To Market, To Market

Market day is a big deal here, but before you can start furiously bargaining and counting out your bowls of beans and millet, you have to get there. Yesterday I went over to the clinic, from where I was going to ride into Bolgatanga in the clinic truck. I was supposed to be back to the clinic by 11am or so, but in Ghana time is somewhat irrelevant. I waited for the driver to come home from the local market, and then for him to bathe, before we left. It was three hours before we left, and then we

Carrying peppers through the market

made one stop on the way—and the stop was even pre-planned! It was pretty amazing, considering.

It wasn’t market day in Bolga today, but there were still plenty of women walking around with huge bowls of food on their heads. When you add in all the bicycles and motos that drive through the narrow rows between stalls, you have to be prepared to duck or leap out of the way at any moment. Walking side by side is not a very smart choice.

Other than the endless fascination of seeing heavy loads balanced on small women’s heads, my favorite part about market is watching people bargain. The women run the rice, millet, wheat, and beans through their fingers, checking for weevils and probably lots of other little bugs and things that I don’t know about—and that I’m just fine not knowing about. (They don’t mind if you touch the grains or even eat a dried herring or two, but I learned a good lesson yesterday: DON’T touch the dowa dowa! I still don’t know why.) Then they talk on and on about the price of what they’re getting. They have very heated arguments, which bear no resemblance whatsoever to buying food in the US, unless you’re an extremely rude customer. It’s quite exciting to watch and listen to, but I don’t know if I’m fierce enough to get a good price.

I remember someone saying that you can argue the price of anything here, even your hospital bills. And they will not give you even one pesewa extra. But then again, they do always seem to heap a bit of extra rice in the bag that you didn’t officially buy. Courtesy, I suppose, and custom.

Anyway, once you’ve decided on the price, you stand there in the hot, hot sun and count as they measure out your purchase. If you don’t, uh-oh. They might cheat you one or two bowls of millet. Which if you ask me, isn’t such a big sacrifice if it saves you hours of time, but I actually enjoyed standing there and counting to ten almost 100 times. Everything feels different when time isn’t a commodity. Maybe that’s why they spend so much time greeting and goodbye-ing. They’re not trying to “save” time, they’re trying to save their relationships—because your relationships with people are how you define yourself here.

So if you, reader, ever go to market in northern Ghana, don’t forget to stay and count your rice. You might not get every grain you paid for, and you won’t get to know the lady who’s selling it to you. Besides, it will probably be some time before you can catch a ride home.

–Britney (Lisa and David’s niece)

David, Lisa, and Britney