This morning we slept in, since we didn’t have to be anywhere before dawn (thank goodness). Also, Ghana shuts down on Sunday mornings (everyone’s at church), so there wasn’t much point in an early start. We ate breakfast at Swad Fast Food, a somewhat misleadingly named restaurant that, per the guidebook, is the best in town. Nominally an Indian restaurant, it actually serves a collection of European-style dishes, Ghanaian cuisine, pizza, and oh yes, some Indian dishes as well. Some of them appear to be “lost in translation”: I ordered lamb mignon in garlic butter sauce yesterday and wound up getting strips of lamb swimming in garlic, butter, and some unidentifiable Indian spice. It was tasty and I ate every bit, but it wasn’t the lamb steak I had been expecting.
After that, we went out to look at the Cultural Institute, but it was closed. Then we went to a place where a local drumming troupe plays (and sells cultural artifacts), but it was closed. In fact, all the places we went were closed, which is not surprising since Ghana mostly shuts down on Sundays. Finally, Chuku (my guide) took me by the main market, where we embarked on a quest for bushmeat, specifically rat. Chuku explained to me that rat was excellent – one of his favorite meats – and we were hoping to buy some so he could ask the guesthouse cook to cook it for us! So we plunged into the market on our quest.
The market was the usual warren of small stalls: women selling millet, corn, and some unidentifiable round gray grain; butchers chopping up meat, flies swarming on the carcasses; children selling packets of ice water from baskets perched precariously on their heads; vendors selling big, dirty gray hand-formed lumps of soap from baskets, along with talc stones and othersuch. We went to the butcher’s section, where people were hacking up carcasses and offering up different kinds of meats. On one long table were a set of cow heads, hair scraped off, horns protruding, looking like skulls except with the skin still on. Chuku explained to me that people bought the heads to eat the meat inside, which I suppose made sense – headcheese is listed as a delicacy in The Joy of Cooking, though I haven’t had a chance to try it. Nonetheless, it looked kind of grisly.
Thousands of flies swarming over hacked-up carcasses, the dead bodies of small, headless, gutted quadrupeds – pigs? Goats? – no way of telling – piled high. A pile of intestines sitting on a leaf, swarmed by more flies. A telltale odor in the air – not quite rotting flesh, more the scent of warm flesh on a hot day – was making me a little queasy. Especially since the meat I’ve been eating was undoubtedly purchased in a market just like this one, flies and no refrigeration, hacked off a carcass with a machete. I reminded myself sternly that cooking destroys bacteria and renders meat safe to eat, and plunged on. Sometimes you don’t want to know too much about where your food comes from.
We wound our way through the market, Chuku stopping to ask merchants where we might find bushmeat, and arrived at the bushmeat-seller’s stall only to find out they were closed because…chant it with me…it was Sunday. We continued following other leads, and as we went around a corner I stopped short – there was a stall full of fugu!
Fugu are the blue-and-white smocks/robes commonly worn in the north. They are hugely oversized from the waist up – more like big ponchos than like shirts – and gusseted at the bottom, flaring out hugely. I find them kind of heavy and weird-looking, but that was hardly the point: they are traditionally made out of handspun, indigo-dyed cotton, so I desperately wanted one!
The stall keeper came out and introduced himself to me, and they started showing me fugu. The first one they showed me was all white, with a coarse weave. I took a look at the yarns – yep, handspun! I asked if they had any blue-and-white ones, and they showed me one, but it was made out of commercial yarns. Disappointed, I asked if they had any blue and white ones with handspun yarns, but was unable to explain the concept of handspun – they thought I meant handwoven, and of course it was all handwoven. Finally I dickered with them over the price of a white one, and we had just settled on a figure when someone dug out an indigo-dyed, handspun fugu! They gave it to me at the same price, so now I finally have my fugu. It’s coarsely woven – I’m estimating a sett of 16 ends per inch, and maybe 14 picks per inch – and is lined inside with fine muslin sacking. (I know it’s sacking because the material has “Hard Spring Wheat” and the name of the grower still printed on it, in huge letters.) It’s hand-sewn with large, sprawling stitches, and is embroidered with a single row of chain-stitch around the neck. I love it.
Anyway, following that, the shopkeeper took us to another bushmeat-seller’s stall, but they were also closed, because…all together now…it was Sunday. We continued to wend our way through the market, and suddenly Chuku stopped and pointed out a man selling piles of dubious herbs, sprinkling water on…a pair of ball pythons!
I asked him what the snakes were for and he thought the guy might be using them as an advertisement, to demonstrate that his medicines were proof against snakebite. I said, “But those snakes aren’t poisonous!” His next guess was that the guy was selling them as medicine – eat the snake and it will give you powers, improve your health, etc.
At this point I briefly envisioned doing a PETA-style rescue and purchasing the ball pythons to let them loose elsewhere – I used to have five ball pythons and hate the idea of someone eating such an adorable creature – but reluctantly gave it up in the face of (a) not knowing their native habitat, (b) having no way to get them there, and (c) not being able to change the fundamental fact that Ghanaians eat snakes. (And cats, I might add.) Sometimes you just have to accept that people do things differently elsewhere. But I’m still not eating ball pythons. Or cat. I think that would be very bad karma.
At any rate, we never did find a bushmeat vendor, so it looks like I won’t be sampling rat tonight. Tomorrow we’re headed up to Bolgatanga, which also has a major market, so maybe we’ll find some there. For the rest of the day, I’m just going to kick back and relax, since everything is closed on Sunday.