Market and Stories

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

By Melissa Rick

A couple of weekends ago I stayed at a Ghanaian familyís house.  They are a wonderful couple from the church that I attend that have been generous to show me different aspects of normal Ghanaian life.  When they picked me up from my hostel, we immediately went to a Farmerís market.  Me and Ante Charity went into the market.  Immediately after exiting the car a small girl with enormous metal bowl on her head attached herself to us.  She would carry all of the produce and food stuffs that Charity bought on her head.  Many like children were following all the other individuals in the market.  I was amazed what these small children could balance on their heads.  The bowls were overflowing with yams, pineapple, fruit, meat, and more. 
Charity moved confidently through the market as I followed along in her shadow in a state of sensory overload.  There was kenkey (balls of dough wrapped in corn husks), dried shrimp and fish, fresh hunks of meat, all kinds of fruits, and vegetables.  Charity talked to the sellers (wura) in Twi.  At each stand the amount the item is sold in is grouped together, like 5 for 2, 000 cedis.  Usually the seller would smile as she packaged the items and throw a couple extra into the bag.  Food stuff seems to follow clear gender roles in Ghana.  Men sell kabobs, meat, coconuts, and on the street popcorn.  Women sell everything else from working the chop bars (where we each most of our meals), to the small stales, fruit, and water.
Later that day, I played with their grandchildren and tried to teach them how to pop gum.  It was fun to be called Ante Melissa and Ante Akosua (my Twi day name).  Charity taught me how to make groundnut soup.  Later that night the power went off as part of the scheduled rolling blackouts.  We sat around in the living room and told stories.  I though it was interesting that they told Western and African stories.  I heard African tales I had heard before and are famous in this area, like the Ashante story of the Golden Stool.  In West Africa, Ananse (the spider) is a central role in folktales.  He is clever, lazy, and gets in trouble.  They told different stories with Ananse as the central character.  The variety of the stories was interesting.  I think that Western and African cultures influence each other and take different elements from each.  However, I also think there is an unequal exchange with African cultural elements losing.  For example, I never heard African folktales before coming to Africa but in African Western folktales were told.  Another surprise and insightful observation. 


By Melissa Rick

Her dark face worn with clusters of wrinkles, demanded respect from the many difficult years each wrinkle represented.  She had a subtle shake, a combination of years and illness.  A few days prior, Gundona the female chief had been in the hospital and still carried a deep chest cough with her as a souvenir of some irritating illness.  She has been ruling for seven years now.  Traditional leaders in Ghana still play important roles.  Although they are no longer military leaders, they act for the social service interests of their people and as lobbyists. 
Gundonaís palace was part of a mud compound house that housed over 300 individuals.  The room she was sitting in when we visited her was one of these circular clay rooms.  It contained no windows and the sun tried to permeate the darkness through two doors located on either side of the room.  Flies swarmed the room and the heat gave it a strange smugly atmosphere.  Thundering drums gave a droning sound outside the room. 
She sat on a raised platform on skins.  In the Northern Region of Ghana the chiefs sit on skins whereas in the South they sit on stools.  For a chief to be dethroned it is called de-skinned or de-stooled.  We presented Gundona with a cell phone as a gift.  Through a translator she thanked us then told us of the grievances of her and her people.  She asked us to provide her with a car and to get the community a health clinic.  We didnít know what to say.  As we climbed back into our air-conditioned bus, we were humbled and determined to remember this and the many similar experiences we experience daily in Ghana. 

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