Book Review: Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond's “Chop Money”

Accra Noir
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[Books]

‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?’ A Review of “Chop Money” by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond’s gripping “Chop Money” is a fitting choice for the opening story of Accra Noir, the latest of Akashic Books’ popular noir series. 

Each book is a short-story collection set almost exclusively in cities across the globe, with the Brooklyn-born series now grown to over 60 volumes. Having shopped in Accra, I was intrigued by this story of chilling desperation set in the sprawling Mallam Atta Market. “Chop Money” introduces us to Accra up-close, personal, and impersonal. The market’s frenetic pulse is palpable, its colors and local color, vivid. We’re here with our protagonist Limah in the hours just after dawn, in the hustle of midday, and in the deserted and perilous wee hours.

Yes, Limah lives here round the clock. She is one of the kayayei or “head porters,” young women and teen girls from the countryside who move to Ghana’s cities to find work carrying other women’s market purchases to their homes or cars. In large aluminum bowls balanced on their heads, and often with babies tied on their backs, they transport tubers, tomatoes and other vegetables and fruits, grains, meat, fish, cloth and more. Most of the kayayei sleep in storage sheds just outside the market, where exhaustion, the threat of rape and of theft of their meager wages, make it a necessity to look out for one another. Hailing from various areas of Ghana, they have dreams in common of upward mobility, most involving plans to have their own -- and perhaps multiple stalls one day.

As shelter is a prime commodity and Limah is bent on survival, she enlists the help of her friend Asana to secure a place to sleep with Charles, a local police officer. The burly cop’s feigned affection and expressions of concern for her safety delude young Limah into thinking she’s more than a commodity herself in this arrangement. And her often careless distraction alarms and jeopardizes Asana, as the market stall she sublets to Limah is actually not hers. The stall belongs to Auntie Muni, a veteran seller with her own place to live who allows Asana to sleep there in exchange for cleaning the stall. And though successful, and therefore powerful in this arena, Auntie Muni has insecurities of her own, betrayed by her sweat glands and possibly by her young lover.

The women, teens and young girls who work as kayayei are subject to both the vagaries and reliable pitfalls of laboring at Mallam Atta Market. But when catastrophe strikes Limah they marshall forces to come to her aid, with an unexpected assist from a sympathetic young man. The rallying act is also one of self-preservation, as Limah’s secret coming to light would surely alter life in the market for them all. 

The macabre solution devised is fitting for a marketplace where the food chain is a grim reality; where not just produce and dry goods, but people as well, can be bought, sold and consumed.

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