Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Can I not find a tennis racquet anywhere in this cornucopia of consumer merchandise?

July 27, 2007
Kejetia Market
Kumasi, Ghana

Kejetia. From where does this name come? I don’t know what Kumasi’s main market, rumuored to be one of the largest in West Africa, is named for but that’s not important. What is important is that I need a tennis racquet, and can’t seem to find one.

There are courts out at the university, you see, where we are staying for only another two weeks. Of course, I could go out there any time to play until we shove off completely from this town. Wouldn’t you know it, the only tennis racquets I’ve been able to find were in a specialty shop, and they were quality items — Head, Penn, etc. — worth the price tag of 1.8 million cedis, or roughly$180 USD. That’s what you’d pay for them out West, and here, it seems.

But no, I’m not dropping that kind of cash on a tennis racquet I may or may not use more than once while I’m in West Africa. Therefore, unto Kejetia.

You’d think you’d find one in here, you really would. Long, tight paths snake their way through this inner-city shantytown of wooden frames and currogated tin roofs that is home to any consumer good you could buy or imagine. Not high end stuff, no automobiles or Gucci sunglasses (although plenty of knockoffs). But any one thing — tape, a stuffed teddy bear, pencil crayons — you can find in Kejetia. It’s like the African concept of WalMart, without the corporate infrastructure but with mud floors clogged with garbage and stalls where they butcher raw meat.

To get here you walk from Adum where the banks are downhill to the heart of Kumasi where snarled roads meet in a roundabout. Across the street is the entranceway, which is always thronged with crushing humanity walking to and fro, mostly market women carrying merchandise in great metal basins atop their heads. Take a deep breath and step into the tide. From this moment onward, you will not stop moving.

Pick a lane, there are a few to choose from. That way will take you through mechanical parts. This way’s the way to ladies hosiery. If it’s groceries you want work your way to the middle. What? A tennis racquet… go left here, then ask somebody.

Down this small pathway between the stalls in the line among mostly female Africans you keep moving, keep moving. Do not stop. To stop is to clog the system — pressure builds behind you as you bend to tie your shoe. There’s only really enough room on the path between stalls for one human to walk comfortably but true to form the Africans make things bigger than they are, so there are two lines of opposing human traffic and you are stopping one of them, so move.

The ladies at the stalls call a greeting as you pass; they’re not used to seeing a white man in here, and what’s he doing in hosiery? No time to stop and chat though, the girl behind you will bash you with her metal basin if you pause. It’s a miracle she hasn’t already, but her kind are adept with their headgear. Years of practice.

Tennis racquet? You mean like this? No, it’s for badminton, right… what’s the difference? Bigger? Oh, you mean a tennis racquet…. No, for that you’ve got to go to town. You already came from town? Well, you’ll have to go back and look again.

Just head towards the chili powder and take a right. When you come to a building wall follow it until you can squeeze through an alley to the street. Ask for a guy named Kofi, my brother; he’ll know about tennis. (G)

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