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Blog #4- Shopping!... Not As Easy As It Sounds


Most tourists enjoy bringing back souvenirs from their travels. Ghana has no lack of souvenirs to bring; we have actually been having the opposite problem. Everywhere we look, there are things to buy being held up for our inspection, food being waved in front of our faces, and people asking us if we need anything specially made. Buying hand-crafted artifacts of any kind in America is a huge deal, and we usually pay dearly for it. Here, it is an expected part of shopping. When we told Cynthia that we would like to buy dresses like the Ghanaian women wear, she told us she would take us to her dressmaker and have them made. First, we had to go to the market to pick out our fabric.

Accra Central Market, where we went to find our fabric for our dresses!

It was difficult for us to picture what the dress would look like when it was finished, so Cynthia told us to pick fabric that we liked and the dressmaker would come up with a design to match the fabric.

An estimated 85% of Ghanian citizens are employed in what is called the “private sector”. .. i.e. they manage their own “business”. This could be anything from making clothing to selling plantain chips on the street to being a carpenter or a taxi driver or miner (yes, they literally have a mine in their backyard). The unemployment rate here, although reported at 11% by some sources, seems to be nonexistent. Everyone makes the most of the resources they have available and the services they can provide. Every street corner is an opportunity to set up shop and sell anything from phone cards to puppies to meat pies.

An outside furniture store! This carpenter specializes in wicker. What if it rains? Night time? They carry ALL of the products back inside! Every night and every time it rains…

A line of produce sellers along the road to Cape Coast, Ghana.

No free corner? Just use your head! Literally, that is. Gideon informed us that all Ghanians learn to carry things on their heads; it’s just something that you do from a very young age. This makes for an excellent way to hold goods and food and have your hands free for other things, like collecting money or knocking on car windows. A common practice here is to sell things to the people sitting in cars in traffic. To get through a red light in Accra can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 45 minutes (yes, we timed one at 45 minutes)! Because of the wait, sometimes people do their shopping while waiting for the light to change. We have decided that this is also a much more convenient way to shop. Also, it is much faster to buy what we have taken to calling “head food” from the mobile vendors than to actually stop and get lunch while out (we call it head food because people sell food from containers on their heads). There are no fast food restaurants, so Cynthia called this their version of fast food. In fact, stopping to get a tuna “sandwich” for lunch usually takes over an hour.

Vendors sell their wares (food, dust rags, shoes, etc) from baskets or trays balanced on their heads. And yes, they walk between the cars when traffic stops; they do occasionally get hit. It’s hard to get pictures of them because looking at them means you want to buy what they have and they all run to the car!

These women are selling plantain chips and peanuts to cars parked next to us in traffic

So- back to our dresses! We took our fabric to Cynthia’s dressmaker, Mayaa Fashion Designs, where they started off by taking our measurements. They took at least two dozen measurements! And then the dressmakers asked what we wanted our dresses to look like. We had some ideas, but couldn’t quite get the concept that they could make anything we wanted. When we curiously asked them if they could put pockets on our dresses, they seemed shocked that we’d doubt their abilities so to say. The dressmaker charged us 45 Ghana Cedis (about $25) and instructed us to come back in a week to pick them up. Simple as that! Cynthia doesn’t even have to tell them what type of dress or outfit she wants anymore, because they know her style there. She just takes in the cloth and they make her something they know she will love. That method seems much easier than hunting through multiple stores for the right dress, like what we do in the US!

Jessica poses with one of the dressmakers are Mayaa Fashion Designs with her finished dress!

Amanda poses with another dressmaker at a different dress shop who sold her a handmade skirt. Notice the handmade flip flops in the background. You can have them made to match your dress!

Until next time, happy shopping!
Auntie Amanda and Auntie Jessica