When I was home schooling my daughter for our first year living as expats in Ghana we didn’t have a car, and at times I would really feel the need to get out of the walls of our home and feel the ‘buzz’ of Accra. (This has definite notes of similarity to the strange cooped in times we’ve all lived/are living this year!).
When I felt this way I’d take a walk or catch an Uber if it was too hot, to Accra’s Oxford Street and enjoy the crazy chaos of this road for a while – worlds apart from its British counterpart you think of upon hearing its name, but full of character and life!
Oxford Street holds regular grocery shopping opportunities with Koala at the bottom of the road and Shoprite further up, and cappuccino prospects in between, with Second Cup Coffee’s comfortable space, tucked behind the Samsung shop and a more recently opened Vida e Caffe which brings familiarity for many with its bright red logo.
It is also a nice street to take visitors to, to get a feel for what energetic street life in Accra is like. If you walk it with curiosity and eyes wide open, you will enjoy its quirks like the fact that you can buy a wide variety of things from the pavement vendors such as tie dyed t-shirts, fresh fish on ice, dog leashes and muzzles (these make me a bit sad), walking sticks, ‘tummy trimmers’, country flags, small plants and Scrabble and Monopoly!
Well known American comedian Conan O’Brian visited Ghana last year and has a great episode on his experience of Oxford Street that will make you laugh! But Oxford street is also home to lesser known ‘treasures’ along its stretch of road.
1. Local Ghanaian blooms from the flower seller
Shops here don’t sell flowers in bunches as many of us are used to seeing, but you can buy bunches of gorgeous waxy local Ghanaian flowers from this flower seller. He used to be close to the Koala but now is just off Oxford Street on Ring Road near Danquah Circle. The flowers are priced individually and he will arrange them carefully, and wrap them with plastic and a ribbon bow! Perfect for a gift for someone special or to brighten up your home. The bunch I bought cost 30 ghc.
2. Beautiful batik items at Global Mamas
Opposite the fruit sellers and colourful collections of bins, brooms and brushes jutting out in all directions like pins in a pink cushion is a little road called Adjoate Street and a few metres down, opposite Cesar’s palace casino is the Global Mamas store.
This beautifully laid out shop is full of colour and love. Selling amazing clothes, bags and accessories made from batiked organic cotton, glass bead jewellery and Shea butter creams and toiletries it is a pleasure to browse. Founded in 2003 there are 350 ‘producer’ mamas from 7 different communities who are involved in making their high-quality handmade products. This is a store that many of us turn to when looking for gifts and on the tag of each item is the name of the lady or man whose hands brought it to life! I love their motto ‘LOVE your product. KNOW your producer. CHANGE her life’ that emphasises their Fair Trade business model. They also have a great photo book for sale called The Vibrant Sign Culture of Ghana which includes photos of many of the often funny names of shops and businesses here! A lovely keep sake if you have lived in or visited Ghana.
3. Genuine leather handbags for a steal
When my husband was offered his job in Ghana I was very hesitant about this job prospect, but I still remember my friend Fiona showed me a beautiful leather cross over handbag that her friend’s husband who was working here, had bought for her and his wife, and I was quite excited that such a pretty bag was from here! There are two converted container shops on Oxford Street selling leather bags – the one is towards Shoprite in the same strip as all the shops selling the bright Ghanaian goods, and the other is just next to Needletalk haberdashery and Woodin. You will spot them because they are draped in gorgeous hanging leather handbags in many shades of black, burgundy, brown and tan. Some of them are handmade, a few are obviously second hand, but most look new and are in excellent shape and are reasonably priced, much cheaper than leather items in our home countries! I bought my husband Dave an amazing laptop bag for one of these men for his birthday a few years ago and he still uses it and loves it!
4. Hakim – fine filigree jewellery and a step back in time
Probably my favourite gem on Oxford Street, situated just when the curio shops stop and almost opposite Shoprite you will see a white wall with a black sign with the word ‘Hakim’ on it. Mrs Georgette Hakim came here with her husband in the 50’s or 60’s for his job, and has been selling her silver and gold jewellery for many many years. Her intricate, filigree designs are unique and stunning. She sells earrings, bracelets, necklaces, Adinkra symbol cufflinks, special charms and continent shaped pendants should you wish to keep Africa extra close and wear her around your neck. Her tables and stands are covered in hundreds of once off pieces including the sought-after Chevron beads.
You shouldn’t miss a trip to see her jewellery, but equally as delightful is the experience of visiting her shop. Upon arrival one of the men working for her, often times a gentleman by the name of David will gently tap on the window of Mrs Hakim’s showroom, and she then open the window and pass him the door key. David will then open the door and lead you through a small passageway covered in wooden cladding into room filled to the brim with treasures including a photo of Mr and Mrs Hakim with Bill Clinton when he visited Ghana in 1998! Family pictures and various memorabilia paint a rich history of this family business. All jewellery is sold by weight.
5. Fabric fans from the side stores selling Ghanaian curio items
For quite a long stretch towards Shoprite there are many little roadside stores selling all sorts of cheerful looking Ghanaian goods, you can’t miss them because the colours of the African wax fabrics will jump out at you. Clothing, backpacks, key rings and beaded items are some of the things on sale, as well as fabric fans. These are also available at the weekend markets, but I’ve always bought mine here. They are not only pretty, but very effective in the hot and humid Ghana weather and in my mind are a necessary handbag item!! The shop owners can be quite persistent at trying to get you to ‘just look’ at their wares on sale so be prepared for regular calls to try to get your attention. There are also insistent men who walk along here wanting your name so that they can make you a personalized bracelet and men wanting you to look at their artworks they have draped over their arms or in a shop close by. You need to be equally adamant when telling them to leave you alone if you don’t want to be hassled!
6. Fabric and haberdashery items – Woodin, Sarah’s Fabrics and Needletalk
In Accra many women and men sew on their manual sewing machines outdoors on the pavements or inside little container shops. To read more about these seamstresses and tailors see my post A Shared Love of Stitching. All fairly close to each other on Oxford streets are 3 shops that those of us who sew will find useful. As handmade clothes are the norm here, African wax fabric is very popular and Woodin (a member of the Vlisco group) is an African fashion brand inspired by culture and art and they sell limited edition bold and bright great quality cotton fabrics, and some ready to wear garments. Despite Ghana using the metric system, fabric is still sold in yard increments here. Sometimes these stores have free demonstrations like the one I went to a while ago where a designer showed us several ways to easily make something from their fabric.
Needletalk and Sarah’s Fabrics are on the little side roads on either side of Woodin. Needletalk sells elegant lace fabrics and chiffon fabrics, and more common haberdashery items like buttons, elastic and zips. They are however quite pricey and these items can be found much cheaper at Makola Market but sometimes convenience trumps. Sarah’s Fabrics has a huge range of Western fabrics and the most incredible linen in almost every colour imaginable, it is however also expensive but occasionally I love to go and look and the linen pieces I have bought and sewn with are of excellent quality. Worth mentioning is also The Sewing Box for small sewing items, which is on 3rd Street in Akai House, not far from Oxford Street.
7. Ghana socks for Ghana men
Just in front of the petrol station where you may need to stop for a Fan Ice icecream to cool off, there is a man who has a little cart from which he sells socks, and if you are feeling particularly patriotic or just a guy who wants to add a bit of fun and colour to his feet, he sells very reasonably priced packs of socks designed as the Ghana flag – Dave loves them and I’ve had requests from family members to bring some home! They aren’t of course as great quality as the other patterned sock brands available at the trendy store Lokko House which are designed to look like Vlisco African wax fabrics, but they are cool! Be sure to tell him you have shopped their before or he will try to hike up the price.
8. Zaytoun Lebanese food – one of the bests in town!
To the right of the ‘I love Accra’ sign is a wonderful Lebanese restaurant Zaytoun. After all the shopping it is a great spot to enjoy a fresh juice (the watermelon one is delicious) and some amazing Lebanese food. Their falafel wraps, aubergine dip and fish tagine are delectable! We often order take away from them on the weekends and have never had a disappointing meal. The atmosphere at night is warm and inviting with lights hanging from the trees. You can also make your way up the small spiral staircase to enjoy a drink with an elevated view of Oxford Street!