One of the things I love about living in Ghana is that there is no consumerist culture. I hardly go to the mall unless we need something from Game or Shoprite or we make a rare trip to the one of the two movie cinemas in Accra. I don’t miss being bombarded by mannequins who are dressed up weekly showing off new clothing ranges and all the other items that shops love to flaunt in our faces in the hope that we are driven to purchase them. I often feel ‘out of the loop’ with what is currently ‘in fashion’ or ‘cool’ but I truly love the flip side of this, that without being constantly advertised to, we remain firmly focused on what we’ve got instead. We relish and use the things we’ve already purchased and we truly feel that they are enough.
When I was chatting to my mom last week she told me that there is another book out with collectible cards for kids from a Supermarket. Maybe because I’ve had distance from living under such constant consumerism I’m pretty blown away at the frequency of just how many items Checkers and Pick ‘n Pay feel we need to ‘collect’ – our kids hardly ever get to even complete the collection of the said item, never mind appreciate and play with the cards/stickies/plants/toy blocks/miniature groceries before we are scrambling to spend the required amount to start a new collection of a different set of items!
I have very distinct childhood memories of two collectible items and maybe some of you remember these – I had (and still have!) a few precious diaper babies and can tangibly remember the excitement of opening the foil blue, pink and silver packaging and how it felt to discover which baby you had gotten, and then to find out if it was a boy or girl by putting it in the freezer and seeing what colour its diaper was! Then I also recall a pastel green pink and blue striped Snoopy sticker book I had and the packs of stickers we were lucky enough to buy every now and then, and happily sticking them into the blank numbered spaces of the book, the prized ones being shiny silver. My other sticker collection involved buying little squares of stickers from Cardies that sometimes smelt nice or had a furry texture. But my point is, is that my entire childhood experience of collecting treasured things that felt memorable and special, is simply a few short months in the lives of our children nowadays, of gathering the next best thing.
With all these supposed fun things to collect, we are subliminally passing on the message to our kids, that the shops want us to believe – “you always need more than you’ve already got”, “the next thing we are telling you to buy is even better, more exciting and appealing that the one we’ve just recently convinced you that you must have”….that greater happiness if always around the corner, go look for it instead of just being content with what you currently own. I am so grateful that this time in Ghana has made our children appreciative of very little and not wanting the newest trendiest thing, they are rather clueless as to what is popular and don’t even know what to ask for, for birthdays or Christmas! I somehow wish I could keep them in this type of bubble forever.
Okay now that I’ve harped on about my dissatisfaction with modern life marketing/spending/throwaway culture, I’m going to tell you about a monthly event here where we LOVE spending our Ghanaian Cedies.
On the first Saturday of the month it feels like half of Accra gathers at the Green Butterfly Market watering hole and like thirsty animals we drink the creatively refreshing and satisfying water of many talented vendors. Although, with explosions of colour down every pathway, this market landscape is very far from the arid and monotone watering hole David and I recently experienced at Mole National Park and other watering holes that this image may conjure up, but you get the idea! This market, which started in 2010 takes place at the Du Bois Centre in Cantonments, Accra.
I must be honest and after perhaps sounding a little sanctimonious about our frugal spending habits in Ghana, it is here that we manage to rationalise healthy spending on beautiful proudly ‘Made in Ghana’ artisanal items. It’s okay though because we are after all supporting the local economy, ‘buying local’ and relishing handmade over mass produced right!!?? 😊 ! I’m sure I’m not the only person living here who sometimes justifies the generous amount of money I’ve spent at the market, with the small amount of money I’ve spent leisurely during the rest of the month!!!
I first experienced this market when I visited Dave who had already moved to Accra, and it used to be located at the Goethe Institute and I was very much enchanted by what I saw! It was then, and still is a day that we all look forward to as the first Saturday on the calendar approaches. Ghana can be a bit sleepy, whilst there is certainly enough to do here and there is always something happening, there is also not a plethora of things going on. Similar to the appreciation we have for what we can buy, due to the fact that there isn’t a shopping culture, we also really look forward to the beginning of a month where we have this event earmarked in our diaries, instead of trying to find something to do. It is a highlight and if we have visitors we encourage them to come over one of these weekends so they can experience it too.
We arrive with our colourful Ghanaian baskets in hand, ready to fill them with the things we’ve thought to buy as birthday gifts, or memorabilia to take to family and friends back home, or to adorn our bodies or homes with. Sometimes we don’t shop but rather do the equivalent of window shopping at a market, and marvel at all the ingenuity and effort that has gone into the goods on offer while enjoying the Saturday cheer and a coffee or beer, whatever takes your fancy!
Friends gather to meet here for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a snack. The food choices on offer are plentiful; freshly baked breads, sushi, spring rolls and noodles, falafel wraps and Emma’s favourite beef tacos. Handmade chocolates, refreshing lemonade and the wonderfully bright purple bissap juice which we discovered in Ghana. Made from hibiscus flower leaves it is just the right mixture of sweet and slightly spicy. Tysons’ incredible bagels sell out quickly with their awesome flavours, this is not surprising as they are the most amazing American-tasting bagels and bring back memories for me of the first time I experienced the taste combination of a bagel with cream cheese in Texas years ago!
Whenever you attend the market you are also reminded of how often people say that Accra is a village, as you inevitably bump into many people that you know from work or school circles. The vibe is great under some of the most impressively tall trees in the city with gorgeous foliage providing welcome shade, especially in the hotter months. Some stand around enjoying a bite to eat, or have coffee sitting at the café. There are also places around the Centre where you can escape the energetic crowds that fill the walkways in between the gazebos and tables, to enjoy licking one of the best ice lollies in town. You can’t help but feel that quintessentially Summertime moment of licking a lolly as a kid, but with flavours like the alcoholic mojito, which is my favourite, you also feel a little excited about being an adult and indulging in this at 10am! The ice lolly flavours are varied and interesting and include Mango Rasberry, Plum Grape, Apple fizz and all the cookie varieties you can think of. We’ve been known to make repeat trips to try different ones, but at 5 cedies an ice lolly this luckily doesn’t break the bank.
There is comfort in the predictability of certain familiar vendors always being in the same place, like the earring lady who is at the first stall you encounter. I now have a rainbow collection that looks similar to the one displayed on her table as I can’t resist these beautiful cotton disc earrings that match so well with African wax fabric. Then there is Aunty Mary whose pottery in every shade of indigo shines in the morning light. Our Ghanian crockery collection has grown over the months and we use her perfectly sized salad bowls most nights as well as her smaller bowls to eat from. They are so beautiful that there is even more incentive to finish your food to see the iridescent shades of blue, grey and green of the bowl like the water of a pond, and I love that no two pieces are ever the same. She always tells us how her family has been making this pottery for decades. If you like this traditional pottery I would really recommend not bringing a lot of your own crockery to Ghana and rather buying a stunning hand crafted collection here.
There is batik fabric on sale in every bold pattern and colour imaginable as well as many great ready to wear garments for women, men and children. This last weekend Esther has new dark blue and white cloth varieties that we haven’t seen before that catches our eyes. There are bright baskets in every shape and size, and not just the ones we carry, but gorgeous ones that remind me of crinkly cabbage leaves to store toys, or home items in, or just to display for their aesthetic beauty.
If you are in the market for a piece of art there are artists displaying their wares against the walls, like Isaac Anang who painted the beautiful street scene that hangs in our home, . Kente table cloths and runners rest majestically on a table and I think of all the hard work, hours and hands that went into the making of them.
Elizabeth is there with her great Ankara range of clothing, which includes wrap skirts and dresses, shirt dresses and tops as well as fabrics for sale that she sources from Makola market. Often the slight mark up she puts on these fabrics is very much welcome if you don’t have the time and energy to brave Makola yourself, and she’s got a great eye for choosing well. Then there is every possible conceived craft made from Ghanian fabrics – fabric covered necklaces, hair bands, stuffed animals, covered notebooks, decoupaged mirrors and cushion covers. Pot stands made from Ghanian beer tops, wooden figurines and statues and big round-faced masks whose beady eyes follow you as you walk around and who seem perfectly at home displayed against the bark of the tree trunk. There are glass beads, metal adornments for necklaces, delicate silver and stainless steel jewellery in beautiful Adinkra symbols. Handmade leather shoes and sandals can be ordered in your chosen style and colour and soaps and Ghana shea butter body products smell delicious and are of great quality.
There is also lots of fresh produce that will save you a trip to the store and is likely fresher and of better quality – Irene is there with her eggs, homemade pasta, fillets of meat and seafood and her homemade pesto, which for Jack is as essential as oxygen 😊 Fresh vegetables, herbs and the delicious oyster mushrooms that are amongst the cheapest veggies here and cost a fraction of their button counterparts. On Saturday we sample delicious local Cashew nut flower and Mango flower honey and I come home with a bottle.
Writing this today two things happened – firstly mid way I just had to go get half a bagel out of our freezer, toast it and enjoy that raisin and cinnamony wonderfulness with cream cheese. Secondly, I really realised just how much I’m going to miss this market when we have to leave Accra. For now I will happily bask in the sunshine and glory of that watering hole every month in celebration of all of these entrepreneurs and all that prettiness that is so uniquely African!
Green Butterfly Market is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greenbutterflymarket
To get an idea of what this market is like in real life watch their recent video:
***The Green Butterfly market also takes place on the last Sunday of the month at the Smoke ‘n Barrel in Labone.
There is also a market every Saturday morning at the Labone Coffee Shop which sells fresh produce, bagels, pasta, fish, meat and other food items.