The retail market in Ghana is like nothing I could have imagined. There is nothing in my prior experiences that could have prepared me for what I am seeing every day, and living with week by week. And these “retail” arenas are totally separate from the official “Markets” that are found as permanent fixtures scattered throughout the area.
Here in this country on the continent of Africa are few conventional stores as you and I would take for granted, not in the larger cities, and certainly not in the small towns. There are no fast food places – no McDonalds, no Burger King, no Popeyes or Starbucks. There are no department stores as we are accustomed to – no Sears, no JC Penney, no Macy’s. You will not find any drug stores to drop in – no Walgreens, no Rite Aids, no Bartells. No 7-11s. Certainly no Walmarts or Targets, and no PayLess Shoe Stores. No convenience stores of any type. But what you will find is hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people selling something, anything, anywhere, anytime – and for purposes of understanding how this system works, I will call all of these sellers of various items and services “Vendors.”
Vendors come in all shapes and sizes, quite a variety. To get a picture of how many types of vendors there are, I will label them as follows: “Upper” Vendors, those who sell from baskets and stacks and bowls carried on their heads calling out; “Lower” Vendors, those who sell from merchandise spread on the street and who sit behind their wares calling out; “Stall” Vendors, those who have temporary wooden stalls set up along the street, whose presence is expected, and therefore do not need to call out; and “Store” Vendors, those who have more permanent structures and are present every day, where members of the neighborhood patronize on a regular and continuous basis.
So the way that it works is: as you are driving down the street, and you come to a major intersection with lots of traffic and a wait of probably 2-3 lights long, the “Upper” vendors come streaming thru the traffic lanes, selling everything from batteries to water to cloth to ice cream packets to cell chargers to bread. They are the most familiar pictures from Africa, with their bowls and baskets balanced on their heads, walking proudly and swiftly thru the lines, weaving in and out, calling out their wares.
The “Lower” vendors, on the other hand, are stationery in one spot, and usually have their wares spread out on the ground, or on a piece of cloth. They could be selling used clothing, shoes, vegetables, or yams and plantains.
The “Stall” vendors are those who are in “temporary” structures, which may be wooden rooms with tin roofs, or tin rooms which are locked up every night. Their stall is completely empty when they are not there, but each day, starting from early morning, they are out there setting up with their wares, which could be laundry products, cell phones, food that is already prepared; or they could have behind the stalls a coalpot which is cooking plantains, yams, or other products to be eaten on the go.
Finally, you have the “Store” vendors, who have actual structures that are permanent, but not like any store you have visited. It is actually once large room, filled with many products of many types, and the usual practice is to say what you want, and then they go find it and bring it to you. These “stores” can be found almost anywhere, along any street, in any neighborhood, and are run for many hours as day.
In any event, the vendors all rely on whatever their business is to provide food for their family, and since they’re the only game in town, I patronize many of them, all four kinds. Shopping is yet another adventure!