by Sean Gabriel
Whenever people ask me about my year abroad in Ghana, one of the first things that comes to mind is the warmth I experienced from everyone I met - whether through smiles and laughs at my clumsy Ghanaian handshake, or what you might best describe as "aggressive curiosity" from hawkers and children alike, always eager to follow and catch your attention. There's never a dull moment particularly in Accra, but for all the faces I'd come across on a given day, among one of my favorites are a group of often unappreciated women who keep daily life in the city humming at a chaotic yet oddly harmonious pace.
I'll always be partial to Auntie Mary, my favorite produce vendor off Oxford Street and the first to teach me the cultural norms around when to stop haggling over a few cedis and instead accept a dash (something extra she’d put into my bag - a bonus for becoming a regular!). Some days I'd find her daughter sharing the stand, or granddaughter playing with carrots, yet rain or shine Auntie Mary was a dependable source of not just fruits but lively conversation - I was always wished well on my way and told to "give regards to Madam," i.e. my partner who Auntie Mary infrequently saw but always inquired about with enthusiasm.
Contrast this to your typical supermarket checkout at home, with disengaged tellers who barely glance at you before moving on to the next customer (though to be fair, my gaze is often fixed on the card reader as well). Here in Ghana it's not just the highly variable prices that force you into conversation - when a woman strides confidently through a busy street balancing an impossible number of mangoes/avocados/bananas/what-have-you on her head, you're reminded of the human aspect in buying your daily bread. But when she then bags your purchase and fishes out accurate change amid the balancing act, you're left amazed by what's considered a commonplace skill here. Often my grocery tellers at home can barely manage the register!
While technically not always 'fruit' ladies per se (the most popular one I knew just sold yam chips and fried meats, and always had lunch lines around the block) the informal food merchant scene seems to be dominated by women across the board.
Curious to know about Sean's other favorite group of people? Find out in a few blog posts to come!
About the author: Sean is a software product manager currently living in London, and a former Technical Fellow at the MEST Incubator in Accra. His encounters with fruit ladies even inspired him to lead a team hackathon around this idea for Accra's inaugural Global Game Jam in 2015. You can find him on Twitter @skaulana or his personal site kaulana.com.