Project Bly Brings World Street Market Culture To You

Mumbai street market
Courtesy of Shriti Bannerjee, ProjectBly.com

If you are the kind of traveler who lives for digging through flea markets and wandering through souks, you might want to travel over to ProjectBly.com, a new lifestyle website featuring a rotation of world street market collections. In addition to shopping for carefully curated home goods and textiles, you can also check out street photography, food, fashion and members’ profiles.

Bly highlights a new city and one-of-a-kind market goods every two months, working with local photojournalists to capture the style and spirit of each place. The website works with local vendors and artisans directly to get a fair price on goods, and gives 5 percent of proceeds to local charities. The first featured city is Mumbai, India, with La Paz, Bolivia, debuting in early June. Other cities planned for the first year include Kumasi, Ghana; Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Malacca, Malaysia; and Berlin, Germany.

Bly is named after Nellie Bly, a pioneering female journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days in 1889 with just two day’s notice and one small bag (check out a nifty drawing of Nellie Bly’s packing list, which included a flask and a jar of cold cream). The founder of Bly, Rena Thiagarajan, was born in the former Indian city of Madras (now Chennai) and now lives in San Francisco, and has traveled the world in search of unique design finds and street culture.

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Get hunting at ProjectBly.com and check out the slideshow of street photography featured on the site.

VIDEO: Nima Market In Accra, Ghana


Accra, the capital of Ghana, is an established point on the African tourism trail thanks to its good flight and cruise connections, its Anglophone accessibility, its beautiful beaches and the stability of the nation.

Less often seen, however, is Nima Market. Located in one of the poorest areas of the city and home to many migrants from rural Ghana and nearby countries coming to the big city in search of work, it is the heartbeat of the neighborhood. This video takes us on a slow walk through the stalls.

The best thing about this video is that the cameraman uses a lot of close-ups, giving us a shopper’s-eye view of all the food for sale, from the delicious-looking tomatoes to the humongous snails. There are also a lot of fruits and vegetables most Westerners would have trouble naming.

While the produce and the clothing are colorful, you can see that all is not well in Nima. Many of the people have a careworn look, and the man selling shoes only wears a pair of battered flip-flops on his own feet. This blog post by Ghanean blogger and journalist Zainabu Issah highlights some of the challenges the vendors at Nima Market face.

The harder side of life is a part of travel that we can’t shut our eyes to, and witnessing the struggles of people in other cultures can open our own minds. It’s these insights that are often the most important part of our trip.

10 reasons to visit Ghana, Africa

cape coast castle When planning a vacation, it isn’t too often you hear people choosing Ghana as their must-visit destination. In reality, there are many unique and worthwhile experiences to be had in this African country. Before I visited, I was unsure what to expect, as I didn’t know anyone who had ever been there. However, the friendly people, unique foods, and culturally immersive experiences made me fall in love with the country. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, here are 10 reasons you should add Ghana, Africa, to your bucket list.

Rich history

There are many fascinating museums and historical sites to visit in Ghana. If you want this to be the focus of your trip, I would recommend making a stop in the city of Cape Coast. This is where you’ll find Cape Coast Castle (pictured above) and Elmina Castle, two castle museums that were stops on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. While hard to stomach, a tour of these castles will give you an important lesson in history as you are shown dungeons, slave vessels, old cannons and secret chambers while hearing stories of the past. There are also numerous forts, like Fort William and Fort Victoria, which were used as lookout points to protect the city from Ashanti attacks in the nineteenth century.drums and music Lively drum and music culture

Everywhere you go in Ghana, you will find locals dancing to drum beats and listening to upbeat sounds. Even walking down the street in the capital of Accra, I felt like the sound of the Djembe drum was the soundtrack of my life. Nevertheless, this made it impossible to ever feel unhappy. When I was in Kokrobite, my friend and I took drum lessons on the beach from the boys at the local Berlin Drum School. It was amazing how they were able to create such intricate rhythms using just one drum. We also got to see the drummers put on an impromptu reggae dance show, which seemed to happen a lot in Ghana.

Budget-friendly

No matter what you’re financial situation is, it’s always nice to save money, especially on an international trip. Although in Ghana you will rarely find anything that’s free – I even got scolded for trying to use a Porta-Potty without paying the necessary fee. You will usually be paying less than you would at home for the same things. For example, a ride on the local bus (tro-tro) will cost about 15 cents, an ice cream pop, about 35 cents and a hostel bed about $6. I actually shared a clean and comfortable hotel room with two friends in the Volta Region that ended up costing us only $6 each, per night. Moreover, remember the first price you’re told in markets, small shops and when taking a taxi is the “oburoni price” (foreigner price), which is usually at least three times as much as a local would pay. Because of this, it is important to bring your best bartering skills and act confident that you know the local exchange, even if you don’t.

volunteer Volunteer opportunities

While Ghana is a great place to visit, there is no denying the country needs much help. According to UNICEF, in 2009 there were about 230,000-260,000 individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and because of this, millions of children are left orphans. Furthermore, pollution, child labor, and education are all areas that need improvement in the country. When I visited Ghana, I did orphanage work at the Achiase Children’s Home through International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ). It was an unforgettable experience as I not only got to help children, but also live with locals and really experience their way of life. IVHQ is one of the more affordable organizations around, and also features teaching, agricultural, medical and sports education programs. If you’re interested in helping with domestic abuse and women’s empowerment projects, Global Volunteer Network might be of interest to you. Additionally, SE7EN is a network of free and low-cost volunteer opportunities that can help you find a project without paying a middleman.

Friendly people

The people of Ghana are probably the friendliest people I have ever met. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or what you’re doing, the locals want to talk to you. Even at 6:00 a.m., when I would go running, locals would stop their cars or turn from their market stalls and try to talk to me. Remember that in Ghana greetings are very important. Locals tend to say hello to strangers, so be polite and wave back. As a visitor, you will constantly hear the word “oburoni” (foreigner) being shouted at you. While this may seem offensive – it took me a bit of getting used to – the locals are just trying to get to know you. Take the opportunity to have a conversation with someone new and learn something.

ghana Natural experiences

Although Ghana is not a safari destination, it still has plenty of opportunities to experience nature and wildlife. Along with the many beaches and parks around the country, the city of Cape Coast offers the chance to trek over a swinging canopy bridge suspended high over the trees of Kakum National Park. The city also features a crocodile pond at Hans Cottage Botel where you can pet and sit on crocodiles.

My favorite location for natural experiences was in the Volta Region, specifically the secluded town of Wli-Afegame, located right outside HoHoe. Here, you will be immersed in mountain scenery, lush flora, and beautiful waterfalls. You can choose to hike to the top of Wli-Falls or Mount Afadjato, the tallest mountain in Ghana. Other nearby natural experiences include visiting the majestic Volta Lake and feeding monkeys in the jungle at the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (pictured above).

Beautiful beaches

Ghana is home to some excellent beaches, and along with lying in the sun there are usually local artisans, fishermen and drummers giving the, usually lazy, experience a cultural touch. I loved chatting with the craftsmen as they made bracelets and art, and listening to the fishermen sing as they pulled in their nets. Even when these interesting locals aren’t around, the beaches in Ghana offer a refreshing and picturesque retreat from the more chaotic streets of the cities.

ghana food Unique foods

While you’ll always find ethnic foods when you travel to a foreign country, there is often an overlap of ingredients between those and the foods you are used to at home. In Ghana, however, there are many foods that I had never seen before in all my travels, like the root-based dishes fu-fu, banku, and kenkey. Furthermore, a lot of their soups have a rich and spicy peanut base, something I was not used to but fell in love with. With fruit, I became obsessed with the evo, a giant, prickly, melon-looking thing with a fluffy and fizzy inside. It has a sweet yet sour taste that reminds me of Pop Rocks or Sour Patch Kids.

Laid-back villages

In Ghana, you’ll find many bustling cities to explore; however, nearby you’ll almost always find a laid-back village to retreat to. These easy-going regions usually take on a Rastafarian-vibe, as there are many Ghanian locals who live a full-on Rastafarian lifestyle. These quieter areas are where I found it easiest to interact with locals on a more personal level, which was helpful for learning about the culture. My favorite laid-back village in Ghana was Kokrobite, accessible by tro-tro about 45 minutes outside Accra. Here, both locals and tourists congregate at Big Milly’s Backyard, a beachfront backpacker hostel with tiki-style accommodations, art fairs, live music, delicious food and reggae festivals.

art in ghana Handicrafts and art

Art, beads, pottery, weaved clothing and woodcarvings are very important in Ghana culture and can be found anywhere you go. When browsing the art, you’ll probably notice certain symbols and images that come up repeatedly. Through these depictions, you’ll be able to learn a lot about societal themes and beliefs. Whenever I was in an art market, I enjoyed talking with the artists and asking them about the stories in their pieces. You’ll also find many carved masks and statues, each holding their own special meaning. If you’re a female and want a unique souvenir, buy a long, thin strand of beads, which is tied around the hips and known as “Ghanian lingerie.”

Traveler’s guide to local and western food in Ghana, Africa

ghana food When visiting Ghana, Africa, unless you are at the mall in the capital city of Accra or staying at a resort or hotel, you will most likely find yourself eating food that is far from Western comfort cuisine. Here is a guide to some of the typical foods you will find in Ghana, as well as some surprising favorites from home you’ll be able to find in the small shops.

Local meals

Banku with tilapia

Banku is a thick dough ball made from fermented maize. The thick matter is stirred rigorously in a pot and has a similar, gum-like texture to the other main starch staple in Ghana, Fufu (see below), and is usually served with a stew and/or tilapia. The proper way to eat it is to grab a piece of the dough ball, create an indentation with your finger, and scoop up some palm oil or stew, swallowing it without chewing. The dish is very similar to Kenkey, another Ghanian staple, although the preparation and cooking time vary slightly. Many westerners may be a little hesitant to try the tilapia (I know I was), as it still has the head, tail, and scales in tact. Simply use your hands to peel back the scales and pull out chunks of meat with your fingers, being careful not to grab any bones.Boiled yams with palaver sauce

Boiled yams are kind of similar to baked potatoes but a little sweeter, and the palaver sauce is actually a kind of stew with vegetables, meat, and chunks of fish. Often times in Ghana I would feel weak due to lack of protein, and would eat the palaver sauce by itself, which is definitely one of the best options for a meat-filled dish.

Fufu with ground nut soup

Usually served in a spicy peanut-broth base, fufu is cooked using cassava, a starchy root plant that is pounded down with a mortar and pestle to create a gum-textured ball. To eat it like a local, rip off a piece with yours hands, create an indentation with your finger and use it to scoop up some soup, then swallow without chewing. It is often served with pieces of fried chicken or fish.

Rice water and jollof rice

Now these two forms of rice are completely different; while rice water is a staple breakfast meal that is very salty and is basically cooked rice with extra water added, jollof rice is stir-fried in tomato paste, making it more flavorful than usual cooking rice, and is usually served with meat for lunch or dinner.

ghana Red red with plantains

This was hands down my favorite food in Ghana, and is probably the most “Western” of the local dishes. It is a mixture of black eyed peas, bonnet peppers, onions, palm oil, and crushed tomatoes. The reason it’s called “red red” is because the palm oil mixed with the tomatoes creates a thick, red base that stains the entire plate. It is usually served with deep fried plantains that are very soft and sweet.

Snacks and street food

snail Snail kebabs

Snail in general is a food favorite in Ghana, whether you boil it, fry it, or put it on a kebab. In fact, when I was doing orphanage work there the children loved to go snail hunting at night and would boil them and put them on a toothpick to snack on. When you’re in the markets or you see hawkers selling kebabs that look like they have succulent mushrooms on them, be aware that they are actually snails. I tried one, and will say that they are extremely salty and very tough and chewy.

Brown nut paste

Brown nut paste is basically the Ghanian take on peanut butter, however, it is a lot thicker and creamier. It doesn’t have any additives so it has a very natural taste to it, basically like eating “creamed” peanuts. If you walk around the outdoor markets, you will often be able to ask for a small sample before purchasing some for yourself. It tastes really good on biscuits or cookies with a bit of Nutella added.

Evo Evo

There are many fruits you’ll be able to get from the markets in Ghana, depending what city you’re in; bananas, grapes, apples, mangoes, avocados, tomatoes. However, the evo was my favorite, and also the most interesting in flavor and appearance. The outside is green and prickly and you break it open with your hands to reveal a cotton-candy like inside (see right). The taste is sweet and fizzy, kind of like a fruit-flavored soda pop.

Fan Ice

Almost everywhere you go, you will see locals riding around on bicycles with coolers attached advertising Fan Ice. It’s the Ghanaian version of the ice cream truck, and for 40-60 pesewas (about 25-35 cents), you can get a chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry yogurt Fan Ice pop. These are extremely refreshing after a long day in the African sun.

Fried chicken with fried yam

This is probably the closest you’ll get to a meal in terms of street food. It’s exactly what it sounds like, pieces of fried chicken served with fried yam, basically the Ghanian version of chicken nuggets and fries. There are usually women walking around carrying a small take-out station on their heads, and you can literally just smile and ask “Wa ye sen?” (How much is it?).

popcornAbru ne nkatea

This was one of my favorite snacks to make with the children at the orphanage, and both locals and Westerners love it. It’s basically un-popped popcorn kernals with nuts simmered in sugar and is really sweet and crunchy.

Meat pies

These are really easy to find in the markets and just walking down the street in most cities in Ghana. Locals walk around with small display cases on their heads filled with meat pies. It’s basically a pie type crust filled with beef and vegetables. Warning: Sometimes the meat pies are severely lacking in meat, although you will not know this until you purchase one. If you’re really craving protein, opt for the fried chicken and fried yams.

Roasted maize

Roasted maize in Ghana looks similar to roasted corn on the cob, although it tastes a lot sweeter, like kettle corn. It’s a really cheap, quick snack if you’re hungry.

chocolate Western finds

Again, you’ll be able to find Western foods at resorts, hotels, and the Accra Mall, usually for an expensive price. However, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in an area that only features small wooden stalls, hawkers, and “restaurants” that are actually the homes of locals. Every once in awhile you’ll be able to find a convenience store, and will possibly be able to find some of these comforts from home:

  • Cans of beans- This became my favorite food in Ghana as their diet is high in starch, carbs, and fried foods. When you just want wholesome protein, beans are really satisfying.
  • Chocolate soy milk- Okay, so it’s not real milk; it’s still refreshing. And, it has (soy) protein.
  • Snickers- They don’t taste exactly like a normal snickers but they have the same package and when you’re desperate, will taste just like heaven.
  • Corn flakes- Cereal is a little expensive in Ghana, but tastes just like the stuff from home.
  • Nutella- Brand-name Nutella is extremely expensive in Ghana, but luckily they sell a knock-off brand that is almost as good and half the price.
  • Laughing Cow cheese- Little access to refrigeration means you’ll be seeing very little cheese. Since Laughing Cow doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it’s the perfect purchase.
  • Cookies/biscuits/bread- Lots of varieties of these carb and snack staples, so you’ll be able to find something similar to the kind you enjoy at home.

[all photos via jessieonajourney aside for the Nutella photo, which is from Like_the_Grand_Canyon on flickr]

10 tips for doing a homestay

soupDoing a homestay in another country is a great way to get to know the culture from a first-hand perspective. By living with a family, you get to see how a local’s daily life is, from what they eat, to how to they dress, to what their before-bed ritual is. With such a unique opportunity being given to you, it’s important to get the most out of the experience while also being respectful. To help, here are some tips on how to enjoy a successful homestay.

Try new foods

When I did a homestay in Ghana, Africa, there were many meals that I was less than thrilled about. As a health-nut, I never would have made fried chicken a normal part of my diet, and eating (or drinking) rice water for breakfast left me less than satisfied. However, instead of getting upset about the food situation think about how much effort your host is putting into making your stay with them pleasant by spending time cooking for you and letting you stay in their home. Thank your host for every meal, even if you don’t like it. And if there’s something you really can’t stomach, find a way to make it edible. With rice water, I learned to add chocolate powder and stir it into the mix. Moreover, to help myself feel better about eating fried foods I began going for morning runs, which also gave me the opportunity to see the village market stalls being set up in the morning, something I usually would have slept through.Dress appropriately

While it may be okay to walk around your own home in your underwear or short shorts, think about how it might make others feel. Nobody wants to feel uncomfortable in their own home, and even if they don’t say it makes them uncomfortable, it probably does, so just make sure to cover up. Also, in certain cultures showing your shoulders and knees is inappropriate, so just be aware of a culture’s etiquette.

thailand Help out

Because this person/family is allowing you to live in their house, it is respectful to help out. That doesn’t just mean doing your dishes and making your bed; offer to do everyone’s dishes, help cook a meal, sweep the floor, or go to town and get groceries. It’s a nice gesture to the host as well as a unique way to learn about the culture and what it’s like to perform an everyday task.

Keep an open mind

While you probably realize the culture is different in terms of what you will be eating, bathroom habits, and house design, there are sometimes more drastic contrasts that you should be prepared for. When I did a homestay in Thailand, I remember at first having a little bit of a hard time getting used to the squat toilets, bucket showers, and always having frogs and lizards in the bathroom with me as I changed my clothes. What really took me off guard was one night when we were having chicken for dinner seeing my host mother literally chop a live chicken’s head off. Of course, you know it happens, but it’s definitely a little off-putting to see it first hand. There were a lot of adjustments for me in Ghana, as well. Once or twice a week, my host would have a prayer group over at 3AM to sing hymns until 6AM, which meant once or twice a week I didn’t get to sleep. While it bothered me at first I began to go watch the group sing and tried to make it into a learning experience. Remember, you won’t be here forever, so try to open yourself up to as many unique learning opportunities as possible.

thailand Be conservative

While this could mean how you dress, it also means in general. While you may be used to taking hour-long hot showers while leaving all of the lights on and scarfing a bag of Doritos at home, you’ve got to remember you’re now living on someone else’s dime. Moreover, it is also possible that the area your homestay is in doesn’t have the natural resources that your home town does, so try to conserve as best as you can. In Achiase, Ghana, the town would turn on the taps for about 3 hours per week, and everyone would rush to fill up as many buckets with water as possible so that we could wash dishes, do laundry, and take bucket showers during the week. While it may not be the easiest thing to get used to, you’ll come to learn that showering and doing laundry every single day isn’t a necessity.

Spend time with the host

Don’t think of your homestay as a budget-friendly alternative to a hotel. Instead, get to know your host and form a relationship. Not only is it more respectful, it’s also very rewarding. It’ll give you the chance to gain a better understanding of life in the city as well as the opportunity to do activities that you may not have otherwise gotten the chance to do. In Ghana, I got the opportunity to attend church with my host mom. While I could have done this on my own, it was a whole different experience going with a local congregation member, and the pastor even had an interpreter sit next to me. I also got the chance to play soccer with the local team in Achiase because I would go running with my host brother in the morning. This was something I never would have been able to do if I had kept to myself, and it gave me a first-hand account of team interactions and sports in the country.

ghana Learn something

The best part about traveling to another country is immersing yourself in the culture and learning everything you can. Partaking in a homestay is a great first step to doing this and the perfect opportunity to learn something. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and interact. If you see your host cooking, ask them what they are making and if you can have the recipe. If you like your host sibling’s clothing, ask them what it’s made of and what the local fashion is like. Help them with their school work and see what they are being taught. Depending on how close you get with the host and what the cultural norms are, you can even learn about more personal topics like community issues, relationships, and gender roles, which leads me to my next point.

Learn cultural norms before you go

If you know that talking about religion or the government is taboo in a culture, don’t ask about it. That being said, I’ve done homestays in places where I was told a topic was off-limits yet became close with a family member and was able to have these touchy conversations; however, I allowed them to bring up the issue. In Ghana, the locals were very open to talking about everything, and would actually take me off guard with the questions they would ask. That being said, I got to learn a lot about dating norms, marriage proposals, government corruption, religious beliefs, diet regimes, and the religious structuring in the schools.

Learning the cultural norms goes farther than what you say; it also includes gestures, clothing styles, and rituals. For example, I researched Thailand before doing my homestay there and learned that it is rude to sit with your feet sticking straight out. This is something I do all of the time at home, especially if I’m eating while sitting on the floor, and was so grateful to have been given this information beforehand as all of our meals were taken on the living room carpet.

thailand Teach something

While you want to learn about the culture from your host family, they are most likely excited to learn more about your culture, as well. Bring photos from home of your friends, family, places you go, foods you like, your neighborhood; anything that you think someone who has never been to your city might want to know about. You can also teach them recipes, games, songs, dances, art skills, and other fun activities that you think might be interesting.

Exchange contact information

After your homestay is complete, you shouldn’t just leave and drop off the face of the Earth. Most likely, you’ve established some kind of connection with these people, and even if you haven’t, they were still nice enough to host you. Once you return home, a follow-up thanking them for their kindness is appropriate. Moreover, if you took photos your host family will probably be interested in seeing them. During both my Thailand and Ghana homestays I was living with families who didn’t own cameras. I took photos of them and their families and the community and mailed them over for them to have for themselves. For both families, it was the first photos they’d ever owned, and both told me that the gift meant a lot.