The centre of any Ghanaian town is without any doubt the market. The marketplace is often the only affordable way of buying necessities such as produce, materials, clothes, crafts and household items; it is relied upon by both buyers and sellers alike. In many cases it is hard to identify when the marketplace ends and the shops begin as many stores are openair and constructed of wood!
Bolga holds a market every three days. Rather than being undertaken on set dates the Bolga markets is literally conducted three days apart, which can get rather confusing. Nonetheless this makes sense as families and businesses are unable to buy and store large quantities of food. Three day markets therefore provide sellers with sustainable income and buyers with an affordable shopping schedule.
As in many markets it is possible to haggle however I was surprised to learn that the barter culture in Ghana is weak. Instead prices are set according to convention, with customers generally knowing how much they should and will be paying. Yet at the same time it can be hard to keep up with convention as prices are constantly changing in line with Ghana’s rapid inflation. I have found that foreigners are at times given slightly higher prices, which is often met by laughter from passers-by.
It is not rare to turn up to a store one day and find it closed or even gone the next. Products also seem to go in and out of ‘season’ very quickly. The whole of Bolga has limited stock, with consumer choice being reliant on irregular deliveries.
In terms of food; ready meals and frozen items (apart from ice cream) are out of the question, every meal must be prepared from fresh ingredients, you can really taste the difference! Although I have yet to venture into the livestock segment of the marketplace it is obvious that if families own cattle, goats or chickens livelihoods can be changed dramatically.
In a similar vein to the food, the best clothes Ghana has to offer cannot be purchased complete and must be crafted from scratch. Ghanaian fabric is brought in yards for an average amount of around 6 Cedi (£1.75) a measure. This is then taken to talented tailors and dressmakers who are able to make a vast variety of fitted garments. Although I am personally having a short sleeved poker shirt made (It is going to look awesome!) for 15 Cedi (£4.40) I have heard stories of other volunteers causing bewilderment with their tailors when asking for western crop top and play suit designs. However it’s not only individuals that consume fabrics. Highly skilled artisans will use the fabrics to make a vast variety of products such as baby carriers, floor mats, table cloths and pillow cases.
When it comes to transactions I have found Ghanaians to be very trusting. You never feel rushed to pay for an item and I have found that it is often myself indicating when I should pay vendor. To put things into perspective, I cannot see it being uncommon to pay for goods the following day, especially when they don’t have change.
In comparison to home you can really see the effort and raw materials that go into a finished product. As opposed to items being readily available on the shelf you have to think more creatively and it is noticeable that business is being done in a less competitive manner. There are very little luxury items on sale with a typical Ghanaian shopping trip consisting of buying necessities.