The Maryland Bridge Hawker

The Maryland Bridge Hawker.Image: Chibuike Casmir Lagos traffic is horrible! That is a fact. I am sure that anyone who lives or has visited Lagos one time or another can attest to this fact. It is also true that when there is that ugly traffic jam, there is almost nothing you wouldn’t see. It could be a fighting agbero, an impatient driver, the surprising ways people meander through traffic or that hawker that would chase a bus just so he can sell a bottle of fizzy drinks for ₦100. Usually, traffic in Lagos is a bedlam of activities, a combination of awful smells, an absolute drag and a time-wasting event! With all that craziness, there is that time when you get to see a genuine source of inspiration! I did. Let me tell you what happened. I was on my way home with my new friends – Tonia and Chibuike aka Chibyke. It was rush hour and most of the roads were tight. We were chatting, laughing and basically having fun in the car. We had dropped Chidi (another new friend) off a while back so we were goofing around. All the crazy stuff was just our way of coping with the horrible traffic. When we got to Maryland Bridge, we felt like we had hit the worst of the jam. I was right behind Tonia and was looking out of the window on my left. Tonia reduced the volume of the stereo which had Beyonce telling us to ‘Run the World’. She did it so she could ask a question. Chibyke’s response to Tonia’s question made me laugh out loud and turn to them. That was when I noticed him. The hawker showing his wares. He was a hawker who sold socks and handkerchief. It wasn’t the items I noticed; it was his hand…or the lack of it. He balanced the sock rack on the stub where his right hand used to be. In his good hand, he held the handkerchief and other items. He was standing at our car and seemed to be beckoning me; seemed to be willing me to continue staring. I didn’t blink. I didn’t know when I blurted, ‘I need his picture so I can write a story about him.’ Chibyke, being the sharp guy that he is, wound the glass down and called him. He asked me to take pictures as he purchased some items. I picked up Tonia’s phone but my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t focus. So many thoughts were going through my head; what if he got mad? What if he asked us to pay him for the pictures? What if he was a lout guised as a hawker? I was so worried…I couldn’t even take one shot! Tonia kept asking if I had taken the shots. I said no. She snatched the phone from me while Chibyke continued hassling. When Chibyke asked if the socks were original, the man said he only sold original and he was on that bridge every day. He went further to say that if we didn’t like the socks, we could come back and he would change them. He was such an effusive marketer that even I was tempted to buy a sock. But all this drama was so Tonia could get good pictures. She would tell Chibyke to bend for a clearer shot and the way he would do it wouldn’t give us away. She took many pictures but they just didn’t have the essence I wanted. Chibyke, seeing my frustration, paid the hawker for the socks he didn’t need and then said, ‘Guy, ehen. Make I tell you something. My friends like you well well as you dey do your work and they want write your story. Abeg, you go fit allow make we take your picture?’ The hawker smiled and said yes. I breathed a much needed sigh of relief. Chibyke took the pictures and just as we were about to ask his name, the traffic jam broke and Tonia had to drive in! Balancing his handkerchiefs so he can sell his socks.  I was so inspired by the man. I know everyone hustles in Lagos but I was surprised that a man with disabilities had mastered the art of balance to function as one without. The way he switched the handkerchiefs to his neck, using his shoulder as prop and still managing to interact was wonderful! I am sure many people have seen people with worse disabilities doing better but this was new to me. You see, because I grew up in the Northern part of Nigeria, I am used to seeing people with disabilities begging. They use their disabilities as an excuse to beg…and to sometimes guilt you into giving them money. I hate to see people beg! I am totally abhorred by it. I believe people should work and earn their living; no matter how small it is. There is honor in work and ONLY disrespect in begging. So you can imagine my elation at seeing this man work! He couldn’t be making more than ₦2000 or ₦5000 per day and most times, that would just be to recover his capital. But he told us he was there every day trying to make ends meet. This should be a lesson to all the ‘big boys and girls’ who laze about saying there are no jobs. If a man with disabilities can wake up every day to ensure he is not dependent on anyone, what bloody excuse do you have with your whole body?! I am hoping to find him again and probably get a full interview; when I finally get my nerves straightened out. I want to find out his name, his story, how he lost his hand and what motivates him every day to ignore his disability and go out to make that money. If you ever pass the Maryland Bridge and see him, buy a sock or a handkerchief. Help him to be better! Help him earn his living!

Children Should Not Hustle!

Young girl hawking sachet water.Image: The Guardian The little girl ran up to me, somehow balancing the crate of boiled eggs on her head and trying to keep her falling wrapper in place. Her feet were clad with slippers that were well worn and designed with holes. She couldn’t have been more than eight years old and as she reached me, the smell of her unwashed body repulsed me more than she could have imagined. As she raised her head to ask if I wanted the eggs, I had a full view of her face.  She was made up, with a haphazard line taking center stage on her brows. Her eye pencil was dripping, making her lower lid look heavy. Her powder was in patches, with more shades of grey on her dark skin than there was on a wiped chalkboard. Her pouty lips were made more so with the red lipstick she wore and the very black liner she used to line her lips. She was wearing a torn Hijab made of a print material. The Hijab was bunched at her shoulders as she held the tray that held the crate. Her skirt was a different print from her top though they were similar in one way; they were both threadbare, dirty and reflected just how poor she was. I took all these in as she advertised her eggs. The makeup, dirty clothes, torn slippers and the over coat of unwashed funk all reflected one thing: poverty. In one glance, I could tell that this young girl was forced into child labor. It didn’t take Einstein to figure out that this little girl was doing this to make money for her family. She was probably going to walk up and down the town in her quest to sell the eggs. The more eggs she sold, the more likely her chances of eating something that night. If she returned the eggs home, she was most likely going to sleep hungry. As I continued to look at her, imaginations of how hungry she might be kept flicking through my mind. Though her smell repulsed me, I was drawn to her in a way that was against my personal principle. I was torn. A common sight in many African communities if the presence of child hawkers who are working to sustain their families.Image: Signal You see, when I was in primary school, I had a teacher called Mrs. Williams. She died. But before she did, she had imparted so much in me that I owe some of my life’s principles to her. She urged us always to be the best and always had little quips that stayed with us; with me. On one of such occasions, after a field trip to the airport, she said something that stayed with me till this very moment. As the school bus slowed at a traffic jam, some children ran up to it to display their wares. From candy popularly called ‘alewa’ to groundnuts and what not, these kids had enough to attract our attention. Many kids started pulling out their lunch money to get things and only refrained when Mrs. Williams bellowed. Thankfully, the traffic jam lessened and we got going. That was not before we saw the disappointed looks on the faces of the children as they saw us go. We had been their hope for some money but Mrs. Williams crushed that hope. I was, for the first time in my young life, furious at her. When we got to school, I was still furious. As we settled into our seats in class, Mrs. Williams demanded our attention. When she got it, she started teaching us about child labor and abuse. She told us it was wrong to send kids to the streets to hawk. She asked how we felt knowing our mates were hawking on the streets and highways when we were in class, learning and getting an education. In truth, we didn’t understand what she was saying – we were just in primary three – but the passion with which she spoke hit me. The message I got that day was that children shouldn’t work when they should be in school. As little as I was, I felt bad that I could afford to be in school while others were out there fending for themselves and their families. I really cannot remember if that was when I made the choice to never buy something from a kid but I know that as I grew up, my resolve strengthened. My ideology was that, as long as we buy things from kids, we were also promoting child labor. I felt that if children went home every night without selling anything, then their parents would be wise about sending them to the streets. At that time, all of these made great sense to me. As I grew older, I realized that the ideology I had was hard to keep, especially as child labor came closer to home. A close friend of mine, whom I will call Williams, had to work to make ends meet. Williams came from a comfortable family. He had two brothers and one sister. They had most of what they wanted. They ate right, dressed well and even went to good private schools. The fairy bubble burst when his father lost his job after the Kaduna textiles closed down. They were tiding over until they just couldn’t keep up the pretext anymore. They had to move to a much smaller house and even sell most of their stuff. After a while, his father travelled to find work and was not heard from for months. They had absolutely no idea where he was or even if he was alive. His mum had to pick up the mantle of leadership to keep the family going. She got a job working as a cleaner in a school where the pay was barely enough to cover utility bills. Gradually, they had to be pulled

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