International Writers Magazine: World Travel: Ghana
no competition!" Karen said over a tall glass of lime soda.
"Walk into any market in a third-world country, and youll
see stall after stall of identical produce." Karen had a
degree in International Development and the experience of over
thirty countries. I was a rookie. Karen was my new travel partner,
and this was our first meal together. I didnt venture an
We were in the city
of Kumasi, Ghana. The next day we were headed to Kejetia Market, reputed
to be the largest open-air market in West Africa.
We saw him first on the main road bordering the market. He walked to
my right, leaving about a meters space. He wasnt a typical-looking
Ghanaian, standing just over five feet, with long hair, and barely enough
weight to fuel his fluid motion.
At first I thought he was one of the numerous people who, by virtue
of our white skin, wanted to start a conversation as to where we were
from, why we were in Ghana, etc. But several minutes passed, and he
didnt speak a word. Having read that Africans can take the initiation
of eye contact as an insult, I decided against a questioning glance.
He maintained our pace, despite the fact that Karen had started to speed
up. "We have to get rid of him," she said as we entered the
market. "Hes going to try to rob us."
The brightly patterned clothing of shoppers squeezing past produced
a kaleidoscope effect. Karen, who now walked in front of me, took several
successive rights and lefts. The market was a life-size maze, and I
have little sense of direction. Karens almost a foot taller than
me, and I found myself with the occasional trot in my step. Finally,
she turned around. "It may be pre-mature," she said, "but
I think weve lost him."
Her pace slackened, and I started to take in the markets structure.
What Karen had said the night before was true: there were entire walkways
devoted to candles, others with purses hanging wherever the eye could
land. In a walkway lined with tailors, the refrain of "Obruni!
White! Buy my shirt!" played to a full orchestra of whirring and
cranking sewing machines.
Occasionally, wed find ourselves walking along a valley path.
Bowls of oranges, sitting on the heads of women in adjacent paths, seemed
to follow their own procession. On one such occasion, my eye caught
an anomaly. The Thiefs head was floating among the oranges.
"Agooo! Agooo! Get out of the way!" A couple of men were coming
through with their alley-wide wheelbarrow. I caught up to Karen while
we waited for them to get past. "Its going to be hard to
get rid of this guy," she said. "Were not exactly inconspicuous."
Neither is he, I thought.
It wasnt long before he was in the same walkway as us, albeit
several blocks behind. We continued pushing through the crowd whose
density seemed to increase in direct proportion to the heat. The odor
of human sweat permeated the air. A waft of at-least-day-old fish assaulted
us before we were greeted by thousands of beady eyes, barely implanted
in their decapitated heads.
As we turned a corner, we found ourselves in quintessential tomato alley.
An impossibly high pyramid stood at the far end. "Id love
to get a shot of that," Karen said, "but I dont want
to get out my camera with that wacko following us." I thought it
would be funny if we got a shot of him.
Hed gained on us while we stood entranced by tomatoes. Karen told
me to guard my backpack carefully. Entering the market, it hadnt
struck me as risky to carry my backpack in its normal position - on
my back. But there was Karens extensive experience in developing
nations. And my tendency to take advice to its literal extremes.
I transferred my bag to my right shoulder, cradled it in the same arm,
and using all my fingers, pinched the access points of each of the four
pockets. By this time, Karen had barreled ahead. In my newly discovered
Yoga pose, I teetered on.
As I approached the end of Tomato Alley, I noticed too late that the
highest stack of tomatoes extended further into my path than I had allowed
for. I found myself hovering over the bend. The vision of myself face
down in a bed of tomato guts flashed across my mind. I shifted my weight
as far as balance would allow and swung around the corner.
What I forgot was that with every pile of tomatoes comes a tomato-seller.
Seated cross-legged on the opposite side of the pile, she had, until
this moment, escaped my notice. As I made the final portion of my turn,
my backpack, now hanging off my shoulder and following the laws of inertia,
propelled directly into the womans face.
As she stood up, her fleshy indignation filled my view port. "Oh,
my God, Im so sorry," I said. She waggled her face towards
mine, yelling abuses I couldnt understand. As she gesticulated,
I realized I had two options: either continue staring at her blank-faced,
or figure out my next move. She was definitely mad, but I didnt
perceive any physical threat. I decided to go for it. Checking left
and right, I sidestepped her.
I kept walking until the last tomato was out of sight. Finally, I wiped
the sweat from my brow and cursed the Thief. Then I realized he was
right behind me.
While my amusement had turned to annoyance, his nonchalance had metamorphosed
to mockery. That was it. I lifted my eyes and met his gaze.
It didnt faze him. In the manner of a French farce, he turned
his head ninety degrees, stuck his chin in the air, and started whistling.
I half expected him to pull out a newspaper.
My backpack now firmly on my back, I shoved past several shoppers before
finally catching up with Karen. I summed up my experiences as we wound
our way out of the market. By the time we were seated at dinner, I had
my own theory as to what the third-world needed to lift itself out of
© Susan Mintz Oct 18 2006
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