I’m a New Jersey native. I’ve lived in the same state, same town, same house my entire life. I thought venturing down to North Carolina to attend Wake was as adventurous as I would be in my first 20 years. Sitting here, in the University of Ghana guesthouse reception area, I realize that I’ve surpassed the low bar I set for my travel expectations.
Five other Wake Forest students (all girls) and I have the distinct privilege of studying abroad in Accra—the capital city of Ghana—for four weeks’ time. We’re taking a class and volunteering at a day care center that caters to the children of women who work on the streets. (No, not prostitution. They carry things on their heads and sell them on the side of the road.) Pretty cool, actually. Nothing like shopping when you’re stuck in traffic. Most importantly, however, we’ll be immersed in an entirely different culture for a month of our lives … and let me tell you, Ghana is different.
Since the moment we landed, I feel like I’ve been caught off guard by just about everything I’ve seen. It’s hard to describe the immersion, but by examining even the smallest parts of the culture, I've been able to start decoding what life is like here. Today, we have the market.
When an American hears “market”, they tend to think of a farmers market. You know, the kind that almost every rural town or major city showcases from time to time. It’s a place where you buy fresh vegetables, chat with your neighbors, and relax on a summer morning. Markets in Ghana are NOT the same. My first experience at the market was an art market in Accra. I figured I’d roll up, Ghanaian currency in hand, and buy every cute souvenir in sight for dirt cheap. I was sorely mistaken.
Picture a giant shed—and I mean GIANT. In this shed, there are narrow little alleys, and lots of little individual sheds. By sheds, I mean shops. These shed/shops are all piled on top of each other, and full to the brim with all types of artsy African goodies. Clothing, bags, wood carvings, jewelry, artwork, you name it. Problem is, you want it all, thus you want to just “browse.” Here’s where things get complicated. Although you’re anticipating a leisurely stroll, the shop owners have every intention of harassing you and breaking you down emotionally until your purchase whatever it is they’re selling. They’ll yell at you, poke you, stand in your way, and even grab your arm and drag you backwards. Think I’m kidding? My friend Kimberly was cornered by five shop owners and ended up spending about $70 worth of money on things she didn’t really want.
To top it all off, there’s no set price. It sounds great, doesn’t it? You see something, decide how much you want to pay, and bargain your way around the price. Newsflash: if you’ve never been to Ghana, you don’t know how much Ghanaian art costs, and they know that. It’s no surprise I left the art market broke, disturbed, and exhausted.
But have no fear! I returned to the market, bolder than ever. Act like you run the place and don’t care about being vaguely molested and you’ll make it out scot-free! On my second go-round, I scored a dress, two necklaces, two pairs of earrings, two bracelets, a woodcarving, an ivory statue, and a few other odds and ends for less than my friend spent after being practically kidnapped.
So next time you’re in the mall and the annoying lady at the mineral salt kiosk just WON’T leave you alone, think of me in the art market in Ghana. If my crowd-fearing, panic-attack-inducing personality can handle a Ghanaian market, you can tell her to beat it. Until next time, happy shopping!