Monday, November 20, 2006

Fun With Duke and Jane

I don't know where to begin describing Accra Central to you.

It's basically 'downtown'.

If you can't find it there, you probably don't need it. European doo dads mingle next to piles of shoes, moth balls sit next to a booth selling buttons or hair barrettes. The sidewalks are clogged with vendors and their tables, the 'stores' are mostly ten by ten concrete boxes subdivided from large multi story buildings and stuffed with clothing, fabric, and luggage.

As you make your way through the area your choices are simple- walk in the street and risk being hit by a vehicle or at least having your toes run over by the traffic anarchy that includes reckless taxis and lime green double decker buses, or stay on the sidewalk and try to watch your footing (to avoid the rubble of old pavement, precipitous drops in the pavement that still exists, open ditches, broken pavers, and various goats and chickens) while keeping an eye out for oncoming pedestrians with large, heavy loads of goods on their heads that are often unfortunately at just the right level to take an eye out or at least give you a whacking good head smack.

Accra Central does not have many obronis- we are surely there, in ones or twos, at any given time, but as a diversion, it's not the sort of place that many foreigners end up. Ted and I like it because it's so alive- it's not something you can duplicate and has to be experienced where it was invented. Tons of people, tons of stuff, rabbit warrens of alleys, endless lines of honking cars, trucks and buses, and equatorial heat just to keep it interesting.

Just getting into the area takes patience since the traffic jam starts well before you get there. Sometimes we park for free at Duke's brother's small electrical shop in an area he shares with about ten other merchants and sometimes we park in the municipal lot, which costs us about 70 cents for as long as we want to leave the car.

Last Monday, Duke, Duke's wife Jane, and I went to Accra Central to get fabric for some clothes that Jane is going make for me. We went in and out of a dozen different fabric shops looking at cloth and trying to decide what would work for trousers (I kept saying 'pants' and getting blank looks from poor Jane), what would work for tops and what would make a nice dress...

It was hot as a blast furnace, and the crush of people and radiating heat from the mass of concrete made it 100 times worse. I could sweat in a snow storm (thanks Dad!) so by the third store or so I looked like a drowned rat/obroni and was wiping sweat out of my eyes and shaking it off my soaked hair and dripping arms. Duke and interested strangers (read: every Ghanaian) always think I'm dying when I get this hot, and it takes all my powers of persuasion to convince them that sweating honestly won't kill me, although it's apparently very painful to watch.

So against their better judgment ("What will I tell Boss when we have to say you melted in Accra Central???) we kept shopping for fabrics.

Duke was sure Jane was bullying me to accept her choices, so when she and I agreed on something he kept asking me if I was sure and not to let Jane make me take things I didn't want. He must think I'm a much nicer person than I really am. ;-)

Duke was carrying Erica (their youngest daughter- the older one, Christabelle, was in school), and Jane was carrying an increasing load of folded fabric. Neither of them would let me carry anything- not that Erica would let me hold her. At 18 months, Cooper is the only obroni she trusts.

Finally, when even Duke and Jane were showing signs of being hot and all three of us were near collapse from dodging and weaving our way through the throngs, we bought the last of the fabric and headed back to the car for the slog home.

I got two pieces of kente cloth (the fabric made here by the Ashanti from whom the Twi language also comes) one colorful and one black and white. If she had her way, Jane would dress me head to toe in kente cloth and I would look like Carmen Miranda most of the time. It's beautiful cloth but very busy, usually containing four or more(!) colors in the pattern.

When I chose the black and white I asked her if it would be wrong to wear the trousers she made from it on a day when I wasn't going to an 'event' (code for funeral, or as Duke calls it "Market Day for Dead People"). She was non-committal, so I may be a walking faux pas when I get my new black and white kente pants and wear them out to dinner. This is the kente cloth:

And this is all the fabric we bought.

Since Jane has a hard time telling me what she thinks her excellent sewing skills are worth, I'm not sure exactly what my final bill will be for the clothing she is making me, but trust me- it will be a fraction of the cost of the same (or inferior) items in the U.S. Two pairs of pants, four or five tops, and a dress for something under $100 (labor and fabric), which I am spending completely without guilt since I haven't been exactly been burning up the malls with my credit cards for the last year and a half. ;-)