Thursday, April 26, 2012

To Market, To Market, To Buy a Cow's....What???

To Market, To Market to buy a cow’s…what????
With all my heart I wish there was a Super Wal-Mart in Kumasi.  I’d even settle for a Safeway or Food Lyon.  Oh, the convenience of having everything you need located in once place.
Funny, that the thing I consider convenience----being able to park my car, go inside a store, and purchase everything I need at one time and in one place---is the very thing many Ghanians consider an inconvenience.  

I was discussing the glorious invention of the supermarket with my friend, “Mr. F.”  I was telling him that most of our stores are enclosed, not open-aired, street side vendors.  He said, “In Ghana, we believe it (going into a supermarket) takes too much time.  Here, you can just shout what you want, and storekeepers will bring it right to your car.”  A nice idea in theory, but this concept usually results in a lot of driving around in heavy traffic with a car that has no air condition. 
My first trip to the market (to purchase groceries for our family, not my first market trip ever), was with our dear friend, Bishop.  I told him what we wanted and he drove me around to all his favorite vendors.

Our first stop was chicken.  I’ve always wanted to catch and kill my own chicken. (Don’t ask why;  I’m just a little bit strange that way.)  Perhaps someday, but this was as close as I’ve gotten so far.  We picked out our chickens, and watched them kill and butcher it.  It was quite an experience, and very educational for my son.

Then, it was off to get vegetables, fruit, rice, etc….   Four hours, and a million stops later, we had everything we needed and were headed home.

Flash forward to two weeks later, and it’s time to hit the markets again.  This time, we are on our own.  Bishop sends us out with our driver and Mr. F, who is new to Kumasi, and not so aggressive with bartering.  We are a bit nervous.

See, for most everything in Ghana there are two prices: a local price, and an Obruni price.  Our price is usually twice what the local price is.  If you have a friend who knows how to barter, you can usually get the price down to somewhere between a reasonable price and a local price.  

Off we go.  First, we find the right market on the first try.  This is a good sign, because our driver isn’t that good with English or directions, and has a tendency to take us to his best guess of where he thinks we said we wanted to go. 

Things are going well.  I compare prices to what we paid last time.  For new items I just try to not pay more than I would in America.  I know often this means paying more than the locals, but when it comes to bartering, I am just not good.  My guilt complex goes into over drive and I have this overwhelming sensation that I am ripping people off.  In reality, I am the one being ripped off, and I am being ripped off simply because I am an American.

I go to the same vendors as last week, and promise to keep returning if they treat me right and offer fair prices.  Let’s hope this works!  I’ll let you know.

The next stop we make is for “cow”.  We’re kinda chickened out, and we’re still on a fish strike from our last stay in Ghana.  So, to the cow market we go.  The cow market----aka butcher alley---offers fresh meat, still in the process of being dissected into all the proper cuts.

We hit the first vendor we see when we walk in.  Mr. F begins to barter.  He quotes a price of 40 Cedis, and is giving me a look like this is too much, but the butcher isn’t budging, and I really want some cow!  I ask the man what part of the cow is it, and he hits his side.  Rump roast, I assume, and calculate that this is actually a pretty sweet deal, in American terms.  I pay the man his money.  I end up with two pounds of ground beef (which we ground ourselves---another story for another day), and two nice size roast, for about $25 USD.  Not bad.

Then, rather than do the sensible thing and just leave, we decide to have a look around.  What we got was an education.  Did you know that EVERY part of the cow is edible?  It is! And EVERY part of the cow is available here, at butcher alley. (What a day to leave my camera at home. :-( )  

We ask Mr. F if Ghanians eat every part of the cow.  He looks and us and says, “Yes!  We eat everything but the sh*t!”  And he was not kidding.  Want some cow tail or hoofs?  No problem.  How about some liver, kidneys, or stomach?  On the go, no time to make dinner?  Grab some stuffed, barbequed intestines on your way out.  Perhaps brains, tongue, or eyeballs are more to your liking.  We got that, too.   

However, if you’re in the mood to eat the cow’s “family jewels”, you’re just plain out of luck.  There’s a waiting list for that.  When it finally is your turn to purchase this delicacy, you’re gonna have to pay the price, because it is EXPENSIVE!  But, from what I’m told, very worth it.  I think I’ll just take their word for it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Update from Ghana and Funny Obruni Tales

A whole month has passed without a blog post from me!  Thankfully, Tesia and Elizabeth, have kept you up to date with many of the happenings here in Ghana.  Living, literally, like a fish out of water, is bound to bring about some very funny situations.  So, rather than bore you with the day to day details of the past month, I’ll share some of the funny “Obruni” moments we’ve had (Obruni means white person or foreigner in Twi), and then give you a brief summary of what we’ve been up to.  It’s gonna take me a few days to catch you all up, so be sure to check back daily.

Fetching Water
Jody, who is in charge of all things maintenance in our family, had left to fetch my parents from the Accra airport.  A five hour drive from us, he would have to stay the night in the city. Since company was coming, we spent all day getting things ready.  We were hot and in serious need of a bath.  No water.  No Jody to go fix the problem.  It was too late at night to tell the retreat manager or Bishop. Oh well, we’ll just sleep stinky.

Next day, still no water.  The pump has been turned on, which means water should be coming in about a hour.  We continue on our quest to get everything ready for our soon-arriving guests.  Late afternoon has come.  Guests will be arriving soon.  We stink.  Bad.  No water.  Something is wrong.  In our desperation, we decide bucket showers will have to do.  

For the non-camper, non-international traveler, let me explain what a bucket shower is.  It’s simple really.  You get a bucket of water.  You get a cup or bowl.  Fill the cup, pour it over your head, and proceed to “shower”.  

So, we ask the retreat center manager (Who we will call Ms. O.) to help us get some water from the well across the street.  We need her to help us explain to the well owner why two Obrunies (Tesia and myself) are in desperate need of his water.

The well owner kindly obliges.  Ms. O, a beautiful young lady in her mid 20’s, is having trouble fetching the water. She’s never used this well before.  She says, “There is another well down the street, I will get you water from there.”  Being kind, independent Americans, we can’t let her get our water on her own, so we insist on helping her.  She insist that she is “OK”.  We insist more.  Down the road we go.   The second well owner is not home. 

Ms. O says, “There is another well, but it is far.  I will get you water, and bring it to you.”   We, assure her, we can handle it.  We would feel bad if she had to bring the water back on her own.  It would mean many trips for her.  So, down the road we go.  Thankfully, it wasn’t really that far.  We were only about a quarter mile from home.  This is a public well that is not very deep.  You could bend over and reach the water.  Perhaps it’s more of a rain water reservoir than well.  The water sort of has a slight milky tint to it.  Certainly not as pure as we would like, but it’s either take our chances with the only water source available at the moment, or repulse our guests with our overwhelming stench.  

We fill four buckets.  Ms. O gives the first one to a young girl, about 8.  She hoists it on top of her head and takes off for home.  Ms. O puts the second bucket on her head, gives us a hopeless glance, and heads for home.  No worries. We got this.  We can carry two buckets of water a quarter of a mile.  

The next 30 minutes will be alive forever in Ghanaian folk tales.  Passed on for generations, the story of the Obrunies who couldn’t carry water.  We begin our journey, bucket of water in hand, and are plum wore out fifteen feet later.  A near-by lady, speaks to us in Twi, and pats her head.  Signaling us to put the bucket  on our head.

For generations, Ghanaians have carried heavy loads on their head.  They say, it is because for many years they did not have vehicles, and would carry things on their heads so they would not tire.  It is a known fact to them that, after just a little bit your arms will tire, but if you carry it on your head, you can go a long ways.  Must have to do with the whole center of gravity thing….I don’t know.  All I know is that they are right, because here we are, just five minutes in, and it feels like our arms are going to fall off.

We kindly tell the lady, although I doubt she understood, that we can’t put the buckets on our head.  We don’t know how.   We would just end up drenched, or worse, leave our weak American spines forever damage.  We trudge on another 15 feet, feeling the eyes of the lady on us, hearing her giggle to herself.

We pass a group of women, and they give us the same advice with the same gestures.  We give them the same answer, and keep on walking, struggling all the way.  They do not giggle to themselves, they full on laugh at us.

Soon, people from all around are coming to witness our humiliation.  They all offer the same advice, and laugh at us as we struggle.  And struggle we do.  We are panting, dripping in sweat, sloshing water everywhere, and stopping to take a break about every 10 feet now.

In desperation, I tried to pay a young boy to carry my water for me, but he just laughed.  Finally, when home is about 100 yards away, Ms. O comes to our rescue.  She and the little girl have already delivered their buckets of water, and have come back to take ours.  They make it look so easy, as they put the buckets on their head.  A skill we are too old and too weak to ever master.

So, if you are ever in Ghana, and you need to get water from a well, do not for a moment hesitate to take the help that is offered to you.  Chances are, the person offering to help knows what they are doing, and is saving you from a very embarrassing situation.