ArchiveBlogBlog 15

One Man’s Trash?

The word “no” hasn’t been a popular one in my vocabulary for at least a decade now. This is mostly due to the fact that I absolutely hate unnecessary arguments. Lucky for me, it turns out that the abilities to say “no” and enjoy a good argument are two of the most useful skills you can have when spending time in Ghana.

As a student pursuing a communications-related major, I have known very well for a while now that in the United States, someone is always trying to sell you something. It’s the same here in Ghana. However, they’re a lot less subtle about it. As soon as you leave the airport you’ll notice hawkers walking in between cars, shouting and shoving their wares through your car windows. One of my favorite hawker-related experiences was when I was on my way home from work and a man shoved a puppy through my window of the trotro. It was dangerously enticing.

But unfortunately, you can’t buy puppies off the side of the road whenever someone shoves one in your face. This is where being able to say “no” comes in handy, even if it means you have to sit in non-moving traffic while the puppy man stands outside your window staring you down until traffic finally starts moving again.

But thankfully, “no” is just one word, and usually when it’s repeated often enough it does the trick. Bargaining and trading, however, take a lot more work, brainpower and, if you ask me, a certain amount of talent. The first time most of us had to bargain our way through a situation was when we had to negotiate taxi fares for the first time. We were warned that because we look like foreigners, we would be charged even higher than usual taxi fares. Luckily, one of my coworkers at Citi FM gave me a formula for arguing with taxi drivers: cut the initial price in half, then slowly bargain your way up to but no farther than an additional 25 percent. I ended up using this formula to bargain for other price-negotiable purchases as well.

Though in my opinion, the most difficult kind of negotiation that we had to do by far was trading. It’s easy to negotiate in terms of dollars or cedis because they have an absolute value. But in trading you find that while one man’s trash can sometimes be another man’s treasure, a lot of the time the other man also thinks your trash is just trash. The value of objects is highly subjective depending on whom you’re trying to trade with.

Trading seems to require a certain combination of endurance, talent and luck. A lot of the time it can be immensely frustrating. In one day I saw another student trade away a barely-used pair of Nike sneakers for a handful of trinkets, while a pack of tissues and two bars of soap she stole from a hotel got her an entire dress later on. Though if you have the endurance and a talent for persuasion, and if you bargain long and hard enough, you can usually come to some sort of agreement. The only thing that matters is that both sides of the bargain feel like they’re getting something out of it. No one will trade with you if they think you’re giving them a bad deal.

Coming to the end of our trip, I feel pretty confident when it comes to negotiating prices in monetary terms and can now say no whenever I need to, though I definitely need some more practice when it comes to trading. Overall, I managed to learn a little about not being afraid to be stubborn, which can at times prove to be just as useful as being flexible.