Saturday, October 11, 2008

Madina Market

When I first arrived and was driven from the airport to my house (at night, mind you), I thought Ghana was pretty much the same as everywhere else. Today, I discovered how completely wrong I was.

Ghana is different. Different from America. Different from anywhere I’ve been in Europe. Different from the places I’ve seen in Central America, even. It’s nothing like the Africa they show on television or in magazines. It’s just different. It’s amazing.

One of the students at the school, sixteen-year-old Hanna, lives in my house in the room next to mine. She stopped by my room this morning. “I’m going to the market,” she said, slipping a shopping list and some money into her pocket. “Do you want to come?”

“Of course!” I said. I slapped on some sunscreen, grabbed my sunglasses, and ran out the door.

What follows is the most amazing adventure I’ve had in a long, long time.

We walked from our house down smaller streets to the main road, which took about ten minutes. Hanna stopped suddenly and waited at the side of the road. After a few minutes, she shouted something to two men driving a van, and they pulled over and let us in. Away we drove down a little dirt road, occasionally pulling over to let more people in. I couldn’t stop staring at the view as we drove down road after road, finally turning onto the main street.

I’ve never seen ANYTHING like it! I’m sure my descriptions or even photographs won’t fully capture it. That doesn’t mean I won’t try! However, I’m going to need more time to process it before I can write about it. I was over-stimulated by all those new images. It was unbelievable! I didn’t have anything with me except my sunglasses and my key, but next time I’ll bring a camera. I haven’t taken any pictures at all since I’ve been here. I don’t want to look like a tourist! (Although, all the locals seem to know I’m not from Africa just by looking at me... I wonder how.)

When we stepped out of the van, I was actually quite relieved that I didn’t have my purse with me. The Madina Market was filled with people. I’ve been to street markets before, in Paris, in Nice, in Krakow, in El Salvador, even in the United States, but this street market was NOTHING like any of those. Just thinking about it makes my head reel. It’s way too much to describe in detail right now. Let’s just say that it takes a lot to overwhelm me, and I was a bit overwhelmed by it all. It amazed me.

I followed Hanna through the market like a duckling follows its mom. I was her shadow... a big, white shadow. It probably looked kind of funny; a tall white lady clinging to a tiny African girl (she can’t be taller than five feet). I definitely did NOT want to lose her. Not only did I have no money with me, but also, I had no clue how to get back.

We wove in and out of the crowd, careful not to fall into the sewers that ran between the sidewalk and the street. I had to watch where I stepped, and to watch my head so that I didn’t knock into any of the women balancing huge buckets or baskets of goods on their heads, and to watch where Hanna was at all times so that I didn’t lose sight of her. This made it difficult to look around and to observe the market, but whenever Hanna stopped to look for a pair of shoes or to buy a pound of corn, my mind was saturated with images! They sell EVERYTHING at this market! Second-hand shoes, bright red tomatoes, gold watches, packs of diapers, white underwear, bars of soap, heart-shaped pastries, whole fish, girls’ headbands, colorful buckets, plastic dustpans, live snails, children’s books, bootleg DVDs, sacks of rice, old clothes, costume jewelry, soft drinks, cell phones, mangoes... everything! It amazed me how so many people and so many goods could fit into such a small space. Not that the market was small... on the contrary, I’ve never been to a market so huge in my entire life. We were there for probably two hours, and I still didn’t see the entire market.

“Obruni! Obruni!” was something I heard a lot. It means “white person,” and is not intended to be offensive. I was the only white person in the entire market, and consequently received a lot of stares. A lot of people reached out and touched my hand or my arm. A few times, merchants grabbed my wrist to try to get me to buy their goods. They always let go when I pulled away and resisted, so I never felt unsafe. I was really annoyed at first, because I thought they were picking on me, the obruni, until I saw a merchant grab the wrist of a Ghanian teenage boy. I think they just grab anyone. Their culture is much more touchy-feely than American culture.

After Hanna had purchased everything on her list, we went to this place that resembled a parking lot, filled with vans and taxis. People piled into the vans, and after asking around to which van was going in our direction, Hanna led me to a big green one, and we scooted inside. I looked out the window, and couldn’t believe the scene before my eyes. People were everywhere. Women in colorful African dresses milled around, effortlessly balancing buckets on their heads while their hands were full with their babies or bags. Tro-tro drivers shouted at passers-by, trying to fill up their vans. The full tro-tros drove toward a little opening where the street was, nearly hitting anyone in their path who didn’t run to cross or stop to let them pass. Women came to the windows of our tro-tro with their buckets on their heads, trying to get us to buy biscuits or toothpaste or coconut candy. As soon as the tro-tro was full, we were off. There were eighteen people crammed in there, including the driver and the man in the back who collected the money. We bumped along the roads, until I finally spotted a sign with the name of our school: Ancilla Primary and Junior High School.

“We get off here,” Hanna said as the car jerked to a stop, and we squeezed past the other passengers, clutching her shopping bags, and jumped onto the road. It took less than ten minutes for us to walk back to our pink house, hot and exhausted, but quite happy.

We just went to the market. It really wasn’t a big deal. Hanna goes there all the time. For a visitor experiencing it for the first time, however, a trip to the Madina Market is SUCH an adventure! I feel like I haven’t described my adventure at all. Perhaps this is because the market, the tro-tro, the African landscape, all of it is quite indescribable. I’ll try to describe everything later, once I find the right metaphors and similes, and I might even take a few good pictures, but even once I find the words and take the pictures, nothing will compare to experiencing it first hand!

Iami desami wa a!

I have no clue if that’s spelled correctly. It’s Twi (one of the native languages of Ghana) for:

I’m happy to be here!

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