Today I decided to brave it, and return to Kejitia Market, the central market of Kumasi, and the largest market in Western Africa. It is truely the antithesis to shopping as people know it in America - the suburban malls are a tame petting zoo compared to Kejitia - which is certainly in the the major league of shopping.
I learned today that it is the third largest on the continent of Africa (third to the market in Legos, Nigeria, and another in Cairo, Egypt). I failed the urban planning profession, and forgot to bring a map of the city when I came, but I have been getting around (more or less) by identifying a few markers, and walking in their general directions, assuming I will eventually get to where I am going. Thank god Kumasi sprawls out among many hills, and this method of spot location has worked pretty well so far. My markers are the prison/police station/Wellsley Church to the west, and St. Peter's Basillica (the other one) to the east. Of course, these cardinal directions are only guesses, but they work for me. From the last time I saw a map of Kumasi, I remembered that Kejitia was north from my hotel, and down a nearby road. So I started walking. I felt like an idiot, as I made a perfect circle around my block to get to the road simply at the back of the hotel, but after about 10-15 of ambling, the concentration of petty traders became more concentrated, and I figured I was on the outskirts of shopping mayhem.
I was right.
I chose to follow a few determined people who looked like they knew where they were going, and off we went, around vegetable sellers, through shops, around corners, and into the breath-taking vastness that is Kejetia. It was as crazy, chaotic, smelly, and overwhelming as I remembered, but this go-around, I wasn't responsible for five teens. This time I was let loose to get lost at my own leisure, and explore the market by taking whatever alley or turn that inspired me. I started wandering, through the zipper section, flip flop sections, shovels and sledge hammers, chicken wire, vegetables, baby clothes, miles of fabric. I don't know how I did it, but amongst the 10,000+ vendors, I spent 6 hours making friends, shopping, drinking a Fanta on some steps with a few new aunties, hanging out with my new Ghanaian auntie and uncle while their friend made me napkins from some fabric I had purchased 10 minutes previously, and visiting with Mabel as her mum made me a skirt (for 4 cedi).
I made a list of some of the things I saw for sale today:
Live chickens, sitting calmly (yes, calmly) in basins on people's heads
Cows' feet, and I think pigs' feet
Fish - fresh, cooked, dried, and prepared other ways
Ground nut paste
Junk jewelery and Gold plated jewelery
Fabric - miles of it, literally
Spoons and Stoves
Angry Preachers running up and down the aisles of the market shouting out the gospel (I assume)
Seamstresses and Zippers (not always together)
Candy and Crackers
People Sleeping on their wares
Children Sleeping on the stones
Children sleeping in their own urine
Soaked cow skins, wrapped in a little larger than bit-size pieces (a guy offered me some, but I kindly passed)
Blankets, towels, and bathmats
Scarves and sandals
Roasted Corn, grilled plantains
Hair Weaves (and women weaving each other's hair everywhere)
Microwavable dishes - a real curio to me as electricity is intermittent here
Handbags, wallets, and mesh bags (these were a really popular item)
Machetes and mousetraps
Rope and thread
Soda, nail polish, shovels, and glue
Now, all of these goods, and hundreds more, were not only sold in the thousands of stalls, but all of these items were being carried around on people's heads, either in basins, on metal trays, or balanced precariously in piles on the crown. Several men walked around with fresh cuts of meat, and I got a lesson in the best cuts of meat in Ashanti (the region in which Kumasi is located). I passed on tasting and purchasing some of the marbled selections.
There really is some semblance of organization to the place. There are aisles of metal works: mousetraps, machetes, irons, shovels, chicken wire, etc., and this is bordered by patties and logs of what I guess is dung (sometimes used as fuel). There are areas in which cloths are concentrated, and then the flip flop section, pre-made clothes, children's clothing, children's underwear, and babies' things. There are several pockets of vegetable sellers, and a whole covered area for meat (I was too afraid to enter that place - I saw enough hooves and innards, and more importantly smelled enough raw meat baking in the sun for one day).
I just want to say that in the internet cafe I am patroning at the moment, Dolly Parton just came on, and the attendant turned it up. Globalization is a great thing sometimes...
Where was I? Right, stinking raw meat in the heat...I think I still smell of it.
How can I top that?
Until next time my friends...your happy Texan bruni in Kumasi signs off.
(bruni is the third word I have learned in Twi - it means white person)