Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Shopping the African Way (Kind of)

First, groceries. Getting them here is very easy- although it can take a few side trips to get all that you need. There are a couple of fairly large "supermarkets", large being a relative term. Koala and MaxMart are both run by Lebanese families, catering to strangers in a strange land, although there are a number of Africans who shop there too.

The floor space for the groceries is about the size of your neighborhood Walgreen's, and they have groceries from all over the world, although I often can't read the product label- it could be in Farsi, French, Italian- you name it, and many times there just isn't any information in English. When there isn't even a picture, it would be like buying those "mystery" cans in the States with no labels, except here you still have to pay full price. Ha!

As I've said before, we can get some American products for a premium, but the only ones we buy regularly are cereal- it's not something Ghanaians eat so our only choices are imported from the U.S. and the U.K. and there's no alternative if you want Cheerios or Raisin Bran, which Ted does. Well, that and Coca Cola- which we get in bottles here and 24 of 'em cost me about $6- the advantage of having a local Coca Cola bottler.

Beer is a steal! The local brew (or at least one of them and our current favorite) is Star beer- and bottles of that cost us half what the Coke does. Woohoo! We lament that we never developed a taste for Guinness- you can get 12 bottles of that stuff for just a little over $2. Don't ask me how.

Dog food is a huge deal for us. For starters there is very little selection, and the dogs hate all of it except the Pedigree, which is garbage and STILL costs $45 for what would be a $10 bag in the U.S.. So, being good dog owners, but not complete idiots, we buy them local dog food which still costs us $21 for the $10 equivalent, and add in a bag of Pedigree "Mixer" that is supposed to be an additive for canned feeding but which we use to disguise the crappy dog food. They are not fooled. To make it even more fun the food comes in small bags- small enough that they are only a three day supply for all 150 pounds worth of dogs, so we end up buying bags and bags of dog food at one time to avoid having to run to the store for more every third day. Probably should change the term "Dog Lovers" to "Suckers", at least for this family. It is great fun to have them here though, and if I had it to do all over again, I'd still bring them. Like I said: Suckers.

We get our produce from roadside vendors, mostly. Bananas, pineapples, potatoes, avocados, and carrots for sure. The avocados are huge but a little stringy and when they are ripe they have a very different feel here, as I found out after peeling a few and finding them nowhere near ripe yet. The pineapples, however, are perfectly ripe and sweet when their prickly outsides are still deep dark green, which also took me a few tries to get down. Practice practice practice. The good people of Idaho will be thrilled to learn that there really is a distinct taste and texture to Idaho Potatoes, one I never noticed until I couldn't get them anymore. The bad news is, of course, that after three months, I like the potatoes here just fine and don't need my Idaho bakers anymore. Whoops!

We are trying local foods as we can, but unfortunately our palates aren't as adaptable as we could hope- kenkey and fufu are two staples that Ghanaians eat every day and for us they are inedible. Kenkey is made from corn somehow, but it resembles corn not at all when they are done with it, and tastes kind of, well, rotten. Fufu is like a thing to sop up your juicy food and soup with and isn't meant to be chewed, just swallowed, and...you get the picture. It's comfort food for Ghanaians, but I think you have to be born to it. At least we do. We are still exploring local foods though, and I'll let you know what we find.

As far as household goods, we go native! There is a huge store called Melcom that my Grandma would have called a 'Sundries' store. We are usually the only white people there, with a few exceptions, but they have everything your heart desires (within reason) for a fraction of the cost at the stores that cater to Europeans. Plasticware, glassware, rugs, towels, clocks, lightbulbs- all that little stuff it takes to make a house run. If you can't find it at Melcom, then you can go to Accra Central. This is, basically, downtown. It's pure mayhem, and we don't drive ourselves there because it's a free for all demolition derby on fairly narrow streets, but Duke takes us there in our car. We park in the one parking lot which fills quickly on weekends with cars parked in every square inch of space- often blocking the exit for cars around it- for about 45 cents for however long you want to be gone. There are lot attendants who will help you squeak out of your parking space, and who do a pretty good job of matching up the people who will be gone for a long time and the people who are just running in to a store real quick.

Anyway, from the car park you can negotiate the sidewalks and/or dodge traffic to get to just about any kind of store you want- appliances, tennis shoes, furniture, electronics, clothing, dry goods, toys- each in their own narrow store, each extending back half a city block. In addition, there are vendors on the sidewalk- food, water, backpacks, cloth, art- and thousands of people all headed somewhere besides the direction you are going. It's a mad crush and we LOVE it! It reminds us of some of the shopping alleys in Hong Kong. Normally we hate crowds and avoid them pretty compulsively, but for some reason this sea of people and activity in Accra Central calls to us and we go whenever we think we think we can justify it. Often we are among the only white people there, too, and I think that is part of the draw for us- we came to live in Africa, not a Disney version set up for Europeans, so we like being in the places where Africans are, doing what Africans normally do, and getting a feel and taste and smell of life here.