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Published: February 20th 2012
The Central Market in Kumasi is the largest market in all of Western Africa. With approximately 12,000 vendors within a 20-block radius one can find just about anything. There are recycling sections where new uses are found for scrap metals. Small, hot shacks where half a dozen men are making shoes or sewing children’s uniforms. Further down the narrow maze of alleyways that make up the market, there are sections of beads, music, house wares, clothes, food… it goes on and on, anything you want you can find in this market. And one’s choices for any given thing are extensive. You can take your pick from dozens of vendors all selling similar if not the same items.
As I navigate the narrow, dusty walkways between the stalls, stopping to take a closer look at this or that, the hum of the market envelops me. Women rush by, carrying their heavy loads on their heads as is customary here in Ghana. Their ability to balance their wares on their heads without the aid of their hands to steady the load is remarkable; some with a young child nestled into the small of her back, sleeping contently. Reaching a stretch of the
market in which a crude cover of thin aluminum shades the path, I remove my hat happy to allow the heat to dissipate off my head, even if only for the few moments before the roof comes to an end and I am thrust back into the hot African sun. I linger amongst the bead vendors hoping to find bracelets to bring home to friends.
Our small cluster of four travelers has begun to thin a bit as we go in pursuit of the perfect item within one of the stalls or the perfect photo that will bring justice to the experience of such a marvelous place. I move on, paying less attention to where I am headed and more to the wonderful sights around me. I accidently bump into a young woman passing by. I say my apologies and draw my attention back to the path as I traverse the uneven pavement in the direction my friends passed through a few moments before.
From within one of the stalls I hear a woman shout, “Hey! Amerley!” I look up, curious to find the cause of her cry. With all the commotion going on about us, it could
have been anything. A few steps further another woman calls out, “Hey!” and I turn in her direction. She is staring right at me with a puzzled look. I smile and wave consciously using my right hand, which feels unnatural given my left-handedness but I have been warned of the importance of using my right hand in public as the culture in Ghana dictates. The woman smiles and waves back with a slight chuckle.
I spot my friends a handful of paces ahead of me, one admiring the vibrant colors of a textile stall another enjoying the textures of dried beans and grains in round bins. I notice that more than a few of the locals are staring at us with a cross between amusement and bafflement on their faces. It isn’t an unfamiliar look. I have grown accustomed to this look, which is almost always proceeded with a warm greeting of welcome. The Ghanaians give new meaning to the word friendly. They are warm and genuine and will stop you on the street to find out where you are from, what brings you to Ghana and how long you will be able to enjoy the hospitality of their
country; akwaaba ever on the lips of the passer by.
I continue on my way as women from both sides of the market begin to take notice of my arrival. They give me that same puzzled look and all shout, “Amerley!” After a dozen or so women have shouted at me thus, I begin to get a little self-conscious. I speed up to our local guide who is a short ways in front of me and ask him what Amerley means. He doesn’t know, but asks one of the women nearby. Amerley was a famous Ghanaian who was the first woman in her country to cut her hair into a Mohawk. Relieved that I haven’t inadvertently offended the locals, we continue on our route. Women continue to shout, “Amerley!” as I pass and with increasing ease I smile and wave. A few of the women tell me they like my haircut others call to their friends to come out and see me as I walk by. By now, we are quite the scene. Our pace has slowed as the community all seem to be coming out to get a glimpse of me. Although it is men and women alike
who are staring, it is only the women who shout, “Amerley.” People are taking pictures of me with their phones and bringing their young children out to see the spectacle. The chants of Amerley increase. News has spread of the American Amerley in the market and the women’s chants line our path on both sides as if their words are paving our way through the narrow passage.
One group of women asks me why I would do such a thing to my hair. I explain that it was a part of an initiation or rite of passage that took place in my community the week before and they instantly understand. When I tell them how long my hair had been just a few days prior they have a hard time believing it and in truth so do I. As the narrow path gives way to the edge of the market and spills onto the street, the shouting begins to fade. I have been christened with my African name.
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