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.