Tro-troing is a word I made up. It is a verb that means to ride on tro-tros with no real destination in mind. I did this Saturday afternoon. It was a nice day. I had most of my class assignments under control. I had just spent the entire previous week, including the internship days, in the classroom at the Institute of African Studies. I was feeling a little restless. So I walked down to the Opongolo bus stop and decided to get in the first tro-tro that came my way. I hopped on the old beaten-up bus and learned I was heading to Circle. I had been there once before but had only done marginal exploring so I was happy with my choice, luck, God-ordained-plan; whatever you want to call it.
After arriving at Nkrumah Circle and walking around for a bit, I decided to hop on another tro-tro. The question was, to where? One can almost get anywhere in Ghana from the circle tro-tro station. It was a daunting decision. I finally decided to go toward Sukura. This sends me in the direction on southwest Accra, a location I have only been to on one occasion, during a Hopeline interview with Shepherd’s Locals, a restaurant that served fantastic food. I also remember that Kantamanto market is in this direction. One of my favorite little things to do in Ghana is to walk through markets. They are fascinating to me. I could sit and people watch at a market for hours, maybe days. I have heard of Kantamanto market on multiple occasions, maybe it is time to finally check it out. I also have a vague recollection of Boadu, our brother from Hopeline, telling Nick and I that he participates in a program through his church ministering to young ‘street kids’ (not sure what he means by this characterization) in this area of town on Saturday afternoons. Realizing all these potential activities assures me that I will find something to keep me occupied for the afternoon.
After riding in the tro-tro for only a couple miles I see Kantamanto market. I decide to keep riding but to pay attention to how to find my way back to the large market full of used car parts. After driving for only about another mile I see a sign for Shepherd’s Locals. I decide to get down out of the tro-tro and continue the rest of my Saturday afternoon adventure on my feet. I remember that Nick and I never took a picture of the facilities of Shepherd’s Locals. I walk into the restaurant and immediately see Edward the owner, I wave, he recognizes me, and waves back. I quickly pull out my camera and snap a picture. As soon as I lower my hand a man sitting at the table next to me hisses to attract my attention. He waves me to come closer. I reach out my hand to shake his hand; he takes it and doesn’t let go. He looks at me with a very serious look and says, “You must delete that photo. This is Ghana, we are all Ghanaians here, you see we are all wearing the same shirt. You need to ask before snapping a picture. “ I take a second to look around, the restaurant is packed with people all wearing white NPP (the opposition party in the upcoming election) shirts. I quickly apologize and explain I wasn’t taking a picture of the people; I was taking a picture of the restaurant. I explain I have previously met with the owner as part of a study I am working on about SMEs in Ghana. I further explained I had stopped by to say “hi” to Edward the owner of this restaurant and take a couple pictures for the project. After I explained myself the man seemed to be less appalled by my actions. He finally let go of my hand and I was free. He never made me delete the picture. I then walked over to where Edward was working, shook his hand, asked how things were going; small talked for short while and then left the restaurant.
As I walked along the road on my way to Kantamanto market, I reflected on what had just happened. I admit my actions had been a bit naive and probably insensitive. But I couldn’t help but wonder about some of the oddities of the situation. Why did the man get angry with me so quickly? Had I crossed a cultural line? Or was the man simply having a challenging day and needed someone to take it out on? What were all the people in the NPP shirts doing in a restaurant at 3:00 in the afternoon anyway? Were they working for the campaign? It looked to me like they were all watching a football game on the TVs. I walked away confused and with a bit of a shaken confidence.
While walking to Kantamanto market I started to think about what Professor Kpessa, my professor for Political Science, told us about this market. He explained one day that this is where some of the richest people in Ghana work. I have my doubts about this statement. It this is indeed true the government of Ghana has a rather large problem on their hands. If some of their richest citizens are working in the informal sector then democracy cannot function properly. So I entered the market as a detective, with my eyes and ears wide open.
Kantamanto market, at first glance looks like a junkyard with receipt books. Every car part you can think of is in a pile and for sale. Each vendor or stall seems to specialize in one particular car part. One sells dashboards, another sells doors, another sells mufflers, Etc. Looking for reasons to confirm or deny Dr. Kpessa’s claim I note how the workers dress. It is no different than anyone in any other market I have visited in Ghana. After walking for a bit I decide to ask one of the shop owners about my question. I walk up to a man and ask, “I have heard that business in this market is very…umm… lucrative… is this true? This is a terrible question. I know it as soon as I say it. He doesn’t understand. He says, “Oh yes, this market is very nice.” I do notice however that he is wearing quite a fancy looking silver necklace. I leave the market without any evidence showing that the shop owners make a lot of money. I definitely would not have drawn this conclusion if the idea had not been planted in my head. However I did not observe a whole lot of information disproving Dr. Kpessa’s statement either. Now that I have seen the market I will be able to engage Dr. Kpessa in a better discussion about this topic.
As I am leaving Kantamanto market, I give Boadu a call to see if he is hanging out with his “street children”. Unfortunately he is out of town. “Next week”, he tells me, “I will be there and you can stop by.”
As I ride back to Legon I reflect on my day. It is amazing that I could set out on a tro-tro with no real destination in mind and end up in a place with three solid options of activites. In the two and a half short months I have been in Ghana I have learned so much, met so many people, and experienced many things. I feel I can get anywhere in Accra via tro-tro. I am quite proud of this. I am still puzzled however about the situation at Shephered’s Locals while I was taking a photo. What was really happening there? Was this a cultural experience or just a human experience? I am also tossing around questions about Kantamanto market. Could the perspective of Dr. Kpessa be correct? Perhaps the people who make all the money don’t actually work in the shops? The more I experience in Ghana the more questions I begin to ask. I am beginning to realize that I will continue to learning through these experiences long after I leave Ghana.