Africa, Travel Stories

A trip to Kumasi

My Birkenstocks kick up dust as I walk towards town, holding my breath as the trucks carrying large tanks of water lumber past, blowing thick plumes of exhaust in my face. The sun has barely risen, but today there’s a skip in my step. I barely feel the weight of my backpack hugging my shoulders, reminding me of the adventure that awaits.

My destination is Kumasi, a market town four hours away, rich in history and culture. Something I’ve been missing from the overdeveloped capital city. It’s not so much where I’m going, as the fact that I’m going somewhere. After volunteering in Ghana for three months, putting a halt to my incessant country hopping, I’m ready to move again. Even if it’s just for the weekend, even if I’ll be staying put for the next two months afterward.

The journey begins slowly, stalled by morning traffic on our way to Accra, where we’ll catch another bus. I am anxious to escape the congestion, ready to feel the freedom of motion. Just the thought of couch surfers, street food, and hours of traveling ahead of me are enough to quicken my uncaffeinated nerves, ready to soak up new sights and sounds. As I heave my mustard colored pack into the back of the tro-tro I realize I’m a bit rusty, slower than usual in my movements, not as confident as I was three months ago when I was used to the rhythm of leaving.

I have four days to regain my sense of independence and Kumasi is the perfect place to practice. The entire city is one huge, sprawling market. Soon, the life and blood that spills out from all sides gets underneath my fingernails, exhilarating and exhausting my dulled senses. 
Kumasi Market 2014

We arrive and quickly get lost in the dark crevices of the market streets, illuminated with flashes of richly colored fabric, blazing patterns, and embers burning low underneath large pots of steaming food. “Obruni! Obruni! How are you? What is your name?” Thick grubby hands grab our arms, clutching briefly around our wrists before we brush them off, sometimes with a smile, more often than not, with a glare. An older woman looks up at my bare white legs with disdain, laughing smugly she slaps my thigh and makes a motion with her hands, indicating my shorts are too short to be proper. Close by a young naked boy starts crying when he catches sight of me, glowing strangely in a sea of painted black bodies.
TheBarefootBeatKumasi, Ghana 2014

We push further inside the covered stalls and run down shops, breathing in the stagnant air of freshly chopped meat and dried sweat. Smoked bats line one side of the narrow alley, their wings spread out like angels or demons, evoking a primordial response of fear and appall on my part. Neon skinny jeans stretched out on hangers lie just opposite the severed pig legs and ripened red tomatoes, further ahead used blenders sit idly on a blanket, covering the pavement below. Puffs of flour brush my nostrils as I watch in confusion as a young girl covered in the white substance picks up dried sticks from the ground. The atmosphere is suffocating and as the streets become more narrow I fight off the panic of claustrophobia.

Everywhere women are walking briskly, rushing to sell the last of their plantains and sachets of pure water, balancing nearly empty metal bowls on their shaved heads. I admire their determination and the organized chaos they seem to navigate with surety, with purpose. It’s pure madness, but I get the feeling it’s a living, breathing organism I can’t comprehend. I am frightened yet enthralled by the implications of life lived so close to its essence, stripped bare of any pretense.
TheBarefootBeatKumasi, Ghana 
*Photo credit Lena Wrobbel

We stumble upon a building with a stairwell and leap up the stairs, taking the opportunity to gather our bearings, avoiding the hawkers selling football jerseys and mens’ boxers in the shadows below. The market stretches for miles and we are lost in its enormity, one with the chaos. It feels good to be swept into the madness, to feel the heaviness of the air stick to my skin, to brush arms and elbows and shoulders with strangers as we collide, following an undetermined path. Everything around around me is alive with urgency and haste. Each action is committed without hesitancy. There’s no time to think or plan, only reaction and movement.
Kumasi Market, Ghana
*Photo credit Lena Wrobbel

This fever is contagious and starts to burn inside of me, quickening my pulse, and adding weight to my being, putting me in my place and keeping me there.

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