Friday, November 21, 2008

A vignette

This happened to me. . .

Being surmesi, Katie and I tend to garner a lot of attraction in Bongo. No matter what time of day, or how many other times we may have seen the same people, they always want to stop us and ask us how we've been. The more time we spend here, the less and less interested certain people seem to be in us, but for the most part, we are always new and fascinating and exotic. And then market day happens.

For the uninitiated, there aren't supermarkets here like there are in the States, and the things people call "supermarkets" are nothing more than wooden shacks that can be locked up at night so that you can leave your wares behind instead of lugging them to and from your house on a daily basis. Being that they are more secure, they also tend to have a larger variety and bigger quantities of various consumables, which also bring a larger margin (a can of coca cola is nearly one dollar). These supermarkets aren't frequented as much as the open-air market, where people get their produce and other everyday items, and neither are as popular as the open-air market is on Market Day.

In Bongo, Bolgatanga, and the surrounding area vendors come to hawk their wares every three days. I've been told that they travel as bands to different regions across the northern parts of Ghana and into Burkina to exploit the fact that not every region observes Market Day on the same day, but I don't know enough Fra-fra to ask for verification, nor do they know enough english to answer me (though you'll come to find that they feel their english is better than mine). Along with the assorted produce, Chinese-made goods and animals, these caravans of traveling vendors also seem to bring in a fair amount of crazy. If it isn't sold, then it is given away for free, because it always seems to be more concentrated every three days.

My first encounter with "Market-Day Crazy" was probably two months or so ago. As I entered the area, I happened across a group of men between the ages of 20 and 25. I was sighted, signified by a wave of chatter among the 10 of them. The one in the lead greeted me in the typical way: "Good evening! How are you?" but before I could respond he asked if I would like to join in him a game of chinese. Before I could answer, which was delayed since I was waiting for the word "checkers" to come out of his mouth, he began to mimic, in his stance and vocalization, the most generalized martial arts film imaginable. I declined, and heard only their laughter as I walked away.

Last Sunday was the most recent Market Day (as of writing this), and on my way to buy eggs and bread I was stopped by two men whom I had never seen. One was about five feet tall, bearded, and built like he would have made a fine tree trunk. The other man spoke like he had a permanent case of laryngitis coupled with the apparent need to force the air through his voice box before any sound would be formed. He would have been as tall as me if he had both his legs and didn't have to rely on his crutches. They both had the worn faces of men who worked long and hard in the field, and when they made me shake their hands it was easy to verify my assumption.

"Hello! Welcome to Bongo! How are you liking our village?" the man with the crutches says as he extends his hand toward me. I take it. We shake. He moves closer to me, entering the zone in which I start feeling uncomfortable. I'm not sure whether to attribute this to the fact that he seems uncomfortable on his crutches, or that he wants me to smell what he has had for breakfast (beer). Unfortunately, there is nowhere to back into.

While the road that leads to the market from Faustina's house is wide enough to accommodate motorcycles and pedestrians at the same time, the entrance to the marketplace bottlenecks sharply, the two offending houses create a narrow alley. It's evident enough from looking at it, but this doesn't stop the motorcycles from zooming into and out of it, the elderly from walking in the middle of it with arms outstretched, or the unbelievably drunk from approaching the innocent and hapless surmesi.

Before I could answer, the shorter man, whom I will affectionately call "Tree Trunk," decided to also give his welcome. "Hello! Welcome to Bongo! How are you liking our village?" to which a third man responds "Hello! Welcome to Bongo! How are you liking our village?". It would be understandable if they had said it in unison, or if they were filming for Candid Camera: Bongo, but they were only drunk.

The conversation went on and on like this, the only departure from their cyclical and mirrored questions being when Tree Trunk told me, after trying to get a response in, said
I am sorry. I do not understand what you are saying. There is nothing wrong with Korean. It is a fine language, but if you could please speak Enlglish, or maybe speak your Korean a little slower, it would be fine. Very fine. You look like a strong man, so please, try to understand our language, or our English, but Korean is also fine, but not for us.
I'm sure he would have continued along this path had it not been for the man on crutches and his interjection to explain that I was indeed speaking english. At this they began to argue, and the focus, for the time being, was off of me and onto themselves. I slipped away unscathed.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Ah yes, similar to being given a German audio guide at the Louvre after asking for one in my best French. I hope at least the individual mistook me for a Bavarian-German. Well, I suppose your Ghanaian street cred will let you pass for an Asian, so I'll no longer give you crap for that.