Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bright in Kumasi

Kumasi is the 2nd largest city in Ghana. It was formerly the capital of Ghana, and has been forever and still is the seat for the Ashanti kingdom. It’s also a crazy busy place. The city feels like one big market to me. There is a HUGE market there – Kejetia (just pictures on this link)- which "they" say is the largest market in West Africa – where it’s easy to lose yourself and overwhelm your senses. (It’s the market I wrote about in a former blog entry on a day we went to buy beads.) It seems to dominate my entire impression of Kumasi every time I go.

I sometimes like to go there just for an escape, to be overwhelmed, to buy a few supplies that I can’t get locally (like another seasoning, or a bottle of scotch), to mail stuff (there’s a local post office in Nkoranza, but shortly after arriving here I mailed 2 things – a card to a friend and some insurance forms - the insurance forms reached their destination, but the card still hasn’t arrived, so now, even though SMA has been reimbursed for the physical I had prior to returning to Ghana, if I want to mail something I save it until I make a trip to Kumasi), to eat a pizza or some other such delicacy, to be lost for a short time, etc. I don’t go there often, though – I’ve only gone maybe 5 times, other than the 2 bead shopping trips we made there.

Two Saturdays ago I went with Bright, a 15-something-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome. The kids here have all heard of Kumasi – it’s like OZ. Bright was too happy to agree to go with me – but he had no idea what he was getting himself into. When we got to the transport station in Nkoranza (don’t go picturing Grand Central or anything, it’s just an unpaved parking area with taxis, small buses and vans, called trotros), we found out that we had just missed the trotro to Kumasi. So – we had an hour wait til the next one filled, but being the first ones for the next trotro (this link has a little video, maybe it's good, takes too long for me to open here), I chose some nice seats for us – towards the front with more leg room, and window control – all nice bonuses for a 2 ½ - 3 hour minimum ride to OZ. As we passed through each small village along the way, Bright asked me, “is this Kumasi?”

After testing Bright’s patience with a traffic jam unlike anything he’s experienced in Nkoranza, we got down from our ride into the Kumasi trotro station – a hectic place with taxis, trotros and people rushing every which way. Our first goal, and the main reason for making this journey (other than getting lunch and an experience) was to visit “the beadman.” He’s from The Gambia, and gets beads from all over Africa, some of which we use for the necklaces and bracelets we make in the sheltered workshop.

The trotro station collides with Kejetia’s swarming, swirling, masses. It’s wonderful – a huge crowd of people fighting their way out of the “station” try to merge and fight their way into the huge mass of people swarming into the station, as well as out of, into and around the market. Toss in a couple of hand pulled carts being pushed and pulled by a few people and blocking the walkways – and it’s enough to make Bright start chanting, “Steven, let’s go back, Steven, let’s go back, Steven, let’s go back, Stevenlet’sgoback, stevenlet’sgoback.” It would probably be enough for most people coming from small towns and and probably even from some big cities to start chanting, "let's go back, let'sgobacklet'sgobacklet'sgoback."

But Bright did well – he faced up to the overwhelmingness of it all. I promised never to let go of his hand. And I kept reminding him of the chicken and rice and the cokes we’d soon be having. Once we got into the crowd circling around the edges of the central part of the market, descending the 8 stairs into the interior of the center-most section was too much for Bright to handle – after all, he was still adjusting his senses to being surrounded by lions and tigers and bears, oh my. We skipped the first entrance. By the time we got to the second set of stairs, he had changed his chant to “let’s go to Sunyani, let’s go to Sunyani.” (Sunyani is a larger-than-Nkoranza town that he’s been to before.) With some major cajoling, and constant food reminders as well as a promise of even 2 cokes or more – he made it down the stairs.

We found our way to the meat section, where, without knowing the route or how I get there every time, I always end up, and called “the beadman” who came to get us and take us to his shop. We told him what beads we needed, gave him samples, placed an order, received a parting gift for Bright (a necklace that he hasn’t taken off, except for me to repair it, since we’ve returned), got directions for the quickest way out of the market, got to the road, grabbed a taxi, and made it to the chicken and rice. And two cokes for Bright. A cold beer for me.

Whew – things were right with the world after that. We went to the obruni store (the slightly more expensive grocery store that many obrunis/foreigners shop at), got my mixed seasonings, season salt, a container of Laughing Cow cheese (who knew all the varieties pictured on their site are available? wow) and a box of red wine. And then we headed back to the trotro station, buying some cookies for Bright along the way. Again, we were among the first people to get on the trotro

And that meant we had time to eat the cookies, buy some Fan Ice ice-cream, get some bread and candy, and re-hydrate a bit too much. We also had time for some pictures around the trotro –

Bright also tested his photography skills.

15 minutes outside of Kumasi – Bright needed to pee. And for the first time ever for me, I got to yell to the driver – and for the benefit of everyone’s ears on the trotro – that we needed to pull over for urinating. (I’m always able to hold it, and prefer to hold it than shouting for the driver to pull over so I can urinate. But it was no problem at all, and ½ the people on the trotro also got out to take care of business.)

It was amazing how well Bright did – there was the initial over stimulation of it all, but he still made it through an almost 12-hour outing.

The next day, I was trying to catch up on digging in the overgrown garden outside the house, and Bright came down for a visit – so, here’s a couple of closing shots:


At 11:19 PM, Blogger p-mami said...

i thoroughly enjoyed reading of your adventure to kamasi! your experience brought back so many fond memories! ...from the food, to the market, and especially, the infamous tro-tro. no one can truly understand the experience of selection of the seats, the sitting by an operable window, the need to urinate. it took me quite a few times to learn not to sit in the last row in the back in the corner! LOL! the bead store looked incredible! i still wear daily bracelets i have purchased through the years. i look forward to reading more of your blogs! thanks for keeping us in the loop!

At 2:08 AM, Blogger Nate said...

Great post! What an adventure for Bright - but you're right, it sounds like he did very well with all the new experiences.

... also, thanks for the reality-check of reading your blog... Here in the US there is trouble in the stock market, the elections are upon us, and the project I'm working on is frustrating... But sometimes it's good for me to remember that there are amazing people in the world doing wonderful work, and it's all going to be ok!

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Rick said...

I second Nate's comment. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, it brought back a lot of images, smells, sounds, from our trip to Ghana. I can relate a small bit to how overwhelmed Bright must have felt - I have experienced some of that myself when I go to new, big, full of people places.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger geovani said...

The ancient capital of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi is still the heart of Ashanti country and the site of West Africa's largest cultural center, the palace of the Ashanti king. To add to the appeal, it's surrounded by rolling green hills and has a vast central market as vibrant as any in Africa.

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