I stared out of my window, bored out of my mind. No magazine, no book, no games on my phone. A cry in the distance broke the silence. “Yeess, tie, tie, tie!” I had just started working and had come face to face with the reality of having to wear a tie to work every morning. I looked around.
It wasn’t till he called out again that I saw him. “Tie, tie!” He stretched one of the many yellow and black catapults he was selling and released it, his cry quickly reminding me of their Ghanaian name. What on earth for? A thrill that will last all of 10 minutes, then it’s chucked away. And besides, the local ones made with wooden handles are much stronger. I immediately remembered my bird-chasing days with Paa Willie and the boys. As for this cheap Chinese thing, I’m sure the okpo will even stand in the tree laughing at you as the flimsy catapult breaks in two as you stretch for the kill.
It struck me that if you can even buy inferior catapults on the road to 37, then this has got to be the real “mall with it all”. Forget Shoprite or Game. Everything you need, you’ll get on a hawker’s head somewhere in the city.
They’re everywhere. Part of the traffic. I wasn’t in Accra during Ghana @ 50, but I heard that the streets were cleared of them. I saw a picture of Opeibea deserted, and it looked horribly unnatural.
In reality, stretch your neck out of any trotro, taxi or private car and hiss, and you’ll get young and old sellers of all the stuff you don’t need running to you, regardless of oncoming traffic. Gone are the days when there were only apple and PK-Pectol sellers on the streets competing for space with the beggars. There was also the occasional Poki seller blowing his horn.
And don’t forget the ice water sellers. No, not the sealed ones we have now. The ones tied and filled with tap water. (I remember helping one lady near my house fill up these bags. Blow and fill. God help anyone who drank water that I and my friends bagged.)
Today, if you need a baby cot, why go too far? I once saw somebody wheeling one up and down between the cars caught in a traffic jam in Accra.
Then there are calendars. It’s an endless production line. Everything from disasters to lynching of notorious armed robbers, they appear on calendars across the city. The dates, by the way, occupy a barely seen strip at the bottom. It’s not uncommon to see a 2006 calendar in a barber’s kiosk without noticing that it’s outlived its usefulness.
Movie? No problem. 30-in-1, with bad spelling on the covers, and bootlegged movies obviously recorded in the cinema. A friend told me of a DVD seller who walked up to him in his car. The hawker softly told the guy that he had “Brown Sugar” as well, stealthily revealing pirated pornographic DVDs hidden behind preaching DVDs. Vice and virtue, all available on the streets. But then, if you’re in the right section of town, you could even see a hawker carrying a DVD player in his arms, ready to make a quick buck. I’d think I’d want to make sure that the thing worked, at least! (With some of them, I’m sure you’d even see a DVD in them. Only God knows if the stuff is ummm … hot.)
And those who sell shoes in traffic, I need to ask the mate to park to try them on? Not happening.
One lady had a whole shop on her head, balancing among other things, scrubbing brushes and shoe brushes. If only she sold toothbrushes too, she could hand-on-heart use the slogan, “For anything you brush.”
You’ll get anything you want on the streets, from tonight’s yam to little Kofi’s cheap water gun. And if you’re in the World Cup spirit, you could get Black Stars jerseys that only very well-trained eyes will see are fake.
Need binoculars? A hawker has a pair. Soon we’ll be able to buy petrol in gallons without entering any station. Indeed, if you desire anything and look hard enough, you’ll get it on your way home in the real Accra Mall, still your mall with it all.
So tell me. What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen being sold on the streets of Accra?
I watched the catapult seller walk away, shouting, “Tie, tie!” for all the world to hear. If his wares could help get me through the awful traffic without harming anyone, maybe I’d consider buying one.
P.S. The Daily Commute has been published fortnightly for a while. I will be experimenting with a weekly post in the coming weeks.