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.

Culinary Cab Confessions: Ghana on the Hudson

Culinary Cab Confessions: Ghana on the Hudson“I want you to take me to lunch.”

These were the first words I said to the driver after getting in his cab outside my apartment on W. 10th Street in New York City. His eyes went from looking at me in the rearview mirror to whipping his head around to look at me face to face.


“Huh?” he said.

I repeated it and then mentioned the reputation cab drivers have: that, in addition to being oft-eratic drivers, they supposedly hold the secrets to a city’s best cheap eats. He let his head fall back, his face staring up at the ceiling of his car, and let out a huge laugh.

“You see,” said Joseph, “I mostly eat junk food.”

I pressed him, fearing I was going to end up at McDonalds or Taco Bell, asking where he usually eats when he’s taking a break from cab. I know it was cheating but I verbally cajoled him a bit. “Something good,” I said.

And then a lightbulb went on above his head: “Ah,” he said. “I have it.” He stepped on the gas and we whipped eastward down W. 10th St.

When seeking out new restaurants in a place, some people look at food blogs or local magazines or ask friends. I have a different method: I talk to cab drivers. As I’ve done several times in the last year, I’m testing out the theory that cab drivers are also great restaurant finders. So far I’ve done this in Ethiopia, Burma, Mexico, and, once, in New York City and I’ve yet to have had a bad meal. The last time I did this in the Big Apple I was taken to a Turkish restaurant in the Village by a Turkish driver. Would ethnicity once again determine my lunch spot?

Joseph, it turns out, is from Ghana and the restaurant he was taking me to – which he frequents once or twice a week – was a west African place. So, yes, I had my answer. Not that I have a problem with this. One of the goals of doing this is to find a place I’d never think about eating, a place I didn’t even know existed.

On the way there, stuck in traffic on Sixth Avenue, Joseph told me about the Christian book and music shop he owned in Brooklyn. “My specialty was Christian rap,” he said.

Christian rap?

“That’s right. It’s good stuff. And it has a good message. No violence. No profanity.” He suggested I get started with Sho Baraka, the “Jay-Z of Christian rap music.”

I thought this would be a good time to change the subject and asked if anyone had ever hopped in his cab and made such a crazy request like taking them to find a place to eat. About seven years ago, Joseph recalled, a drunk Irish guy asked to be taken him to a strip club – any strip club. “So I took him to a place in west Chelsea. When we got there he insisted I go inside with him. And, you won’t believe it, there were naked ladies in there!” At this point, Joseph buckled over, bursting with laughter while still talking. I understood nothing he was saying. It was totally incomprehensible except it sounded something like “Extra tiny midgets enjoy magical candies with Mitt Romney and Jesus,” but I’m almost sure that’s not what he said. He kept laughing and speaking, though, and I still had no idea what he was saying. At one point, I thought: did he just say, “Punk rock grannies give the best relief when their wooden legs are off”? Nah. It sounded like it though.

A few minutes and turns later and we were idling in front of B&B restaurant (165 W. 26th St., New York, NY, 212-627-2914). “Get the peanut butter sauce,” he said, as I handed him money for the fare.

Joseph shook my hand and reminded me that I should give Christian rap a try. I nodded and made my way into the restaurant. It was set up buffet style. There were no placards on any of the chaffing dishes, so I just grabbed a plate and began putting stuff on. Most of the food was reminiscent of Indian cuisine: a lot of saucy, meaty (sometimes curry-flavored) dishes dumped over rice.

And Joseph was right: the peanut butter sauce (bobbing with super tender lamb meatballs) was amazing. So was the yassa Guinar, a tender chicken in an onion-y sauce. I was the only non-African in the place and felt like I’d really discovered something, a place I really would have never thought to wander in.

Score another one for the taxi drivers. But only ask for music recommendations at your own peril.

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.”

New dark tourism sites open all over the world

Dachau For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “dark tourism” refers to visiting sites associated with grief, tragedy, or death. While some people may debate the ethics of visiting these types of sites, they often provide educational, enlightening, and even life-changing experiences for those who do. When I was in Munich, Germany, I took a day trip to see Dachau Concentration Camp (shown right) and learned a lot about the site and the Holocaust in general that I had not known before. While it wasn’t an easy experience, I did see the value of visiting such a site for the awareness factor as well as to stop these past tragedies from happening again.

Although dark tourism first gained prominence between the 18th and 19th centuries, the interest in these types of sites is still growing. Here are some new dark tourism sites open all over the world, as well as some that have garnered an integral status throughout the years.

New

Napoleonland
France

Napoleonland, which will be created to honor military leader and politician Napoleon Bonaparte, is expected to be completed by 2017. It will be a theme park that will include shops, museums, hotels, and restaurants. While this may sound fun, the site of the attraction will reside on the very spot where Napoleon’s troops fought and defeated the Austrian army about 200 years ago. A water show resembling the Battle of Trafalgar, a ski run containing the frozen bodies of dead soldiers, a re-creation of Louis XVI literally losing his head on the guillotine, and other war-related and morbid interactive exhibits will all be featured.Singapore Bomb Shelter
Singapore

The Singapore Bomb Shelter, believed to be the last of island-country’s bomb shelters, opened at the end of 2011 to visitors. To help commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore as well as raise awareness about Singapore’s war history, the National Heritage Board is leading tours of the shelter. During WWII air raids, this 1,500 square meter space was used as protection for about 100 people. Until now it has been hidden from the public, and for the most part is still in its original condition.

9/11 memorial National September 11 Memorial and Museum
New York

As a reminder of the worst terrorist attack ever to hit United States’ soil, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened to the public in September, 2011. The memorial and museum resides at the site of the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan and honors the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on that tragic day in 2001. The memorial section contains two acre-sized reflecting pools that sit where the Twin Towers once stood, as well as the biggest man-made waterfall on the continent. Moreover, bronze panels list the names of all those who lost their lives in the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks. While the museum section is not open yet, it will include exhibitions such as a look at the events leading up to the disaster, portraits of those who lost their lives, the architectural history of the buildings, and more.

Integral

Robben Island
South Africa

Robben Island is a museum and World Heritage Site that opened to the public in 1997. Now South Africa’s most popular tourist attraction, it was once an apartheid-era maximum security prison that held some of history’s most well-known political leaders, like Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty years on the island, and current deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. Visitors can experience tours of the facilities, precinct attractions like a Muslin Shrine and a museum shop, watch educational videos, and speak with a former political prisoner.

hiroshima peace park Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Japan

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a memorial to those who lost their lives during the U.S. nuclear bomb attack in 1945. While more than 140,000 died when the bomb hit the city, thousands more were killed in the aftermath, including 80,000 lost lives three days later in the Nagasaki atomic attack. The park was opened in 1954 on a field that was created from the bomb explosion. Dozens of monuments and tombs are erected throughout, some of which include the Peace Clock Tower (shown right), which chimes daily at 8:15 to remember the time when the world saw its first atomic bomb, the Peace Bell, a symbol of “spiritual and cultural movement”, and the Flame of Peace, which “expresses condolence for victims unable to satisfy their thirst for water, as well as the desire for nuclear abolition and enduring world peace”.

Choeng Ek Killing Fields & Security Office 21
Cambodia

The Choeng Ek Killing Fields and Security Office 21 (S-21) were once areas of extreme tragedy during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. Once a peaceful village, Choeng Ek was transformed into violent killing fields. Moreover, S-21 was actually a high school that was converted into a center for interrogation, torture, and murder, with only seven of the 14,000 who entered surviving. During this time the Khmer Rouge actually took careful notes and took almost 6,000 photographs, which can be seen during a visit to the site.

gettysburg, pennsylvania Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is home to one of the most iconic battlefields in the United States as well as a rich but tragic history. The Battle of Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, with over 51,000 lives lost. It was also the motivator of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well as a turning point in the war that stopped General E. Lee’s aggressive northern invasion. In November, 1863, President Lincoln officially dedicated Soldiers’ National Cemetery and, with more than 1.5 million annual visitors to Gettysburg Military Park, the city is an extremely popular tourist destination.

Slave Castles of Cape Coast, Ghana
Africa

In Cape Coast, Ghana, there are two well-known slave castles that bring visitors back to the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle. Guided tours offer visitors the chance to learn about and see the dungeons where slaves were kept in inhumane conditions as well as the Door of No Return (Cape Coast Castle), which was the gateway to a life of slavery in the west.