Monday, May 09, 2011

The most intense market I’ve visited. Ever. (May 4)

Apart from being home to one of the largest university campuses in the country (the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, or KNUST, which is actually where we’re staying right now) and the palace of the Ashanti tribal king, Kumasi is famous for having West Africa’s largest market. And it is huge. Huger than anything I’ve ever seen.

We drove to the church this morning to pick up a few translators to accompany and guide us through the labyrinthine alleys of the market, and after a short drive to the Ashanti tribal headquarters, we walked down a long hill to the market itself, with its tin roofs that spread out forever in all directions.

Walking down the hill reminded me a lot of the Middle East—standard urban third world shops, crazy microbuses and taxis, and people selling stuff in the streets. Nothing too crazy or fancy, beyond the fact that it kept going for like 10 minutes of walking. Once we got to the bottom of the hill, we began to enter the market itself. Hordes of thousands upon thousands of people crowded into one main pathway into the actual maze of booths and vendors—it took another 10 minutes of going through a wall of people a thousand feet thick before we actually made it to the real vegetable market itself.

Staying together in the throng of people was a joke. I kept getting further and further away from our mini onion group’s translator and Shanelle, the group leader. Every time there was a potential gap in front of me it was immediately filled by someone carrying live chickens, baskets of smoked fish, or giant bags of vegetables on their head. Fortunately I never got too hopelessly separated (I don’t know how I would have ever made it back to the bus if I had!), and the whole almost-getting-lost-forever experience was quite entertaining. I actually couldn’t help from laughing at the ridiculousness of the sheer number of people in the market. It reminded me a lot of walking through the old medina of Fez, only times 10 million.

Once we finally made it into the vegetable market and I caught up with the rest of my group, we began our customary onion price interviews. As we talked with the vendors and attempted to hear their responses, thousands of people whirred behind us, knocking into us, splashing us with mystery liquids and mystery dead animals. It was so cool.

At one point some completely stoned guy bumped into some other guy carrying a big bowl of hot soup, which spilled all over him and the nearby underwear and onion stand. A fight almost ensued, but the stoned guy moseyed off before underwear/onion lady or soup guy knew what happened.

A pickup truck loaded with freshly decapitated cow heads somehow managed to squeeze itself down one of the alleys. Four huge Ghanaians were lifting the heads up and throwing them to other people in the street. I narrowly missed getting hit in the head, and as I lifted my head from ducking, I almost crashed into a random cow thigh+hip, dripping with blood. All while hundreds of people squeezed by the cow-head truck.

Because of the constantly moving throngs of people, it was impossible to get any pictures—I was too busy trying to survive the crowds. And during the few times were we found a relatively calm alcove during an onion interview where I could have taken a picture, I was yelled at and chastised for trying. Apparently they’re as anti-photo here as they were at Makola market. Again, later I’ll steal some pictures from some of the people who did manage to sneak a few. In the meantime, look at this random photo of the market from Wikipedia. It’s like that, only times…um… 6.

It took us half an hour to walk back through the mazes of markets upon markets back up to the bus, and we ended up arriving almost 10 minutes late. However, the bus was nearly empty—only one or two other mini groups had made it back. The final group finally returned 40 minutes after the appointed time, having gotten stuck in the sea of bodies, raw and smoked meat, vegetables, random household goods, and stench.

Yeah. I’ve never seen such an intense and crowded market. It was absolutely incredible, and it completely wore us all out.

After dropping off the translators and sending off a mini group of our PEF team off to visit a vocational school, we went back to the hotel to relax, recuperate, and work on our projects. The rest of the afternoon and evening were a nice break to the pure intensity of the central market, and we ended the day with a group viewing of Megamind.

And because I’m tired that’s totally how I’m ending this post. Take that, well crafted conclusion.

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