Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Tema Market

A few weeks ago, I was in desperate need of some vegetables and spices, so Dennis said we could get both at the Tema market for a lot cheaper than you can find in a grocery store. I said sounds good. I’m not really sure what I was expecting the Tema market to be, but it turned out to be quite the adventure.

We came upon a narrow street lined with booths, cars parked on both sides, so that only pedestrian traffic could pass. Behind the booths was a very high cement wall, large enough to not be able to see what lay behind. Dennis pulled up behind a car on the right-hand side of the street and said “We’re here. Let’s go.” The first thing I saw was a large cage filled live chickens, and Dennis informed me that for 10 cedis (like $7), they would kill one, de-feather and dress it for you. He said that for 12 cedis you could get a “free range” one, motioning to the group of chickens running around on the side of the road. Next to the cage was a van parked so that the rear opened up onto the street, its back doors open wide with a few guys sitting in the back, legs dangling. When we got close enough to the van see what was inside, it was eggs: hundreds of eggs in cartons stacked the height of it. We kept walking along to see several booths of vendors of all kinds: clothing, food, cosmetics, etc. We came across a vegetable seller, and Dennis let me look at some tomatoes and onions for a few seconds, before saying “Let’s keep going.” I looked up and down the street, as well as the adjacent booth-lined street and asked “How much more is there?” Dennis just laughed and said “You’ll see.”

When we got to the end of the street we were on, we hung a right onto a street even more populated with booths and people. The high wall ran along this street as well. The further we walked the more dense everything became. I could see up ahead that everyone was filtering through a gate on the right that led into the space behind the wall, and when we got there, my jaw definitely dropped. What I thought was the market was the bare outskirts, and the true market lay in every inch of the plaza enclosed by the high walls, where hundreds of booths manned by haggling vendors were pressed together to allow no more room between them than was needed to walk. I though immediately of two things: my good friend (who shall remain nameless) that is diagnosed with ADD (true ADD, not a function of the over-prescribing, drugged-up society we live in today), who would have loved every second of all the activity, vibrant colors and noises of the market, and a favorite childhood movie called “Bed Knobs and Broomsticks” in which Angela Lansbury sings a song called “Portobello Road” about a street in London where you can buy “anything and everything a chap can unload.” The Tema market was a lot brighter and less dusty than the road protrayed in the movie, but I can’t really help the linkages made by my mind sometimes. I also couldn’t really decide what to look at and in what order: a basket full of shimmering blue crabs or a table covered with giant African snails bigger than your fist (a delicacy, according to Dennis). We approached the most colorful table in sight which boasted a rainbow assortment of tiny bags of spices. I bought some garlic, curry (good curry that actually has some zing, not the weak stuff you find in America and have to resort to the paste) and chili, but was denied cumin and basil (partly because Dennis didn’t know the Twi translation and partly because they actually might not grow those here and I have to settle for imports).
shot of the market right at the entrance...booths as far as the eye can see.
shot of it a little further in. You can see plantains and yams on the front table.
giant African snails...DE-licious.

We actually didn’t stay long to peruse. Being the guys that we were, our shopping entailed knowing exactly what we needed to get, getting those things, and then leaving; we were not hampered by a second X chromosome, which necessitates window shopping. I would go on to buy some tomatoes, onions and peppers, along with a dozen eggs from the dudes in the van and a whole smoked mackerel. Making our way back to the gate to leave, Dennis and I were stopped by a shady guy carrying a basket full of what turned out to be blister packs of medicines. As politely as possible, Dennis told him that he was a registered pharmacist, what he was doing was illegal, and that if he ever saw him again, he would call the police. (I’ll leave the health schpiel out of this entry, but you do not want to get me started about antibiotic resistance. Needless to say, that was not cool, and it brought my nice little trip to the market back down to reality very quickly.)
platter full of smoked mackerel. I chose the most delicious one.
When we got back to the car, I opened the trunk to deposit my spices, veggies, eggs and fish, and I looked over at the chicken coop close by. As much as I wanted a chicken to be slaughtered all because of my appetite, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe next time, I told Dennis, because I really want to come back as much as possible. The market is only open on weekends, and I could probably come back every Saturday until I leave and not see everything there is to see in there. That night I de-scaled and de-boned the mackerel all by myself and made a deliciously spicy fish curry…with a little garlic: BAM!

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