One Day In The Life Of A 10-Year Old Hawker in Douala
By Canute Tangwa 2019
Today, it rained heavily all-through the night and late in the day at Makepe-Missoke and elsewhere in Douala. When it rains, there is some respite from the oppressive heat. Our abode, like most houses, is built on marshy reptile cum mosquito infested land; quite close to the sooty smelly green-black rubbish-filled N’gongue stream that snakes and meanders laboriously across the city and empties its contents into the Wouri River.
We use plank boards as makeshift bridges to move from one dwelling to another or out of the neighbourhood. There is water everywhere but we do not have clean potable water. Electricity supply is intermittent so we make do with bush lamps or candles; though clandestine electricity supply abound.
When my younger sibling falls ill, we buy drugs from a local drug vendor or hawker. The most common drugs for all ailments are Efferalgan and Paracetamol. Going to school is a game of chance. Daddy virtually throws lots on who goes to school or not while the others get up early enough to start hawking ground nuts or kola nuts in the streets of Bonamoussadi and as far as Bonapriso where the rich and powerful live.
As a ten-year old hawker when I narrate my experiences you might think I am an adult. However, I now know that life is a constant battle and each day I arm myself to face whatever circumstances; from the drug traffickers at Quartier Makea, violent-razor blade wielding street urchins, petty and hardened thieves to the child traffickers lurking everywhere. Now I am streetwise.
But hawking can be exciting; when I am tired I pose my wares on a table at a joint and watch television and get the feel of an air-conditioner. I like watching football but I cannot remember when Dad bought us a ball. But as I move around I hear people say Samuel Eto’o Fils or Lionel Messi were once lads like me. I wonder!
My customers are varied, from the rich to the dirt poor. However, I must admit that I have a problem with a certain category of customers who always ask for ‘la boite de Bepanda.’ I move around with two small groundnut measuring tins of equal but unequal sizes (depends on the eyes of the beholder); the large size for poor neighbourhoods like Bepanda and the seemingly large but smaller size for rich neighbourhoods. You have to be smart, quite smart you know. Though I have never read The Road To Hiala by Fotso, I hear that most of our rich businessmen or captains of industry began by selling ground nuts. I wonder!
Indeed, the rain drummed all night on our roof. When I heard utensils knocking against each other, I knew the water level has attained a dreadful level and we were in for another flood. Floods per se are not the preserve of my neighbourhood because I was surprised to be caught up in one at Bonapriso-Bonanjo of all places! The flip side is that on that day the flood waters enabled the population to lay hands on a notorious thief who on fleeing on a bike got stuck in the muddy flood waters! Verily, Water No Get Enemy as black legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, once belted out.
Our two-room shack that houses ten of us is completely flooded so we have to remove furniture, utensils, and mattresses and place them on our rooftop until the water level drops. This is routine because year-in-year-out we have to save the little property we have this way. However, there is another routine that always make me cry; the sound of women wailing for the lose of a child who has been swept away by the floods. Yes, I always cry and shudder because I lost my bosom friend in this manner three years ago.
However, there is seemingly a glimmer of hope in this morass because as I walk from Bonatone towards Deido, I stop at the famous Mbanga-Jo. As a good eavesdropper, I hear Sango Mboa talking about the entry into ENAM (prestigious school that trains administrators and magistrates) of a bendskinneur (bike taxi driver). He rattles off some names of young innovators like Arthur Zang of the Cardiopath fame or Alain Nteff of GiftedMom renown. I take a look at myself at the barber’s hard by and wonder!
Source: © Canute Tangwa 2019
Canute Tangwa is a Cameroonian. He is a seasoned translator, writer (chronicler) and blogger. His is quite passionate about writing, travelling, music, law, societal issues and the arts. He works and lives in Douala, Cameroon.