Day 8 – Leaving Bolga

We had only intended to spend one night in Bolgatanga, but it turned out to be such an interesting town, we spent four, and wish we could spend more, but I have the pleasure of preaching at Asbury Dunwell Church on Sunday, so I need to get back to prepare.

Our last days are spent buying baskets, and saying good-bye to the friends we have made there, and visiting the historic Catholic Church in Navrongo.

[woman head-loading Elephant grass]

Straw Baskets make such great gifts, we’ve seen them for sale at Whole Foods, and in some of the upscale catalogs, but buying them at the market is so much more fun. Finding the basket market on Market Day is easy, just follow back the trail of basket laden bicycles…or ask, which we do, several times.

[baskets on bikes]

[baskets at Whole Foods, in Austin. Snapped right before we left]

Turns out the Basket Market is different than the Market Day market, which is more a live animal auction located next to what the Bradt guide map calls the “New Market.” The New Market sells most of the items you would expect in a major market town, plus a dizzying array of hides sold in thin strips at several vendors. I recognize the skins of lion, crocodile, snake, goat, dog (I’m guessing) and other skins I have no idea, maybe cat, rabbit, antelope? There are 100s, neatly laid out for the practitioners traditional medicine. Elsewhere I see tall mounds of the tanned goat skins that are the traditional dark red leather for wallets, bags, chairs, and floor pillows of the region. Like most markets there is also the place of “broni wa wo,” meaning dead white man’s clothes, but I’m sure they have another name for it, as broni is Twi, a language not spoken here much. We see a shirt from our hometown of Austin, from Hooters, and its signed. Ah! Couldn’t we have found something more honorable from Austin, like a Keep Austin Weird shirt or my favorite: Austin Texas: home of romance, live music, and road construction.

[Hooters shirt]

Then we walk past the animal market and see mostly goats and people leading goats away by bicycle, moto-bike, or stuffing them in the boot (trunk) of a taxi. People joke with us…”Don’t you want to buy a goat?” “Not today,” I say, which I find myself saying a lot. It is not correct to just refuse, or say, no. Street sellers will just continue to work on you, but say the magic words: “Not Today,” and they say “Ok…tomorrow then” and leave you alone.

[Animal Market – fence]

[Animal Market – barbed wire]

[Animal Market – man on bicycle with goat]

[Animal Market – goats]

We keep asking around around for the Basket Market until we are lead to it, which it turns out to be a place we had stumbled into our first day but didn’t know it. Basket sellers remember us from three days earlier first day, “My friend,” or “Mister Steve” they shout, and Anna and I examine their baskets, and after selecting a buyer, we spend maybe 30 minutes bartering for a fair price.

[room of baskets]

The Art of Barter


Bargaining is a social art, one that generally has little to do with price, and all about the game, and its relationship. Sure they want to make money, and will never sell at a loss.

The game begins by the seller offering a crazy high price, like 20 cedi a basket.

I offer 5 cedi. He laughs nervously, expecting me to counter with 50% of the starting price, not 25%. “Five cedi is no good.” There is 30 to 40 seconds when neither of us speak as he fingers the product, expecting me to break the silence and raise my bid. I’ve learned to say nothing. After a minute I motion to him, open handed, inviting him to respond. His counter is critical because whatever he counters with, I will match from my starting price, and from this point it almost always goes for halfway between our second bids, so it is important to not counter too high.

[they also sell hats, but it is hard to take someone serious when wearing a hat like that]

Next he will say 18, and I say 7, and in a few moments we will have pretty much established that the final price will be 10, which I could have offered as my opening bid, but then we would be settling on more like 15. If the haggling stalls, the seller will quickly put the item in a black plastic bag, and push it into my hand saying “you take” and name the price we’re stuck on, in this case 12 cedi. Usually then something distracting happens, like another seller butting in at this point, or the seller disappearing for a few minutes. I think this is purposeful as it is to seal the deal.

I can try to hand the bag back, but he will refuse it. Setting the bag down is an insult, so I’m left holding the bag, and he makes it sound like we have agreed on his price. I have a choice, I can hand it back, name my price, and once he accepts the bag back, I know he will take my price if I start to walk away. Then he gets all quiet on my, whispering in a low voice, like I’m getting such a good deal, he doesn’t want anyone else to know. “Ok, you take.” Now the key here is to have exact change, because it is poor form to work down the price, and then expect change. The game of barter is that my buying price is supposed to be all I have, and even if we agree on a price, if I don’t have exact change, the change will come back a cedi or two short, which seems to be the price of asking for change. [read more about getting change from our friend Nina – click here].

So I felt pretty good about our purchases until I got back to Accra and learned (from our intern-daughter Natalie) I could have gotten them for half that, if I’d gone to the village and bought direct.

The Navrongo Cathedral

[outside, side view]

[outside, front view]

Then we visited the Navrongo Cathedral, the place Nina, our Ashesi friend had told Suzanne about. The town is a bit of an anomaly, predominately Catholic while the surrounding area is Muslim. It seem that in 1906 French-Canadian missionaries established a Catholic mission station by the name of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. In 1920 a new larger chapel, was built and later dedicated as a cathedral in 1934 and as not only the It is the last of the mud cathedral in Ghana, but the Mother Parish of all the parishes in Northern Ghana.

[inside Altar]

[inside rear]

[wooden pews]

[remember your baptism]

The Cathedral is impressive, painted in the traditional geometric patterns and scenes from everyday life. Its the kind of place that is hard to photograph and still preserve the sanctity of the place.

[geometric side isle]

[bishop’s hat]

[Angel]

[Angel with cup]

[A blue door leading outside (for Kaylenn)]

We leave for Austin the next morning, taking an STC…finally, but should have been 14 hours turns into 20 as it kept overheating and the driver stopped to let the engine cool and fill the radiator with water and leak stop. 

Near Techiman we stop for an hour and they are selling tomatoes that have been picked that day, whole boxes of them perhaps 3.5 ft square. I go to make friends with the seller and learn a box is 15 cedi and they are headed to Tamale. “Do you want?” he asks. “Can you put on STC?” I counter. “Somehow,” he shakes his head, all sad looking, and I say “Next time then,” and he says “By all means.”

“Somehow,” or “By all means” are two ways of saying no or not likely without really saying it. Like the young men who will say to me “Your daughter, will she be my wife?” to which I reply “by all means.”

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