Saturday, 25 February 2012


Mounds of luminous trotters, pinker than a pig has ever been. Huge sheets of sea sponge being chopped into strips. Barbequed rats, piles of beans and spices, mops, live crabs, kente fabrics, washing machines, cheap plastic toys, chillies … the crowded lanes of Makola market contain everything and anything you might need, plus plenty you never will. Forget Accra Mall; this is where the city comes to shop.

The smells are less varied; the vast mounds of cooked fish win that battle fins down. They are smoked to within an inch of becoming charcoal, then stacked up and sold to flavour soups and stews. Their pungency fills the covered food section of the market.

Makola market sprawls over what roughly counts as the city centre, covering a huge area. Traders spill from its concrete hub into mazes of wooden sheds and even into the road in places, where irritable taxi drivers weave past women selling washing powder from huge metal bowls balanced on their heads. It’s as much a cash and carry, as most people are here to buy in bulk, taking advantage of the cheap prices to sell goods on at a profit elsewhere in Accra.

Ruth, Sarah and I wandered around the stalls, trying to avoid treading on the gangs of small children chasing each other beneath their mothers’ stalls (almost all sellers are women). The girls bought onions and spices, while I tried to take photos. Not so easy; people are reluctant even to have their stalls snapped, and I was often shooed away.

Pausing for a drink in the market cafĂ©, I asked the man who shared our table why this was. “It is their place of work, not a tourist attractions. Would you like us to photograph you at work?” came the reply. It’s a fair point; people are too busy working to mess about with obronis trying to photograph their tomatoes because they like the shade of red.

The fabric quarter was quiet compared to the food market, and we browsed the stalls at a leisurely pace. Sarah, a kente addict, bought cloth to be made into dresses and I brought some trouser material that I was sure Hannah would veto later (she did). Satisfied with both our purchases and for surviving the chaos, we hailed taxis and sped away from Makola, our driver nearly colliding with a stack of watermelons piled up in the road as we went.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


Early on Saturday morning, Sarah knocked at on door of our bungalow at Fanta’s Folly. Her justification for the disturbance was short and to the point: “They’ve got a turtle!”

During the night, villagers from Butre had found an Olive Ridley turtle on the beach and brought it to the lodge. As part of a turtle conservation scheme on Butre beach, the owners of Fanta’s Folly and two other lodges pay local people 30 cedis for any turtles they find, as an incentive not to eat them.

As we hurried down to the beach, Sarah explained they were keeping the creature for us to see. And there she was, turned on to her back to prevent her from escaping. I felt a pang of guilt, partly that they had kept her in that position just so I could see her, and partly because I was glad they had done so. Once flipped upright, she waddled awkwardly down the sand and as soon as she reached the water she swam gracefully away, disappearing from view with the first wave.

Unfortunately the people who found her had brought her to the lodge before she had laid her eggs. It would be easy to criticise this fledgling conservation scheme; eagerness to get a reward prevents several turtles from nesting, and nests are dug up and relocated to the lodge (to stop people collecting the eggs).

But the alternative would be worse, as turtles and their eggs are considered a good meal in Ghana. Over time, local people are learning how to treat the animals and perhaps one day the eggs can also be left. The success of the similar scheme at Akwidaa shows that progress happens quickly when well managed. The Olive Ridley we saw will probably return in a couple of days to nest, and hopefully next time she won’t be spotted.

The turtle proved to be the main activity on the first day at Fanta’s Folly, a resort near Asemkow that is fully geared to relaxation. No music, no traffic, no healthy activities, just the sound of the waves and delicious French-Nigerian food prepared by the owners. A flock of black-rumped waxbills pecking for seeds was about as crazy as the morning got as we made the most of our new hammock.

But on Sunday afternoon the sound of singing in Fante drifted over from along the beach. The villagers of Butre were helping to bring in the catch from the nets set out early that morning. Once hauled in, the myriad species flapped their last breaths in the bulging net – barracuda, snapper, lobster, skate, dory and jellyfish were among the ones I recognised. Enough for a live action version of ‘Finding Nemo’, or at least a tasty chowder.

As the men carried the nets back to Butre, the women shared out the catch. Agnes, a lady living in Butre explained that she and many others had moved to the coast from the Volta region, as the livelihood from fishing better than from farming. Clearly the incomers have settled well; she spoke Fante and the whole community seemed involved in the activity, with everyone getting their reward.

As the fish were being shared out, Robert bought five barracudas for 26 cedi – the price of two in Accra – and other tourists also went away with the freshest fish they are likely to ever buy. Children sat with buckets, squabbling for the tiniest specimens that were discarded into the sand (they were used for games rather than for eating), while vultures, crows and hawks watched from a safe distance, ready to clean up once the humans had left. A brief burst of activity in one of Ghana’s sleepiest resorts.