January 24, 2007
Welcome to Melcom, where locals shop for less. On a tip from a couple of fellow traveling Oburuni (a harmless term in the local Twi dialect that means “white man”) we found the place to buy household goods, like a toilet brush. Melcom is an open-air labyrinth divided into different sections by the goods it carries stacked in rows. They sell everything from greeting cards and fake flowers to electric drills and bolts of cloth. We went to get stuff for a makeshift kitchen. But first we had to learn the rules, which are complex. Here are a couple:
Rule #1: Never stop moving.
There is a constant flow of human traffic shuffling along the narrow corridors between Melcom’s good. You can never stop for long. If you’re considering a purchase you have to get out of the way while you contemplate, and if there’s nowhere to escape you have to just keep moving. If you do find a little pocket — a back eddy at the current’s fringe — you can take a moment, but just a moment, before the stream pulls you away. This is where the fishy feeling comes from. You’re always swimming, there is no escape.
Rule #2: Keep your receipts.
Not because Melcom’s would accept a return — I doubt that, but have no evidence — but because you can’t buy anything without one. It works like this: you file among the goods with everybody else, and when you decide on a purchase you get one of the ladies standing by to write the quantity and serial number down on a little piece of paper. When you’re ready to pay you take all your little sheets of paper to the cash register. The cashier exchanges them for a receipt, once you’ve paid. Then you revisit your goods out in the store and pick them up. Then you take them to checkers near the exit, who go through your items and your receipt and make sure everything matches, before putting it all in a bag. The checkers stamp your receipt, which you must show to security on the way out.
That’s the way they do department store in Ghana. G.