Our first trip to the market was something to behold. Cecelia led us through a myriad of shabby wooden stalls where locals sold everything from flip-flops to smoked fish rolled into spirals. Periodically we would stop at a table to examine an item from a toothless, grinning vendor. Cecelia provided her advice.
“You should get some beans,” she said, motioning the merchant to bag up legumes akin to that of black-eyed peas.
“You should get some palm oil,” another merchant handed us a half gallon of thick, firey-red liquid. She offered us a taste of the unusual stuff. One by one, we dipped our fingers into the bowl. It tasted like buttered popcorn, the kind you get at the movies.
“Do you take peanut paste?” Cecelia asked at another vendor.
“Peanut paste?” one of us asked.
“Yes, you know, made from groundnuts. We make it for soup.”
She placed a jar of what Americans know as peanut butter into our basket. We told her we spread it on bread. She laughed.
“That must taste odd. I will try it!” she exclaimed.
Cecelia was haggling with a vendor over tomatoes while the scene of the marketplace sank into me. Hundreds of people crowded into an area that spanned a mile in any direction. I saw a girl, perhaps my age, in the middle of a row of stalls.
She was beautiful.
Atop her head was a box of clear-plastic panels framed by wood, revealing tan colored balls of unknown substance. She was selling them. Like most Ghanaian women, she carried the box on top of her head as though it were no trouble at all. Such ease, such grace, she was a princess in a pauper’s land.
She was studying at me. I was studying her, her deep, dark eyes enticing and intriguing. I held my camera in front of me, but I did not take a photo. I couldn’t, I didn’t feel right, without asking her permission. I knew that if I did, she would surely say “no.”
It was a standoff of observation between two worlds.
I waited. I waited until she thought that I was no longer watching her, but she kept looking at me. She put the box on the ground.
The shutter snapped as she stood back up.
As regrets go, I wish I had asked her for a photo. To have such a subject, to do her beauty justice. Her image encompassed everything I felt that day.
I never even asked her name.