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The Nature of Liminality: Trials and Hardships

A recurring theme in the interviews with Chinese traders was the narrative of eating bitterness. Traders regard living standards as much lower than in China, at both the personal and the societal level. They see power cuts, cuts in the water supply, the absence of modern public transport, dysfunctional political institutions, the poor health of the local population, and the omnipresent threat of contracting malaria and other infectious diseases as symptomatic of general underdevelopment. All this has to be endured for the greater good. Most traders see their life in an African city as a period of trial and testing, a mental and physical challenge that had to be met in this liminal phase of transition that would ultimately bring them financial profits, enhanced wellbeing and improved status. Also suggestive of the liminal phase of a ritual journey is the repetitive routine that informants call the “challenge of the deadly dullness of everyday life” as transient Chinese in an African city.

Chinese traders in Accra experience little change from day to day and over the weeks, months and years. They start at 6.00 am, have a brief breakfast and drive to their shops, where they stay until 5.00 pm, selling goods by the carton, interrupted only by internet chat during slack periods and collecting debts from African customers at Makola Market. Fish, meat, vegetables and fruit are delivered to the shop front by itinerant vendors, so exploring the neighborhood for purchases is not necessary (and is seen as unsafe). Visiting nearby Chinese shops is regarded as inappropriate or even taboo because ofthe fierce competition. After driving home, a simple dinner is cooked, together with lunch for the following day. Washing and personal hygiene are followed by internet chat, gaming and watching Chinese movies, if the electricity is on. Sundays are free and usually spent mostly in bed, together with housekeeping, cooking, eating and internet surfing, or a trip to Accra Mall and a visit to the supermarket and a fast-food venue. In most cases not even important traditional Chinese festivals or National Day interrupt these daily routines and weekly rhythms.

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