Sam Simon

An Alternative to Trinkets

It was definitely the little boy pulling the head off a live chicken, not the man defecating in the street or the smell of burning trash that put me on edge. This back alley was one more dead-end in a labyrinth of roads I’d walked, trying to retrace my steps to the busy main streets.

The equatorial summer was getting the best of me as I walked to the central market, searching for refuge from the unbearable humidity and thundering rain. When I finally arrived, stall after stall of discarded electronics, fake-gold watches, and Louis Vuitton knock-offs greeted me. Although its pace was lively, it was otherwise uninspiring and hardly the cultural essence of Ghana that had been pitched to me.

As I turned up a busy street and headed into the heart of the market, the vender’s shouts of Obruni and “white-man” grew nearly as strong as my lack of interest in whatever they were peddling. I wandered further away from the commotion; a tactic I hoped would lead me to something more than what I’d already found.

Sitting down on the side of the road, I downed the rest of my water and checked the time. There were still four hours until my bus was departing but considering I was lost in a new city, that wasn’t comforting at all. Shortly after, a group of young men loudly summoned me to their small shop. Ignoring their hissing and shouts proved useless and I realized speaking to them was my best option.

I tentatively walked their way, hoping they too were simply trying to get me to buy something, but instead, I was greeted with a thumb snap and a bag of water. When one of the men offered me the remaining chicken on his plate, my demeanor shifted from apprehensive to confused. The gravity of the situation didn’t dawn on me until a woman carrying a newborn baby emerged from the shop and everyone rose to their feet as she quietly approached me. Without uttering a word, she took my hand and placed it on the forehead of her child while whispering a prayer.

When she finished praying, our hands still intertwined, she looked up at me with tear-stained-eyes and delivered a faint squeeze of gratitude. The group dispersed silently, leaving me to contemplate if either of us understood the effect we had had on each other. It was clear by her demeanor that my presence moved her and her child, but she’ll never know how meaningful her faith felt to me. I walked away, back toward the smell of burning garbage and shouts of haggling. Back into Accra.

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