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I belong to a spouses group in Ghana that has committed to assist a very poor school in Accra by outfitting them with new desks and chairs. I ended up with the task of accompanying the carpenter to purchase the lumber necessary to build the furniture. It was quite an adventure, so the next time you pop into a hardware store to pick something up, please think of me!
I was told that the best place to purchase lumber (I am still not convinced there is not a single store in Accra that sells lumber), was at the Accra Lumber market, so my driver and I accompanied the carpenter to the market to purchase the materials.
When we parked at our destination, I looked around and all I saw was a normal road lined by shops. However, as soon as we stopped, several men approached the car. They either represented a store inside the market or they offered transportation of lumber after your purchases. Their job was to get us to commit to using their services even before we saw what else was on offer.
We went down a narrow alley and into the market. It was an open air market with a number of sheds, each selling lumber ….
There was a lot of activity, movement of lumber back and forth, you had to watch your back carefully or get run over.
Luckily the carpenter was going to one specific guy so we did not have to have to negotiate with too many of the sellers. Negotiating with the seller was a complicated exchange. He told us about the quality of the wood and how far he had to travelled to get it. We pointed out that we could go elsewhere and also tried to appeal to his heart, talking about the children standing all day at school with nowhere to sit. Finally we agreed on a price that allowed both parties to save face.
We then had to select the lumber.
Various people (some well dressed) were hanging around. They all seemed to be involved in our transaction which made me wonder at the end of the day, how much each person really earned!
During the selection of the wood, I had to be very firm with them. I took the tape measure and checked the length to make sure that we were not being short changed, and made them take out some pieces that did not seem up to the same standard as the others.
I finally started to get a little respect, so much respect that the lumber sellers offered me a cut from the deal. They realised that I was purchasing on behalf of someone else, so they offered to make the invoice up for more than I actually paid so that they could “dash” me a little under the table! So, when you see me next in my brand new BMW …
Anyway, once the lumber was selected, we had to pay “the boys” to have it transported from the lumber shed to the shed where it would be planed and cut.
Next the wood had to be planed. For this, we went to a shed where a young man was managing his father’s business. In this world, the one who invests in the machinery wins. He was a bit more organised, fewer employees / hangers on, probably because they were dealing with very dangerous machinery without any protective gear at all. Michael, my driver, was able to negotiate a good price with them because they were from the same region of Ghana and spoke the same language.
Then we had to organise to get the wood cut. The carpenter would measure each piece of wood and mark off where he wanted it cut for the desks and chairs. We had to pay per cut made.
This guy bought plywood from one store (a concept neither Michael nor the carpenter could fathom). He then used a pattern he had brought with him to draw shapes so that the guy with the cutting machine could cut out the patterns.
This young man had a machine that bored holes into the wood. We paid him to make holes in the legs of the chairs. There were many more machines down this aisle to shape the wood and make joints of various types.
Next we went to purchase nails, glue and so on at the hardware “store”.
With all of the transactions completed, we were finally able to go home several hours later, leaving the carpenter behind to oversee the work and to organise for transport of the finished wood from the cutting shed to the road and then from the road to the school.
On my way out of the market, I had to pass by some stalls selling some strange items. Many herbs, what we would call ‘bush’ and tree barks. Michael told me that they cured various ailments. Then there were the stalls with animal skins, lizards, frogs and other similar sized animals that seemed to have been dried and perhaps salted. Michael was hesitant to describe their purpose, so I can only imagine. Let’s just say, I did not get too close with my camera on those.