سم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A few months ago I learnt that a city within a few hours drive of me had the 2nd largest Somali community in the USA…Columbus Ohio, around 45,000-50,000 Somalis call Columbus home…and of course there are dozens of Somali owned businesses and “Somali Malls” in the city and its suburbs. I am no expert on the Somali community in Columbus nor do I know Columbus very well…but I knew I HAD to get there and go shopping! Through the assistance of some sisters I know online who live in Columbus I located the neighbourhood where many of them reside and where many of their businesses are located, I also found two large Somali Malls…although Columbus has dozens of Somali Malls most of those whom I spoke with recommended these malls.
Ultimately the two Malls I got to frequent the most were Global Mall and Banadir. I got the opportunity to go twice, the first time about 6 weeks ago and then this past weekend where we ended up staying overnight in Columbus to make the trip less exhausting.
When you step foot in a Somali Mall you really do feel like your in a shopping center or suq in the Middle East…its the same lay out…tiny shop filled to the gills with whatever the shop specializes in and it floods outside to the doorways…much like shopping in most places in the Middle East (I say “most”…but not all, obviously) its completely OK and normal to bargain…the better your bargaining skills the better price you can get. Obviously nothing has price labels on them…the price you get quoted depends on how you look, how you ask and who you ask….and the price you ultimately end up paying depends on your level of bargaining skill…obviously though if your in the Middle East chain stores or stores with price tags attached generally dont bargain…c’mon, forget bargaining for that skirt at the Zara in ArRashid Mall! LOL
Anyway, the first time my husband and I walked into Global Mall the first time we went to shop in the Columbus Somali Malls we both gasped and were like…wow, its JUST like Saudi or Iran….I felt instantly at home…I LOVE shopping and LOVED shopping in Saudi…get me to the Thursday suq and I could bargain with the best of them…even bringing down those stubborn Bedu women.
The two Malls we went too have a wide variety of shops although the majority sell womens clothing and accessories and the clothing would make most covering Muslim women drool with glee…abayaat from UAE, Scarves, long khimaars, skirts, overheads, jewelry, accessories…you name it…you feel like a kid in a candy store and everything is much cheaper than buying online (again, this is where bargaining skills come in handy :-)…All the Malls also have a Musallah for salaat, I also saw several tailoring businesses, jewelry shops selling 22K gold, mens and womens barber shops and tons of places selling Attar, Bakhoor, Oud chips or Somali frankincense imported via UAE.
Unfortunately its very difficulty getting pictures inside the various stores…both my husband and I tried but even though I asked first and was in shops where I had purchased items…the shop keepers were very reluctant to let me snap pictures fearing I would take a picture of them…which ofcourse I wouldn’t but Allahu Alim.
Here are a mixture of pictures from Somali Malls…a few are my own and are a few I culled from online.
Baati alone, Baati with gabassar, Baati unstitched…Baati everywhere…part of the Baati gang…no? Well you are now!!!
Here are a few “tips/tricks” that I quickly learnt from my time shopping at these Somali Malls…pretty similar to how it is at an outdoor suq in Saudi or Iran, but never the less…
1) Bring CASH! No one really accepts cards…and each mall has a money transfer shop which has an ATM but sometimes they are mysteriously closed and so that Baati you are drooling over is so tantilizingly out of reach *weeps*
2) Bring a list of what you ultimately are LOOKING FOR! trust me when I say if you dont go with a plan or an idea of what you would like to buy or wear…you WILL FEEL OVERWHELMED..rememeber that feeling of being a kid and your mom or dad dumping you down at Toys R Us and telling you can pick any toy you wanted and it just was both exciting but sucked all at the same time…the choices…ahhh, the choices… Khimaars? abayaat? abayaah ra’as…? check, check, check!
3) Come with a short list of names of things IN SOMALI or atleast IN Arabic…yes most of the shop keepers spoke English or atleast some English but sometimes the terms they use for things is not the same terms we American Muslims use for things and even being able to fall back a little on Arabic helps as many know atleast some Arabic to understand what your asking for.More details to follow…
4) Do a loop and then once you figure out who is carrying what you need and is going to bargain or atleast give a suitable price then go back and actually shop…dont feel like if you cant bargain in one place that you must cave and pay what they ask…keep going…unless a shop carries something very specific or has something which you know you cant easily find at another shop…keep going…that shop is one in a dozen…you’ll find much of the same thing somewhere else and possibly for cheaper and at a shop with a shopkeeper willing to bargain. There is nothing wrong with bargaining fyi…its the norm in many cultures around the world…I know many Americans dont feel comfortable with it…but get over it.
5) Bring a measuring tape…there are NO dressing rooms…so if your buying a dress or an abaya and your iffy about if it;ll fit…your up the creek without a paddle…so knowing your sizing and being able to measure will be a huge help! Some shop keepers may be iffy ok with you trying something on in the bathroom as long as they hold onto something of value from you…i.e. your drivers license or something.
6) Check seams or embellishments on clothing items for how durable they are… just sayin’.
7) Be sure its what you want…you cant return or at least return/exchange very easily…
8) Shops close for salaat…the female shop keepers often pray in their shops and baracade the little entrances with a rack or something…just be patient or sit in the musallah or go do your salaat yourself!
9) Shops can be social places…so be prepared.
10) this goes for everywhere but needs re-mentioning….while I trust that most Muslims aren’t thieves they do exist…don’t be obvious with your wallet or cash…you maybe carrying $800 on you but heavens no don’t flash it around…you wouldn’t do that at Walmart or a regular Mall or at the Suq in Marrakech would you? Be smart…anyone can shop in a Somali Mall much like anywhere else…
So that sums it up…any more tips.tricks you feel I should include…just include them in comments!