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In the Heart of Kumasi

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In the Heart of Kumasi

On the road to Kumasi, I had a lot of time to think about the African culture and way of life. We sat in our air-conditioned charter bus and drove up the long, pothole-covered highway to Kumasi, Ghana’s “cultural epicenter.” So far, it was my favorite part of the trip because I was able to see the real Africa. Along the highway there are many villages where people live out their days working the land and selling their crops. Some pass hours by sitting in the dirt under the shade of a tree, waiting for someone to buy the corn they grew next to their home. Others tend to their children or watch them as they play a game that looks similar to jump rope (without the rope).

While looking out the window I found an honest beauty and appreciation of life. For centuries Ghanaians have lived the same way, the way all people began — by living off what Earth provides. What they have does not look like much, but they have what they need to survive. And that’s when it really sunk in — humans really know how to survive.

Through disease, oppression, natural disasters, and even the seasons, we always find a way to make it. It was a strange feeling, because I felt sad to see children bathing in buckets with just a thatched roof over their heads, or the overworked mothers sleeping on benches in front of their shops. Or I may have felt surprised to see men holding up dead rabbits, cotton tail and all, to every person who drove by. But I ultimately felt a sense of pride for the people, because in a way they represent the struggle for progress humankind has faced. In the heart of Kumasi, where streets are piled with apartments and shops, a giant market spreads across 12 hectares of land. Swarms of people move through the market, creating a hive of activity each day. Even on Sunday, when some choose to close shop to be with their families or attend church, the Kejetia Market was a sight unlike any I have ever seen. Thousands of stalls house a variety of goods from handmade leather sandals to smoked fish. Yet the market is less like a shopping center and more like a maze where you can get lost or simply bumped-into by a man carrying a skinless and headless goat on his back. But after you recuperate from the sight of blood trickling down from a butcher's back, you find that families are everywhere, working together to earn a living.

While a man works to sell the fish he smoked, a wife may be just a few rows down selling the jewelry she made. But the best part about the market was seeing little girls playing together in a row of closed shops. They danced and laughed, tickled by the extra space near their parents’ stall because it was Sunday. It is also beautiful to watch people make the goods while they wait for an interested eye to fall on their stall. But here’s a warning to anyone who is not interested in buying anything: Wear sunglasses or be careful about where you look. “Accosia obruni!” is the phrase you will hear whether you are looking or not (“Hey foreigner!”). They will immediately want to befriend you, so that you will buy from them instead of their neighbor. The word accosia means something along the lines of “Hey you,” or “someone I don’t know.” And obruni means foreigner. Or someone will just shout, “White girl, white girl!” which is pretty clear. When I walked through the market, the garbage and puddles of who-knows-what presented me with a mini dilemma. Do I breathe through my mouth with my lips slightly parted and risk a fly venturing in, or do I let myself become ill from the smell? Tough call. So I would hold my breath through areas that smelled strongly and take a quick breath, covering my mouth slightly. It was my own polite fake yawn.

I bought two yards of maroon fabric with moonlike designs. To my surprise it only cost the equivalent of $1.50 total. The fabric is thin, but still very pretty. Every Thursday a woman comes to the dorms and makes clothes for us with the fabric we’ve bought. This Thursday I will see the dress she made for me with the maroon fabric.
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