Survival of the fittest is a common mantra that rules the world, even the animal kingdom.
Many would go to the greatest lengths to ensure that they survive no matter how trying it may seem.
There is yet, one group of people who would defy the odds and go an extra mile to make life worth living.
For such people, they have only one option left – street hawking.
Street hawking is not for the faint hearted. Navigating through the maze of heavy traffic or walking a great distance to sell theirgoods to their buyers is no easy feat.
In sharp contrast to other bourgeois elements that sit often idly in the office andearn huge amounts of money, these street hawkers slave in the sun and battle for their lives while trying to earn a living.
This goes to show the abject poverty and desperation that pushes these hawkers so much so that sometimes, it becomes the family business. Each member of the family takes up different products to sell at different locations in the city to supplement the family’s income.
These children are made to hawk whatever sells while their mates are in school learning. Some of these children are fortunate if they are able to go to school in the morning and hawk in the afternoon. However, the unfortunate ones aren’t able to go to school, not because their parents don’t want them to go to school, but because it is unaffordable.
They look so pitiful with the trays on their heads displaying their wares, sweating and shouting at the top of their lungs to get the attention of people.
Sometimes, one sees these children having a close call (almost getting knocked down by a vehicle) and one can’t help but feel sorry for them.
Since they have to sell all their wares before going home especially when the product is perishable, they have to endure this gruesome task no matter how risky.
Sexual harassment of street hawkers
The young ladies among these hawkers suffer a much terrible fate than the children. Added to the risk of getting knocked down by a vehicle, they sometimes suffer sexual harassment in the hands of male customers.
On few occasions I have watched street touts sexually harass some of these ladies. Sometimes the manhandling ranges from grabbing them by the backside, fondling their boobs, or just holding them inappropriately.
One could see the look of apprehension on their faces when such happens but they feel helpless because these are some of the customers they desperately need. Since there is a stiff competition out there, they have to chuck it up. Only a few express their displeasure disregarding the consequences.
The sexual harassment is just a tip of the ice berg compared to what others face. Some of these hawkers usually don’t have houses to go to at night. As a result, they suffer an unknown fate every night when they seek shelter under bridges, in front of closed shops, or in uncompleted buildings.
These places of shelter are unsafe especially for the females. The unfortunate ones may be raped by drunks and psychopath night crawlers. Those ones who escape that, may be beaten or stolen from. This happens to both the male and female hawkers.
I won’t forget how I was passing through Accra market on Independence Day last year. That Sunday afternoon, I stumbled upon a shocking discovery. Shops weren’t open that day and I saw a makeshift tent someone had made in front of a shop. The person had used bed sheets to make this temporary abode to shield himself/ herself from the biting cold of the night.
I was stupefied at the sight and it brought home the fact that there are tons of people out there that didn’t have anywhere to live and those who live in their shops are better off.
The gains are remarkable: a date with destiny
Early in 2016, news went round about a bread seller in Nigeria, Olajumoke Orisaguna, who became a model. How did this happen? Simple! She was hawking her bread as usual and she stumbled onto a street photo shoot. Unknown to her, she had appeared in one of the pictures taken that day.
The pictures went viral on the internet and the photographer – Ty Bello had to look for this natural model everybody loved. Jumoke was located the next day and that began her modelling career. She became an internet sensation literally overnight.
The Future of Hawkers
Street hawkers are ordinary people who have not been dealt favourably by the hands of fate. They don’t do it because they enjoy it but because that is what they can do to survive.
Definitely, not all street hawkers will be as fortunate as Jumoke, but it helps if we don’t act cheap when buying things from them. Also, tipping them once in a while won’t hurt anyone.
Although, a few have argued that patronizing them only encourages them to continue their trade thus endangering their lives. Until a solution is provided for these ones, they will continue to do what they have to do to survive. For most of them, short of stealing, hawking is the option available to them. Just like Jumoke, “the bread seller”, they also have potentials to do great things if given the opportunity.
Let’s see how we can help these people in any little way we can. Simply by being sympathetic to their plight would help their case. A cold bottle of water or drink for a hawker in the sun will definitely put a smile on their face. Showing simple courtesy to them while purchasing makes them feel a little bit better. Telling them to keep the fifty naira change might just increase their chances of having lunch that day. You never can tell.