April 15, 2007
If you’re in the market for a handkerchief these days, best get to Ghana, fast. Ditto for a pair of shoes, any shoes — Ghanaians have piles of’em, quite literally, on display in the streets near the main market. And rags. Lots of rags, and they’re cheap, like, 20 cents a rag.
All this stuff and much, much more is easy to find. Just get in a cab and drive down any main road and somebody selling something is bound to come to your window, offering whatever they have for sale: keychains, socks, toilet paper, you name it. You can buy a live goat in the streets of Kumasi. This market is busting with sellers.
Which makes me wonder: how much stuff can a person sell in a given day?
Funny thing is, I rarely see anybody buying. The guy selling T-shirts on the road to town in the morning is still there in the afternoon, the stack of shirts neatly folded and balanced on top of his head not seeming to have dwindled. Yet somebody must be buying, or else these people — let’s call them merchants — wouldn’t be out here selling every single day.
I have a friend I call White Man. He’s black, but it was his idea that I call him White Man. We met him shortly after we found our Kumasi home. Trish passes by him every day, and one day early on when I was walking with her he just started calling me Black Man. “I be White Man, you be Black Man,” he said with this big grin of his that shows off the gap between his eye teeth. Okay, you’re on… White Man.
White Man sells shoes from a street stall, up the hill and around the corner from where we live. One day I asked him how business was doing and he said so-so. He said he’d sold 20 pairs of shoes that day. I couldn’t believe it and suspected the language barrier was interfering with our mutual comprehension, but he was insistent. Twenty pairs. A so-so day.
Later on, when White Man and I got to know each other a bit better (though we have agreed to maintain the aliases and keep our true identities hidden from each other, for now), he told me that business was not good, that nobody has any money, and that often days go by when he does not sell a single pair of shoes.
Well, that was more like it. I knew his previous sales estimate had to be off.
I put in an order: a pair of sneakers, please, White Man, something I can go jogging in or play squash (recently I found some courts). Hopefully he’ll come through this week — I prefer to patronize merchants I know. But if not, I’ll be able to find what I’m looking for from some other shoe guy, because some other shoe guy will inevitably come looking for me. G.