In West Africa's Fastest Growing City

Buckeye Farm Beat

Ohio Farmer's Tim White on assignment in Ghana

Published on: October 25, 2011

As I write I am on assignment for ACDI/ VOCA in Tamale, Ghana. Tamale (with emphasis on the Tah syllable) is a northern Ghana city of more than 200,000. Although it is surrounded by small villages of farmers, I am told it is the fastest growing city in all of West Africa. And I believe it. This is a place on the move. During the day half of the populace seems to be on the main street traveling one direction or another on vehicles of all types. They travel on motorbikes of various shapes and sizes cycles, bicycles, cars, pickups, big trucks, a few tractors, or mainly on foot.

LONE TRACTOR: One of the things the small farmers ask me is, "Can you help get me a tractor?" I have seen only a few on the road.

CATCH A RIDE: Although are very expensive, the motorbike sales business is very strong in Tamale. Helmets and rider limits are unknown. I have seen as many as four on a single 150 cc bike.

The other half of the people of Tamale line the street engaged in various forms of sales enterprises. I'm talking everything from seamstresses to goat kabob cookers to cell phone service providers to motorbike salesmen to fertilizer distributors to aluminum door crafters to electrical appliance sellers to guys building and selling wooden beds made from teak. You can have your motorbike fueled or serviced by just pulling over on the sidewalk. The will repair your shoes. Cook your lunch. Add some time to your cell phone. On both sides it is a  2-mile enterprise zone unlike anything I have seen.

NEED A SHIRT: Equipped with 3 sewing machines these women offered to make me an African print shirt for about $10.

HEAVENLY FASHION: Why woud you buy anywhere else than here?

Most of these businesses are run out of converted shipping containers. Some have been modified with locking doors and barred windows. Many have been painted the orange, yellow or blue colors of the region's cellular services Vodaphone, MTN and Airtel. They also sport a business sign that carries the cellular logo below the name of the company business. As you walk you pass places like the God is Able Fashion Shop, Big Joe Enterprise, and Gentle Haircut.

BEST BUY: Need an appliance? Big Joe has it.

GRAIN STORE: THE Sunflower store had 110-kg sacks of rice, corn, soya beans, sunflowers and other grains for sale.

To walk along this street is an adventure in more ways than one. The pedestrian is last in line when it comes to right of way. Walker beware. The worst are the motorbikes which come at you from all directions thanks to their access to both roads and sidewalks. They are constantly beeping at someone to let them know they are in range. When cars try to enter this stream of vehicles they do so by edging into it relying on their bulk to discourage the advance of motorcycles and bikes. Crossing the traffic is matter of waiting for a large enough gap in the parade. Even when one rider slows to give you a chance, the bike next to him is likely to speed up to get by.

On the other hand the shopkeepers and sales folk are very friendly. They greet my efforts at the local "Good morning" with big smiles and the standard "Naaaa," which I interpret as a sort of "Back at ya." Although they use the local language, the people all speak English to some extent or another. I have found few who cannot communicate a little. And they are eager to talk. Curious to know where I am from, where I am staying and how long I will be there. Although it is clear these folks have little money and need to make a sale, they do not put that sort of pressure on me. They just want to chat. While the adults react shyly to my taking photos, the youngsters are eager to give me a big smile.

Blogging from Ghana, Africa
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