When in Rome – do as the Romans do!
There are a few adventurous things every tourist to Accra (Ghana-West Africa) should venture out and definitely do. Visiting a market should rate somewhere high on your top ten experiences.
Of course it helps if you have access to a bat crazy friend to guide you to all the lovely spots. Just kidding. A healthy dose of humour and an open mind goes a long way into grasping a bit of culture and appreciating West Africa’s smiles and spontaneity.
According to Wikipedia: Makola Market is a renowned market place and shopping district in the centre of the city of Accra, the capital of Ghana. One can find a wide array of products being sold in the markets and its surrounding streets, from car parts to land snails.
Space is cramped and very limited. A trader can stack all her goods on a tiny wonky table, and it’s best to point to something that interest you rather than trying to remove it yourself, and risking tumbling her whole display of goods over. So watch your step, keep your dress folds wrapped closely to your legs as not to get it snagged on a jagged edge of a tabletop-shop. Never lean over or against a trader’s goods, and be mindful not to bump things over while meandering your way through the limited walkways. They often kick up a huge fuss and swat you away like a pesky fly –if you obstruct potential buyers’ view while waiting or standing in front of a stall.
Be prepared to be overwhelmed with the onslaught of a thousand colours and smells. Sanitation is not the first priority, trading is. Initially the market seems haphazard and there is no plan or reason to the layout, but nothing can be further from the truth. Ask anybody where is the textile section, or stationary, of vegetables, or tin section, the timber market, the beading section, the secondhand clothing and the new clothing section, and the list goes on and on…
It’s safe, but a bit of street savvy goes a long way. Tourists will be sussed by the quality shoes they wear (try Chinese one-dollar-flip-flops), their expensive watch (leave it at home), their new treads (old worn and faded t-shirt), excessive jewelry just a wedding band is advisable) and all of this will determine the initial asking price. Whatever the initial asking price is, you should offer half of it, and then finally settle on a buying price or “last price” just above half of the first asking price. Walking away if the price does not suit you is another skill to learn quickly. If you don’t fancy the trader’s haggling (they become too aggressive, dismissive or blatant insulting), then the best opt-out of a sale is to state, “in fact I don’t need it, or actually don’t like the colour” and walk away.
Haggling for a single item can be done in a minute flat or about five to seven minutes or longer if the item is old or expensive. So be patient, and never try to ‘rush’ through the market. Not haggling is just silly as you’ll end up paying double for everything. It helps to have small notes, and there are crafty pick pockets, so keep your money folded and tucked into different hiding places.
It’s extremely hot and sticky.
Imagine sitting in the African sun, exposed all day, or having to carry heavy market loads up and down narrow dusty alleys, someone is going to sweat, bump into you, and everyone will be hot an bothered.
Thousands of people go to the markets on a daily basis. So dress in cottons, buy a bamboo hand fan, women are advised to respect the African culture and wear a skirt, or be content with a clingy and rather aggressive inconsiderate suitor or two.
When the heat becomes unbearable, relax and ask for a ‘minerals seller’ and snap; someone will produce an ice cold Coke or Sprite or Fanta. Sit and take a five-minute breather and just take time to observe the hustle and bustle.
Many people don’t mind their photos taken, so after asking permission, they often strike a pose or surprise you with the biggest toothy smile you can possibly imagine. I understand that some of the older folk or even the Muslim community object, and I respect their privacy. I do get annoyed when traders demand money if they are to be photographed and I flatly refuse to pay up. Two minutes further up the same market alley, someone will definitely grant you some photo shots without demanding a payment upfront.
I hope you have an enthusiastic friend somewhere – ready to take you shopping, and guide you along the busy shopping alleys of an African Market.
It’s a fabulous African experience.