Life Of A Street Hawker

Gabriella Opara
Feb 25, 2018 · 6 min read

We all aspire to be great and get to the peak of our careers. Even those at the peak want more. That’s human nature. Our life becomes routine, whether its of the norm or not, we schedule our time,go out and expect to achieve results.

Many take on an unplanned career path, some are blessed enough to be in an industry they like, doing what they love.

In Nigeria, heavy traffic is a daily occurrence. Dealing with stress is bad enough, but having to deal with a biting hunger makes it worse. We have been given an option of getting something to eat by street hawkers.

Street hawking began because there was an urgent need for it, just like any other business. The dilapidated system of the country that causes one to waste more hours on the road than actually get work done called for these road side hawkers we see everywhere in Lagos, and out of it.

One day, while in traffic I wondered about the lives of these hawkers. I looked at their tattered clothes, worn slippers and heavy load. I stared as they ran after people in vehicles, trying to sell their wares, give out change and still get their next customer. They run, yet they never seem tired. They leave their houses praying not to be caught by disciplinary organizations but if they do, they bribe heavily to be left alone. I sat, wondering why they began this job.

I’m not one to sit down and wonder without asking questions, so I took to the streets to ask the questions that nagged at me.

While buying pineapple, in a bus garage somewhere in Lagos, from Iya Ibeji aka Iya Pineapple, I was able to get answers to my questions. I got more answers when Ifeanyi, a sun glasses seller and Sade, the cold minerals hawker joined our conversation.

No one sets out to become a street hawker, they said. There are no training schools, the street does that –teaches.

According to Iya Pineapple, she began hawking when she lacked funds to continue her hairdressing business for which she trained. She picked up the trade from her mother to make ends meet. “Just yesterday,” she told me, “KAI arrested me for selling my fruits by the roadside and only let me go when I begged them to collect the 2,000 naira I had with me. This was after they had taken me to Oshodi, far from my market, and finally believed me when I said I didn’t have the 10,000 naira they initially asked for. They call it fine but its not.”

Narrating further, Ifeanyi said, “Ha! Me I paid the 10,000 naira o! I thought of my life that day ehn! But it happens everyday so there’s not much we can do. Dwelling on it is of no use. If you are slow or unlucky enough to get caught then that’s your palava.

Ifeanyi began selling sunglasses 7 years ago trying to raise money for exam fees to get into the university. Eventually, he realized that he couldn’t get the money doing this job so he decided to pursue survival instead, forgoing his academic dreams.

Speaking about family; Iya Pineapple said she has two kids whom she puts in daycare when leaving in the morning and picks up every evening.

For Ifeanyi, marriage was not optional, demands to carry on the family lineage makes it a responsibility he upholds seriously, as the only male child in his family. “I am married. I have a child. I pay school fees, I pay house rent, I provide food for the house, I take care of some of my siblings who stay in the village.”

Ifeanyi laughed at me when I voiced out my amazement at how they mange to keep their heads above water. “It’s God o! It’s just God. If you ask Mama Pineapple she will tell you the same thing,” he said.

“We do esusu(ajo), we pray daily for market to move but if it doesn’t we still thank God. See me, I have not sold all day. Even Iya Pineapple hasn’t sold as much as she would have if she was outside the garage. We are hiding from KAI. After the wahala of yesterday, we decided to stay inside the garage today,” said Ifeanyi

“If you stay inside garage, no market! If you go outside, KAI will collect all your money! It’s only God that can help us in this country!” Iya Pineapple said, clapping.

Just as the words left her mouth, we saw some traders running into the garage. Some with only half their goods. When I asked what was happening, “KAI,” was the chorus answer. Ifeanyi left us to help a man pack his jeans trousers into a big sack as Sade ran towards Iya Pineapple’s spot to sit under the umbrella, laughing and cursing at KAI as she rearranged her pure water and minerals in a big plastic bowl. Looking at her slim body, I wondered how she could carry such load on her head.

Sade saw me, smiled and asked if I wanted to buy anything, I did. She then went on to brief us on the situation outside. “Don’t mind them, they are hungry,” she hissed, “Even the government they work for has forgotten they exist! Imagine! Do you know the government is unaware of most of their raids? They say they are kicking against indiscipline when they are the indisciplined ones! Greedy thieves!”

Laughing heartily at how she escaped, she further said; “Look at us. Do we carry arms? Do we kill? Do we steal? How much do we make? Yet, they hunt us down. Government refused to provide jobs or an opportunity for one, we decided not to wait for them, we are doing what we can to survive this godforsaken country but still, they hunt us down, beat us and collect our money! Nonsense!”

Ifeanyi came back with the jeans man but it was time for me to go. I thanked them for their time and wished them well. It’s not everyday one gets an opportunity to speak with these people and I appreciated them for giving me their time because I knew it was precious. For them, a listening ear was worth a lot and I understood that.

Moving away from their smiling and sweaty faces, I looked at the sunlit garage full of public buses, drivers and conductors and passengers going to different locations. Some minding their business, some not. I saw faces peeking curiously at me from buses awaiting more passengers. Interstate bus conductors struggling to help passengers with their luggage.

I listened to the never ending shout for attention from various sellers advertising their goods as I remembered the young street hawker who died in 2016 after being hit by a BRT bus while running from a KAI official.

I looked at the grinning faces and marveled at how they retained their joy in the midst of all the suffering while remembering when Governor Ambode (Lagos state governor) declared, few years back, that the state be free of street hawkers.

I took it all in and sighed.

Till I write again, I remain, your book nerd.

Glossary:

Ajo — weekly/monthly money contributions to be collected later on

Esusu — check Ajo

Gan gan — especially

Iya Ibeji — mother of twins

Iya Pineapple- mother of pineapple (nickname)

KAI — Kick Against Indiscipline: Nigerian law enforcement unit established in 2003 to enforce and monitor environmental laws in the country

Minerals — soft drink

Palava — problem

Wahala -problem


Originally published at glamogenscribbles.wordpress.com on February 25, 2018.

Gabriella Opara

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Creative free spirit. Freelance content writer. Bibliophile. Poet. Art lover. Travelling is in my blood, if I can’t do it physically, I dive into books.