A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Friday, September 11, 2009

Markets in Accra

We befriended a couple rastas on the beach one day, Opa and Friction, in front of their friend Frank’s jewelry shop where I bought a shell necklace. We wanted to go to the Makola and Kaneshie markets in Accra but were a little intimidated by the complicated tro-tro transfers and getting around in the throngs of people. We worked out a deal that if we bought the supplies, then they would guide us there and then cook dinner for us afterwards. We thought this a generous arrangement and set off for the Kokrobite tro-tro stop.

The tro-tros pass every half hour or so and the first was packed by the time we tried to squeeze in, so we hopped in a shared taxi to the barrier, so named because at one point in time it used to have a police barrier, and when it was removed people were too used to it to rename it. Similarly, the ghanian currency was converted about five years ago but everyone quotes prices in the old currency which confuses the hell out of me. Is it ten cents or a ten dollars? I don’t know.

At the barrier, we packed ourselves into a local tro-tro heading to Accra. Little larger than a van it seats 5 rows of 5 people with folding seats along the right side so that every available space is occupied. If someone in the back row has to depart, all the people in the folding seats have to exit before he can get out, and then get back onboard before someone waiting at the stop steals their seat. It seems slightly chaotic, as there are no signs on the tro-tro but a hand gesture made out the window to indicate the final destination, but the system works surprisingly well. There are millions of routes and stops and for 65 pesewas (46 cents) for a ride all the way to the city most locals use it as their main means of transport.

We got out at Makola market, the largest in Accra, and started our long, exhausting day of shopping. First we started with ingredients for dinner, buying yams, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, greens, and assorted herbs from the woven baskets of local women sellers.

Then winding down densely packed alleyways of wobbly shacks for spicy red sauce (so delicious but the secret of the sauce is a mystery) and cooking oil. We had thought the medina was crazy land, but that was kindergarten in comparison. Never before had we seen so many people in such a small space, so loud and disorienting by the never-seen-before visual information, my brain immediately overloaded with too much sensory perception. I keep hearing that India will be overwhelming and crazy, but I can’t imagine anything crazier than this.

We went to a specialized natural food shop the size of a walk-in closet, the Whole Foods of Ghana, for tofu and what looked like a bag of croutons. I bought a large bottle of neem oil for an expensive sum of 10 cedi ($7) that I was told was good to thwart mosquitos. Later I smothered the brown liquid over my whole body, and as I smelled intoxicatingly like a giant cashew it had the reverse effect of attracting the bugs to me. Though it may have been an effective Ron-repellent, for those times I need to be left alone, I couldn’t bear using it again.

Afterwards, they took us to an area with thousands of clustered curio shops, and we stopped at a few of their friends establishments. This was not even the beginning of an annoying trend to get us to buy souvenirs, as they unsuccessfully pressured us the day before to buy masks and carvings from them. And there is a steady flow of sellers in and near Big Milly’s. It’s hard to get angry, as they make a living selling things, but we are not in a position to part with large (or small) sums of money for things we can’t carry with us. Shop after shop, we had to take a look and then make our excuses, it was tiring verging on irritating. But then I did wander off and purchase a string of pink iridescent beads for a dollar, adding a miniscule contribution to the local economy.

It was getting late so we went on a wild goose chase for an atm machine that would accept our card, and finally after several failures found a Barclay’s. We wound our way through the crowds to a massive tro-tro station and with our guides easily found the the tro-tro, amonst the million others, back home. Funny how I just referred to our hotel as home. I guess when you are on the road for awhile anywhere you lay your head is your home, like you are dragging a snail's shell behind you with your sense of home in it.

The traffic was horrendous and it took nearly three hours to make the hour long journey back. Ron and I were sweaty, hungry, and dehydrated as we longingly eyed the little baggies of water they sell for 5 pesewas through the tro-tro window through our frequent stops every five feet down the road. We found out later they were safe to drink but we didn’t want to chance getting sick to our stomachs in such close quarters. Inching forward painfully slowly, you could almost walk faster, if you knew your way in the blackness of night. I couldn’t hardly distinguish the foul smell of my chaco sandals amongst the bad bodily odors around us, and I took that as a good sign that I finally fit in, and rested my head in my arms on the seat in front of me.

The dinner was astoundingly delicious, quite likely the best local meal we would eat in Ghana. The “croutons” plumped up into a tasty meat-like morsel and the sauce was perfectly hot and spicy balanced by the blandness and bulk of the yam. We were very grateful for the meal, it cost us only $10 and it fed about 10 people, as they had friends stop by and leftovers the next day. What a beautiful arrangement for all of us.


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