Banananomics

Where I come from, the price of coffee, eggs, milk and produce fluctuates according to variables such as: what’s in season in the tropics, the stock price of cacao, whether dairy farmers had a good year and yield. Currency exchange figures and import/export taxes probably account for some of the highs and lows, much more than I  – admittedly, relatively ignorant about the economics of global food trade – comprehend.

But international economics aside, one thing I do know is this: the price of bananas in Bali (and an assortment of other fruits, chickens, coconuts and other essential foodstuffs) varies mainly due to one factor: ceremonies. One should NEVER discount the widespread impact of ceremonies on this island…

Returning earlier this evening from Tabanan (where I weeded and walked the labyrinth, aaaah…), it dawned on me that I’d better stock up on a few staples: tomorrow marks the festival of Kuningan, when nearly every shop, fruit stall and warung is shut down for the day. After filling up my bottle with fresh spring water from the tap behind the local temple, I rounded the corner just in time to find the little shop on the lane still open for business.

A large bunch of green bananas (ripened inside) lay on the countertop. I motioned to the bunch and inquired in my best albeit sadly halting Bahasa Indonesia, the conversation going something like this…

Me: Berapa untuk dua pisang? (how much for two bananas?)

Banana lady: Dua ribu. (2000 rupiahs – approximately 25 cents)

Pricey, I thought.

Me: Mengapa lebih mahal?  (why so much more expensive?)

Banana lady (placing hands together with a slight bow of the head): Ada upacara (because of ceremony).

Even as she started to answer, I knew exactly where she was heading.

Me: Kemarin dan nanti, dua tiga hari, berapa? (how much for 2 bananas, yesterday and in 2 or 3 days?)

Banana lady: Ahh, murah, dua pisang seribu. (Ahh, cheaper, two bananas for 1000 rupiahs)

And so there you have it. Banananomics for Dummies. Brought to you by perempuan pisang (the banana lady).

You can chart it on a graph or the Balinese calendar with near-precision: If you can avoid buying fruit (oranges, apples, snake fruit included) in the days leading  up to an upacara (widely-observed temple ceremonies, Galungan and Kuningan especially) you will pay the regular, low price for a banana.

Otherwise, beware: you’ll be charged a premium and there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t even think of bargaining down the price at a time like this, it’s borderline heresy. At minimum, insulting and just not done.

I handed over my 2000 rupiah note, packed up my two pisang, clasped my palms together and, in my most cheerful voice, I said to the banana lady: Selamat Hari Raya Kuningan (happy kuningan)… I’ll be back for more bananas in a few days.

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