March 28, 2005
A seemingly ominous phrase that visitors to Africa soon discover is benign is "the dead man's market." These are the markets selling cast-off clothing from North America and Europe, and they blanket the African continent. It's often startling to be in a little bush village and see someone wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "I Got Lei'd in Maui" or "Kel's Irish Pub Rocks!".
Here in Ghana they call the used-clothing markets "obruni waawu", literally "a foreigner has died." The used western clothing is affordable for the poor, and considered fashionable by the hip. Ghana imports more used clothing than any other African country, running a clothing and fabric trade deficit of nearly forty million dollars a year.
The clothing arrives in huge plastic sacks bound with thick metal bands. It's amazing to watch someone open a bundle, and see the layers and layers of tightly packed clothes burst out. I have no idea how they get so much compressed into one bundle -- it's like they use a giant Ronco vacuum-seal device from the TV infomercials (hello, KRON-4?!).
There's an enormous dead man's market in Accra, in the Kantamanto area. There are rows and rows and rows of stalls with a dizzying selection of used clothes. The stalls are stuffed with high school football jerseys, fun-run T-shirts, nightclub wear, baby clothes, skirts, dresses, men's suits, sweat suits, socks, shoes, underwear, lingerie, and tons and tons of blue jeans. Most of the clothes are simply heaped in piles or left in bags for shoppers to paw through.
Visiting the Kantamanto market is exhausting. Filming there, as I did last week, is an order of magnitude worse.
Today is a national holiday (yet another one!), so this morning I headed to Kantamanto to look for a couple T-shirts. Luckily my intuition was right and it was a very quiet day there, with only about one-third of the vendors open. I eventually found a couple decent T-shirts, for which I paid about 2,000 cedi each (roughly 30 cents).
Then, the sun beating down on me and sweat rolling down my back, I took shelter at the nearby "God's Grace Fast Food" snack stand. They were out of fast food. In fact, they were out of all food. But they did have a cold Coke and a chair with an umbrella over it, which at that point was like manna from heaven.
Posted by Cathryn Poff at March 28, 2005 2:51 PM
Oh Cath. Will you pick up a pinch of sand, say "manapanapoopoo" (the magic word I just created that makes my consciousness travel to a new place) and drop the sand on your shoulder so I can spend a little time watching your travels up close? I would appreciate it. Thanks :)
Posted by: jojomama at March 30, 2005 4:59 PM