I am walking through the aisles with a grande Americano in hand. I had intended to make a quick run out to pick up wet wipes and pull-ups.
Smiling, I look down at a cart filled to the brim with organic dried fruit, throw pillows, candles, picture frames, matching Cat and Jack sun-hats for the girls, and a kitschy print reading “Keep Calm and…wait of course you’re calm, you’re at target!” Oh yeah, and there were diapers and wipes in there too.
I wake up from my dream, sweating to the loud hum of the neighbor’s generator. The power is out, and there isn’t a Target within 1,000 miles…what a torturous dream. My husband hops out of bed to go turn on the generator. I roll over and try to go back to sleep in hopes of continuing my Target dream.
When I first had both of my daughters, making a “Target run” was a quick escape to have 40 minutes to myself. Almost always a rushed trip to beat the breastfeeding clock, it was still my “happy place”.
Maybe there is something really lacking in my life, or I am easily entertained, but it was just enjoyable for me. If anyone were to tell me shopping in Ghana was that relaxing, I’d say “Prove it!” The truth is, it is challenging at best, and triggers the widest range of emotions.
There are about five large “supermarkets” in Accra, in addition to a few smaller markets most selling just food. To be honest, there are far more stores to choose from than I was expecting. As my husband says, “We live in a city, you can find anything.” While this statement is technically accurate,you may have to drive to every store in the city over a span of 2 weeks to find that one thing that isn’t just “anything”.
I once saw a recipe someone posted on Facebook for a salad that looked delicious. It took me a month to find all the ingredients.
Driving through the country, I realize that it could have been much worse. Small villages, just an hour drive from Accra, appear to have much less.
I am very grateful for what I have access to, but admittedly, I am spoiled. I am used to walking through a bread aisle that has 12 different varieties of wheat bread. Do I want the name brand wall mount for the TV, or the cheaper alternative? Now, I just pick between white and wheat. No deliberation necessary, those are the only options. And I’ll just take any TV wall mount that I can find.
The four-word phrase, “Sorry it is finished” is possibly the most disappointing and frustrating thing to hear when I shop in Ghana. “It is finished” could mean they had some last week and are sold out, or they had some two years ago and it is now “finished”. Don’t expect the item to be restocked when they get their next shipment. Who even knows when the next shipment will be?! Just hop in your car and move on to the next shop.
The beauty of shopping in Accra, though, is the thrill of the hunt. People say to stock up on things when you find them. When I first moved here, I didn’t know what was common to find and what wasn’t. It takes experience to differentiate.
Thankfully I inherited my mom’s shopping gene, and I get some sort of high off of finding something I didn’t think existed, like an urban archaeologist. I find it, and immediately buy all that I can. My husband comes home from work and asks about my day. When I express glee for having found fresh cilantro, almond butter, and Kraft macaroni and cheese, I think he must wonder if I have lost my mind, but it is truly so satisfying.
The Small Victories Matter
One week was particularly challenging; I was really frustrated with Ghana living, I walked into the store and found Peach-Pear La Croix and an all natural all-purpose cleaner I love,. I thought “Everything is going to be ok.” I drove home with a smile on my face that day. Celebrate the small victories.
There is just something so indescribably comforting about finding a product from home. It’s like you travel back for just a moment, with one sip of that La Croix, and suddenly you can “deal.”
You can accept that your favorite “superstore” isn’t right down the block, and realize that it is saving you hundreds of dollars a month! That one “score” buys you some time to deal with the insanity of running all over the city to find ingredients for dinner, or shopping for two weeks to prepare to host Thanksgiving.
Then, the next time you are “down and out” or feeling homesick, you can start anew when you find fresh blueberries or those Greek yogurt-covered Craisins your kids love.
Last week, my friend let me in on the secret. She told me about “Accrostco”as she calls it (a clever portmanteau of Accra and our beloved Costco). After two failed attempts at finding it, I finally stumble into an unassuming pink warehouse with no sign and just a small door entry.
I feel as if I’m entering into some secret room you see only see in movies that requires a special knock or password to enter. I walk in the store and immediately see 30-pack rolls of toilet paper, 28-count packages of Kirkland applesauce, Tide Free and Clear detergent…now that experience warrants its own story.
I must say, there are some Ghanaian and European gems I have discovered living here that I surely will miss when I am back in the US. For now, onwards I go, shucking endless oysters and finding unexpected pearls.