Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lets go shopping

One of the most fascinating aspects of Ghana is its commerce. Say you are in a tro-tro at the station waiting for it to fill up, or you are stuck in traffic. Many many people will pass by selling all sorts of merchandise that ranges from essentials such as water to completely random items such as CD organizers, mops, soccer balls, and dead grasscutter (basically a big groundhog). Often they are balancing their goods on their head, allowing easy access from the window of a tro-tro or bus. And no matter what they are selling, they will be constantly yelling out the product name to attract attention, like vendors at a baseball game. You might here:

Pure wata!! (Pure water)
Hssssssss! (fast) Hankie hankie hankie hankie hankie facetowel facetowel (Handkerchiefs)
Ti-got! (Yogurt, it took me a long time to understand this one)
Hssssssss! Mentos. PK. (gum)
Buh froot! (essentially a donut)
(fast) Pen pen pen pen pen pen pen pen pen. (pen)
Bees-cut Bees-cut Bees-cut. (biscuit, either cookies or crackers)

On long trips there are certain stations where tro-tros stop for the driver to take a rest or maybe get some petrol. When the tro-tro slows down, people rush it, mobbing and surrounding it, thrusting bread in through the windows, and fish, and plantain chips. It's how I assume many people make a living, in this wildly competitive, cut-throat environment (there might be 10 people selling basically the same loaves of bread at one spot).
This got me thinking, how awesome would it be if McDonalds and Starbucks strategically placed people selling fries and coffee to congested areas during rush hour? Or Walmart could have people selling school supplies in August...hmmm, I might have to work out a business proposal for this....

There is one person I often pass selling used remote controls and a globe. I mean, this guy seriously makes a living selling a plastic globe. I wonder how many he's sold...can you support a family selling plastic globes? Not too far away from the globe man, I once saw a guy holding about 20 or so gaskets for various cars. He would then announce the name of each passing car in a monotone voice (Opel Kaddett....Toyota Hilux....Mazda 626....Mercedes Benz), I guess in an effort to show he had a part for that car. It was very strange, especially since some of the cars he identified had their windows up, and couldn't hear him.

Now, there are many shops around that more closely resemble "stores" as we might think of them, but there are also many places outside on the street or at transport stations where you can buy almost anything. You might see a "shoe store" where about 50 shoes are arranged on a blanket on the street, or a "furniture store" where all of the couches and chairs are outside on the grass. There are no fixed prices, so you have to bargain and its always an issue for me since I'm an obruni, and will automatically get a high initial quote from sellers. Sometimes these people are VERY aggressive, walking right up to you and maybe even grabbing your hand to try to pull you into their "store". It can be a hassle but it's also part of the Ghanaian experience...it definitely provides a unique shopping experience, and once you know where to go to buy what you want, and have an idea of the price, then it's kind of fun.

And now let me answer a few questions submitted by my illustrious readers:

What wildlife have you seen in Ghana?
Contrary to what some of you might think, I'm not surrounded by antelopes, monkeys and lions. In fact, most Ghanaians will never see a lion in the wild, and even antelopes are uncommon in the coastal Southern regions that are the most densely populated. Common animals are what we would consider as farm animals, such as goats, cows, turkeys, cats, dogs, and pigeons. Many of these are "pets" are contained in their owners property by fences (almost all houses are fenced in with concrete walls to deter thieves) or tied to ropes. You might be walking in a residential area and see a herd of 10 goats being tended by their owner. Also common are lizards (they are FAST), huge toads and frogs that come out at night (and are frieking LOUD in large numbers), mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, vultures, hawks and other cool birds I can't properly identify. I've seen monkeys only twice, as many of them have been hunted or driven from most built up areas. But I'm planning a big trip up north in March to visit a national park that typically features elephants, antelope, and lots of other animals, so I'll see a lot more wildlife on this trip (and partially fulfill my secret childhood dream of traveling to Madagascar to see lemurs).

What is the status of women in Ghana?
This is a complicated question, and I don't pretend to have a great understanding of it, but I think a lot of it has to do with where you are in the country. In more traditional villages, women are associated with more traditional types of work (cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, etc), but in Accra and other major cities there are many women working in high powered jobs. Often in more prestigious businesses, such as banks, news broadcasting stations and immigration services, there are many women. In fact, I've seen way more female cops in Ghana than in the US. Ghana just elected its first female speaker of Parliament, basically the counterpart of Nancy Pelosi. In the commercial sector I described above (targeted chaotic street selling) there are certain items most often sold by women (water, most foods) and others most often sold by men (hankies, watches, yogurt). And in traditional music, there are hardly any women drummers (they dance and sing), but there are male dancers. But generally speaking, I can say that women are treated equally.

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