Monday, May 09, 2011

Makola Market (May 2)

I woke up to history this morning—Osama bin Laden was finally killed by American special forces in Pakistan. Nancy already posted about it, and the ongoing debate on my Facebook page (which I can’t really even participate in, given the slow internet out here), pretty much sums up my feelings about it. Yeah he’s gone, but he hasn’t done much with al-Qaeda in the past few years and the branch of al-Qaeda he actually had influence on is tiny (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in Iraq are largely unaffiliated, for example). He was evil, yes, but over the past decade our propaganda has elevated him to the status of a satanic demigod; the pure embodiment of evil. The endless war on terrorism will continue to be endless—there just won’t be a scary, universally recognized name attached to it. Oh well. And all the chanting of “USA! USA!”; kind of embarrassing. Again, oh well.

We spent all of today working on our projects. This morning we went to Accra’s largest vegetable market—Makola market—which was actually featured in an episode of the Amazing Race once upon a time (if I ever watched the show I’d be able to say when…). This market was gigantic compared to the little one we went to last week, and it had a lot more for sale—kitchen bowls, linoleum, laundry stuff, curtains and upholstery, etc. Its food offerings were far more interesting as well. We saw buckets of live grapefruit-sized snails, live crabs, thousands of fish in different stages of preparation (live and wriggling, super salted, roasting and roasted, and curled up and dehydrated). Perhaps the most interesting (besides the slugs, which are incredible) were the “grasscutters,” a type of large mole-like rodent. The animals were cut in half, splayed open, and roasted/dehydrated until they were black and shrunken.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from the market. The sellers are way too sensitive about people photographing them or their wares. Whenever I ask to take a photo (or even take out my camera), I get yelled at. Some people snuck some pictures with their smaller cameras, so hopefully I can steal some of their snail or grasscutter pictures. We have a few more market visits scheduled, so maybe I’ll try to sneak some pictures in myself.

These vegetable markets are absolutely fascinating. We never saw anything like this in the Middle East. There are plenty of markets in Egypt—we enjoyed shopping for cheap household goods and fruits and vegetables at Dar al-Salaam and loved walking through Sharia al-Azhar and all the shops there (before it turned into tourist kitsch as you got closer to Khan al-Khalili). However, for the most part, these markets were small and separated—the food at Dar al-Salaam is right outside the metro stop while everything else is in the two nearby parallel streets. Even the larger markets in Giza or Helwan are tiny compared to this; Egyptian, Jordanian, Turkish, and Moroccan markets aren’t nearly as crowded, smelly, busy, or crazy as these Ghanaian vegetable markets.

Our findings on onions were similar to what we discovered at the smaller market last week: onions are imported from abroad (this time from Niger instead of Nigeria) because Ghanaian soil can’t make good onions.

After the market we went to the large Carrefour-esque mall near our hotel for lunch and last minute shopping (since we’ll be leaving Accra for the next week and need lunches for all our long bus rides), and ended up back at the hotel by 12:30 with nothing else planned for the day. May Day is a national holiday in Ghana, but since yesterday was a Sunday, the government announced that today would be the officially celebrated holiday.

Given this imposed downtime, the market team met together for a few hours to consolidate their research while I went to the church compound in a taxi with Dr. Agle, Rachel, and Starlee. We were still unclear about all the details of VOTEC schools in Ghana and PEF’s role in assisting LDS students here, so we spent several hours talking with the PEF missionary couple and one of the heads of both the PEF program and the Church’s Employment Resource Center (ERC) in Ghana.

Taking a taxi was awesome and totally helped with my tour bus angst I wrote about last night. I was finally transported back to the real urban third world—I had to give the driver directions to the church, sit in glorious stinky traffic, and negotiate a fare (since the taxi was unmetered). Riding taxis does wonders for your bearings in a crazy big city (while sitting on a bus makes you lazy; there’s no reason to figure out where you’re going, since the driver takes care of everything for you). I came to like Accra a little more because of the brief taxi ride to the temple and back. I hope I can ride more taxis (or even a microbus or tro tro) while I’m here—I love it!

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