Saturday, October 9, 2010

To market, to market, to see a fat pig....

During my first two weeks here, I’m working with Liz, the project manager for the Kumasi-NYC School-to-School project that I’m supporting. Abenaa, my in-country manager, contracted a driver, Akmed, to drive Liz (and, by extension, me) around during the time she’s here. On Thursday, Liz and I visiting the last three schools that she had not seen yet this week. (More about the project I’m doing here in another post.) Since we were done for the day and Liz only has two weeks here, I asked if Akmed could take us to the Kejetia Market, one of the major attractions in Kumasi. Little did I know what we were in for.
Driving towards the market, the roads got even more crowded with cars and people than in the rest of Kumasi, if such a thing is possible. A couple blocks from the outskirts of the market, Akmed parked and took a ticket from someone who would watch the car. Thus ensued an interesting cultural difference when Akmed told us we could leave our stuff in the locked car and we tried to explain to him that in the US it would be asking for someone to break in and steal it (as I learned from experience at Brier Creek shopping center a couple years ago). Liz and I followed our Western sensibilities and carried our stuff with us.
Akmed took off like a man on a mission, which he was—the mission to show us the market, all of it, in a short time. There is really no way to describe the utter mass chaos and confusion into which we plunged. Thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of stalls and sellers were crammed together into a vibrant, noisy mass of humanity. The market appeared to be the one place in Kumasi where people moved as if they had somewhere to be and a time to get there. Taken as a whole, it’s possible to recognize the different regions of the market: jewelry, clothing (new and then used), fruits and vegetables, luggage, empty bottles, fish, and meat, among many, many others.
In the empty plastic bottles section, bottles of all sorts and sizes were sold. Some of the uses were evident in another part of the market, where we saw women filling plastic bottles with flavored oils, such as cooking oil in which chilies were soaking. Plastic bottles are also carried around by the drivers, who keep a bit of water in them to clean their cars when they’re waiting for their passengers (as Akmed does).
The fish and meat sections overloaded the senses, primarily olfactory but also visual. Both the meat and fish sections (there was more than one fish section) were a combination of common items and the more obscure. Among the many varieties of small smoked fishes, the oddest “fish” were the 6” long snails, which were obviously fresh as many of the snails were still moving.
As for the meat section, most of the butchering was done underneath an awning or inside the building to which the awning was attached. I was expecting things like the whole cows heads that were for sale, but I was a bit flummoxed by the rats that were splayed out as if prepared for a cats’ pig pickin’. (Editor’s note: if you’re not from the US South, you might not understand this last sentence. Ask your favorite Southerner to explain it.) There were piles of entrails and various other bits for sale, all of which were baking in the midday heat. Then we plunged inside the butchering building. The floor of the building was slick with the liquids that spill from the butchered animals. The smell overpowered me, making me a bit nauseous. (It was only a few years ago that I learned to tear apart a chicken for cooking without feeling sick to my stomach). Liz stopped to ask about something for sale at about this time, but I somehow made it out without losing my lunch.
After this, I was very grateful to be passing through the less visceral sections, like the jewelry and grains. We had not taken any pictures in the market for fear of being impolite, but on our journey back, we asked Akmed if he thought it would be okay to take pictures. He indicated that as long as we asked the people first and stopped if they said no, then we should feel free to do so. Kicking ourselves for not asking earlier, we were fortunate enough to pass back by the meat section and get a few pics. During this pass-through, we heard someone hawking “grass-cutter”, a large rodent-like animal formally known as a savanna cane-rat. Perhaps we saw grass-cutters, not actual rats, on the first pass through. Either way, it was a rather odd sight to see.
Since the market is too chaotic and involved to see in a single trip of less than an hour, I plan to go back again on a more leisurely photo excursion. I might even be brave enough enter into the process of bargaining that it takes to buy something.

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