The sensory overload of Accra's largest market place and its Ghanaian spirit.
To try to determine one place, person, food or even experience that epitomized the spirit of Ghana is a pretty impossible task, not only because I don’t fully feel qualified to say what the spirit of Ghana actually is or because Ghana is such a diverse country but also because just like any other culture or country around the world, to find one thing that just can give someone an idea of a country, is well, just not possible. So after much thought, debate and looking through my iPhoto library in hope that it would provide some inspiration, I decided to cheat a bit a choose a place that might only be able to embody the spirit of Ghana (as I experience it, that is) because it is so large and so many pass through every single day. That place is Makola Market.
To any visitor of Accra I would recommend at least a short trip to Makola Market. This Market, is huge, though not the largest in Ghana (that would be located in Kumasi and is actually the largest market place in all of West Africa). It is here that you can truly buy anything, clothing, food, fabric, electrical appliances, school supplies and way more. Makola, to me, is when I feel most “in Ghana;” it is where I feel most separate from the NYU Accra program or from the Westernized restaurants where we often eat.
Far before the market officially begins traffic gets clogged. People are selling on the sidewalks and in the streets. The density of the people on the sidewalks and streets increases exponentially as you move closer and when you finally get out of your taxi, bus, or tro-tro you must quickly adjust to the flow and pace of the people around you. The market, is to a degree, divided into sections. In some parts you’ll find mostly clothing, in others mostly household goods, or maybe textiles, in other parts it may be fruits or meat. Each section, unsurprisingly, comes with its own attack against the senses. As you walk into the meat market, you can easily be nauseated by the stench of raw meat and the unsightly views of dead animals piled on top of one another. In the textile area you become overwhelmed by the colors and patterns, sometimes so unable to differentiate the fabrics that you have to look at a hard to find blank wall in order to continue functioning, much like smelling coffee beans when testing perfumes. No matter where you are you ears ring with chants of “obrouni, over here,” and “I give you good price,” and loud conversations in Ga, Twi, Ewe and Pidgin over the noise of taxi and tro-tro horns. Whereever you walk you will be bumped into, grabbed, brushed against and touched. You will be able to feel the hot pavement beneath your feet and even taste the dark, hot plume of smoke coming out of tro-tro exhaust pipes as they pass.
To me Makola embodies everything that I’ve experienced Ghana to be, a mix of chaos and structure, everyone following a series of inexplicit cultural rules and me generally being completely unaware. It is bright and beautiful. Women still manage, as they always seem to, to be graceful and beautiful in their long, hot dresses with babies on their back and fruit on their heads, pushing through the throngs of people to get to their destination, all the while calling for sales. It’s a mix of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds but is still unapologetically Ghanaian. When so much of the world is shopping in sterile, air conditioned malls, the economy of Accra and likely much of Ghana is being run by the market women of Makola, yet another example of the subtle and unspoken power of women in Ghana. Though things can easily be described as “hustling and bustling” in Makola no one walks too fast either, because in Ghana, as all my Ghanaian friends remind me regularly, we live a relaxed life. As people bargain prices, I think of how nothing in Ghana is exactly how it seems, everything can be change or altered (especially if a dash is involved). With religious store names and less market traffic on Sunday’s I’m reminded of the religious nature of the country, and how God even finds his way into small talk in Ghana. With shouts of “obrouni,” gorgeous smiles and big waves, I see how Ghanaians seem to me to be a happy people, even if life is sometimes tough, joyful even just at seeing a foreigner attempting butchered Twi.
Yet even with the “microcosms” of what I see Ghanaian life to be, Makola provides the diversity, too, that I likely haven’t seen. The vastness of the market, its product and its people, is like that of Ghana. With so many different types of language, culture, religion, educational levels, and socio-economic backgrounds Ghana is a place of difference. Its spirit may be one, but it isn’t a simple spirit. The Genius loci protects a complex, diverse and multifaceted culture that can’t be simply described or represented.
(This is a picture of just on street in Makola Market--you can see how bright, busy and beautiful it is)