Monday, March 1, 2010

Getting arrested, the Triple F cups and the Chameleons

Memorable moments from Makola market...

These days I’m quite careful about what comes with me on our indulgent Saturday market visits. After all, it is a crowded market in the 'developing world' and theoretically I and my friends would be walking targets... I usually wear a pair of multipocket pants that can house little wads of small bills. I don’t wear any jewellery and I leave my watch behind. Because of what we’re likely to step in, I wear the most basic chale-wotes (flip flops) that can be easily washed off, and most of all, I leave my iPhone behind.

This is all precautionary, since despite the swarms of people I find myself amongst, I’ve never had a thing snatched or stolen. In 13 years of Saturday market adventures.

This week’s visit started out more exciting than most. I drove into my trusted parking lot at the edge of the chaos that is Makola, lost in the stories of my market buddies T and J as we chatted in the cocooned world of my air-conditioned 4x4. Targets on wheels in this case...

As I came around the corner, a uniformed female police officer was in my path and made some motion to me. I assumed she was ‘asking’ if I was turning into the parking lot and I nodded and headed on in. I parked and we gathered ourselves, ready to head out into the heat and congestion, when at my passenger door there was the same police officer and her male colleague, faces pursed and annoyed. I knew immediately NOT to open or even unlock our doors, and feared we had a long tedious argument on our hands.

I rolled the window down half way. They immediately started with the verbal assault.

Female officer (indignant): “Madam, why?! I was arresting you, and then you kept driving! You didn’t mind me!”

Me: “Oh! Madam I didn’t realize! I was just parking. What did I do wrong?”

Male officer pushing forward with furrowed brow: “You are arrested for passing through the traffic light.”

Me and friends: “WHAT?!”

MO: “It was red!”

Me and friends: “No it was not!”

I knew this like I knew my own name. The truth is that though I have my Canadian driver’s license and I keep it valid, I haven’t updated my Ghanaian one since 2000. *Bows head and blushes*… Maybe I am lazy, or more likely it’s that I like living on the edge. Some bungee jump, I drive with a non-valid license… Anyway, for this reason, I make sure I do NOTHING wrong on the roads, lest I find myself in a situation such as this one!

For this reason I knew the officers had simply spotted a few obruni ladies and figured ‘easy target’ for a Saturday shake down… But we weren’t having it.

Just then, MO shoves his sweaty aggressive hand past my friend, indicating at me,

MO: “Where’s your license and registration? Give it!”

We ignore this demand the first time around, hoping the argument T has sparked with the FO about how she is sick of Ghanaian police taking advantage of obrunis, would sway his attention. But he asked again.

Me – really hesitantly: “Please I don’t have it with me”

MO – “Ah! Why?” deeply furrowed brow now… (I’ve given him some ammo!!! Oh no!)

Then the din of T’s indignant protest, assuring them we did nothing wrong and that they were unfairly targeting us, became quite loud. And a miracle happened. Their brows slackened and they backed down. No bribe, no demand that we be taken to the station for processing…

MO: “Do well and be honest. You passed through the red light, but I’m just warning you.”

Me: “I did not run the red officer, and thank you.”

And they skulked away, without a pesewa of bribe money. We felt proud and relieved and giddy. It’s not that often you get arrested and then let off with a warning!

And then we were free to start our market adventure. Phew! Ghana police 0, market mongers 1!

As we headed out of the parking lot on foot, J glanced to her side, to the mobile phone seller’s wooden hut a couple meters from us. She cringed and grabbed my arm.

J: “Oh my god! That was…oh… bad.”

T and I: “What? What was it?”

J: “The man in there that was petting a cat… he just squeezed it’s head and shoved it in a bag. Next came the hammer.”

Me: “Oh. I’m sure that was the meat for today’s soup. Sorry-o. They do eat cats here.”
J: “I know, just didn’t want to witness the slaughter…”

Ok, onto the street. Deep breaths. After all, this is adventure day!

And all around us life swirled and screamed and splattered itself across the pavement. Carried along with the tangible heat and jostled limbs.

We browsed the 'selection' clothes that the girls line the streets, selling by hand, and hid them when the AMA goons came by to whip them or steal their goods in a bogus attempt to 'clean the streets' of hawkers... I found a near exact replica of my favourite expensive perfume for GHC18 (about $12), down to the Made in France label. I opened it and tried it out... Exactly the same as the real one! Market bargain!! (That one made my day, really). I won't however, mention the little tied black plastic bag, literally full of shit, that T stepped in, since there was a trusty 'pure watah' seller on hand and a full on the spot wash of the chale-wotes was done...

I was struck by all the things around us that needed documenting! That needed to be photographed. But alas, in my caution of ‘traveling light’, I left the trusty iPhone at home. So it wasn’t to be.

I’ll have to leave to your imagination the transvestite in full yellow leotard in Rawlings Square, dancing for the huge crowds, his painted face melting through the streaks of sweat…

The huge bowl of dried, once alive, chameleons for sale, alongside buttons and brightly coloured cloth and Maggi cubes… just in case you need to cast a spell after cooking and sewing.

The triple F cup naked mannequin, proudly jutting out of the little shop selling cheap Chinese ladies clothes. She stood in front of two other less endowed mannequins, with a rack you’d find difficult to fit any shirt over… How, why?

The how and the why of the market are never answered, which is what gives it the intrigue and the charm. It leaves us all covered in dust and sweat and with fresh coconut juice pouring down our faces, slurped and gulped straight out of the coconut, sliced open for the parched, by a machete wielding seller. It leaves us with the deep desire to come back again the next available Saturday.
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Miss Footloose said...

Holli, great fun, your trip to the market! Remember my own shopping trips well. Also remember the police trying to arrest me on a couple of occasions. Once they wanted me to open the (locked) car door so I could give them a lift to the police station for the paper work. I told them I was sorry but no, my husband had told me I was not allowed to have strange men in my car. You should have seen there faces! They had no transport so it was hopeless and they let me go (without a bribe).

Mary and Sean said...

what an adventure... wow, I would have to work myself for a shopping day at the market, and then if nothing exciting happened, I'd be disappointed!

The pale observer said...

Hi Miss Footloose! Yes, they always seem to want to get in the car, but once you let them in they have you! I have learned never to let them in also :)

Six Feet Under Blog said...

Wow. Thats why I don't go to other countries!

Miss Footloose said...

Six Feet Under, but are you having any fun? ;)

Lora said...

we have a market in my neighborhood that is the oldest open air market in America, and it is so different and so interesting and so photographable but it is NOTHING like what you describe here!

I remember walking through the market on my first date with my husband, and they were killing dogs in an empty yard to sell the next day (you can buy black market dogs and cats here in the asian and african stores) and it was so heartbreaking, and knowing that it was just normal culture in other parts of the world seemed so strange. But, we eat cows, and sheep are so cute when they are alive so really what is the difference?

The pale observer said...

@Mary and Sean - it's impossible to spend a few hours in Makola market without something memorable or interesting happening! :)

Six feet under - I promise, it's great fun!

Lora - true what you say about our perception of pets. It's cultural and perception only. They are all animals. Either you believe in animals for food or not - but our cultural issues about cats and dogs being somehow immune is strange if you look at the broader world perspectives!

Travel & Dive Girl said...

Great adventure - sounds intriguing! Good for you for sticking up to those police officers.

Badger said...

Holy Toledo! They eat cats?

Land of shimp said...

The things I learn here: never let the police into the car if I travel to Ghana or several of the surrounding areas. Don't wear too much jewelry (which is fine, because I don't anyway).

Unfortunately bags of excrement are enough to keep me living vicariously :-) Also, crowds...not my thing.

Reading about other people's adventures, now that's my thing! Thank you for providing those.

Also, every now and then I menace cat with a threat of being sent off to areas where he might be consumed. He just blinks at me, I sense that he knows I'm bluffing, that he is thinking over the many times I have threatened to turn him into a throw rug, and not followed through.

To my cat? I'm like the police in Ghana. Stare at me right, and I'll back down ;-)

Janet said...

Pity the iPhone had to stay behind, but discretion is the better part of valour (and inconvenience avoidance!) Pics would have been hilarious

The pale observer said...

Hi Badger, yes they eat cats in Ghana. I wrote a post about it earlier in fact:

Mike said...

LOL @ the cat situation. Cats are fiesty in Ghana so the guy must have been really fast.
Lucky with the cops though. You saved enough money & time to go towards the renewal.

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madinghana said...

get your license

A Touch of Dutch said...

Always so interesting to read what you share! Indeed so very different from what I experience. I'm glad you didn't get arrested and could share the tale of what all you saw at the Saturday market!

Gayle Pescud said...

Hi Holli,
I love reading your writing. Yes we had the shakedown a few weeks ago in Tamale. Bolga is relatively laid back by comparison so it was a shock when we were stopped when the tyre went about an inch over the line at the traffic lights. Others were over, their licence plates out of date, they're not wearing helmets. Our licence plates are up to date, we're wearing helmets...but you know...they took the bike, swore all sorts of things and shook us down because I was on the back, I believe. Only once a year on average, though, so not that bad really.

Karen said...

Great post, Holli. Can smell and hear and see that market. Reading about the cat, the police, the thoughtfully parcelled bag of crap, brings it all so fabulously to life. And far, far nicer to experience the scene through your vivid beautifully crafted descriptions than to endure the reality - which I'm not very good at these days.

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