Before I even had the chance to step out into the rain I had atleast 5 men try to grab my bags from me to take them to the van that had arrived to take us to our first destination in Ghana. In America it would have been viewed as chivalrous and unfortunately out of the ordinary, but in Ghana I knew better. I had already been warned that while someone offering to carry your bags may seem kind, here there is an ulterior motive: they want to get paid.
I can’t help but admire that hustling mentality and the entrepreneurial spirit. While there were a healthy amount of people that only had a hand out expecting money or food, but rarely, even in the United States will someone offer a service for whatever it is that they want from you. I can really respect that. It’s something that you don’t see in America, people want a lot and are not willing to give much at all.
As we drove down the streets in Accra I was really just amazed at what I saw. There were people walking up and down the busy streets with varying products to sell. They had everything from umbrellas, to chargers, fruit, and gum. Almost anything you can think of was right there in the streets. Sometimes it seemed like the products begin sold would adapt to the area we were in or what the weather was at the time. There was also a very communal flow that the traffic had, even with people and bumper to number traffic there was a smooth economy of movement.
“No” became my new favorite word. I probably gave myself whiplash shaking my head to let the vendors know that I didn’t want to buy, or to let the beggers know that I didn’t have anything to give. I simply wanted to look outside at the scenery and fully be able to take in my surroundings.
And I was so interested in everything that I saw in my surroundings. In America we are really accustomed to firmly structured business, that span beyond just banks, restaurants, hotels, and paid public servants. Traditional storefronts are almost a depiction of success, but here in Ghana there are so many different visions of success and what a market looks like. There are formal and informal markets as well as markets that range in size. Some are about the length of a street in a neighborhood, while others are the size of several football fields.
The market experience was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I attempted to take a picture at one of the earlier markets we went to but out of respect for the people there I would always ask and most times they did not feel inclined to have their picture taken. So, I don’t have any to share. In one instance I even had a lady yell at me asking me why I was taking her picture, and I definitely learned from that mistake.
Never before in my life had I thought it was okay to negotiate the price I was willing to pay for an item. You just don’t do it. When you go into a store the price is the price and that’s it. Ghana markets are the exact opposite; you are encouraged to bargain prices. Cash is king. And American money is even better. Thankfully we started with the less aggressive markets, as a group we definitely got better and more confident with time.
Observing the small businesses was one of the most eye-opening experiences for me. The two (beyond the shea butter plant) that stuck out to me was the woman who had a leather business and the man on the side of the road that did furniture weaving
Ghanaians have a work ethic that is out of this world. While we learn about traditional gender roles and how they play apart in the Ghanaian societal fabric, we are constantly running into examples that defy everything that we learned in the books. From a woman owning a business and teaching men her craft, to a man that took up a craft and was taught by someone that was not of blood relation.
Ghana proved to hold on to tradition but to also not be afraid to create new traditions for the better.
“Perception is reality, and reality is in my world there is no black and white, only shades of K…”