at once made me feel quite uncomfortable. I was unused to the stench and the messy environment, and though I’ve been to many other markets, none had been as grimy, for lack of a better word, as the Agora Market. I had to keep my hand over my nose at some points where the smell was particularly stronger, and I was careful to keep my shoes from stepping into especially muddy or wet places, and that my shoulders didn’t touch anything.
Because of my Western looks (being half European) I have always been used to people looking my way when I go places in the Philippines. In the Agora market, I noticed this same thing happening, except it seemed to be more widespread. This was probably due to the fact that there are hardly, if there are at all, any foreigners who frequent the market. As I walked through the stalls, I could feel eyes on me wondering what I was doing there. I walked along the part of the market where they sold things other than food products, and saw a full length mirror that I had hoped to find cheap. I asked how much it was in Tagalog, and the store keeper immediately exclaimed in surprise, “Ay!! MARUNONG magtagalog!!” (Oh! She can speak Tagalog!!) and started calling her co-workers to share the surprising news. They all started laughing in awe, and turned to my companion, LynLyn, to ask her about her alaga (person under the care of). They started making jokes seemed to refer to some American movie of some sort, while teasing each other about their English proficiency, and asked me what I was there for and why I had a pen and paper in my hand. I replied saying I just wanted to see the place and buy some things. After I paid for my mirror and turned to leave, one of the women shouted at me, “Bye Ganda!!” (Bye Beautiful) and smiled happily as I waved back at her.
After this, LynLyn and I walked back towards the middle of the market where the fresh meat was being sold, and we passed by some people who told her that our companion is looking for us. I asked LynLyn how they knew it was her that Minerva, our house cook, was looking for. She said that these people were all their sukis (patron seller) and knew that the two of them were together every Thursday. We soon met up with Minerva and went on to buy the fresh meat, chicken, and fish. The two of them walked very briskly since I had apparently slowed down their usual timing in the market, and they efficiently went from one stall to the next, giving their orders and then going back to get them. When we reached the meat section, LynLyn introduced me to their suki who sold meat, and they all started asking me questions about my age and schooling. Someone then started to kid Minerva by calling her yaya which means nanny, and many of them followed suit, saying things like “here, yaya, your meat is ready” as they gave her her order. It was all very playful and light teasing, but this showed me that it was apparent to them that I seemed of upper-class, where kids even at my age would call our maids nanny(I don’t though). LynLyn and Minerva were then prasied by their sukis that their alaga actually accompanied them along on this trip, since most wouldn’t. They all seemed happy to meet me, and it was very interesting seeing how they took and gave the people’s orders.
As we walked out of the market, several people waived at goodbye at me smiling and laughing, even though I hadn’t met them. This was something I was used to, however, since many Filipinos do this to me in different places, because they think I am a tourist, and, as most know, Filipinos are very friendly to foreigners.
Back in the car on the way home, LynLyn and Minerva started telling me a few things about the market that I hadn’t been able to observe. They told me that they referred to each suki based on what they were selling, and even called them by that name. For example, for the woman selling beef, they referred to as Ate Beef , or Kuya Fish for the man selling the fish, Ate meaning elder sister and Kuya meaning elder brother. This was the same for Ate Vegetables and Ate Chicken, and all the other different sellers. It was apparently a very normal thing, and even as they ordered, they would call each suki by this name.
All in all, the whole experience had been very interesting for me. I had gone through an hour and half observing this market that our maids go to every Thursday, and saw and, well, smelled what the Agora Market was like. I came home with a 100 peso full length mirror, a big and pretty bouquet of 50 peso flowers for my mom, and a head full of new knowledge about fresh indoor markets in the Philippines.