Mason, Franklin and I went "hawking." What is "hawking" you ask? It is the selling of wares on the streets. In Ghana it is very common. You can buy everything from the convenience of your car window - a cold Coke, toilet paper, batteries, watches, bread, apples, flags, maps, ironing boards, tables, etc... Many items are toted from car-to-car on the heads of the sellers.
The women in the photo below are selling (in the center) Bowlflute which is similar to a deep fried doughnut, (woman to the left in the off-white shirt) bags of water in which you tear off a corner of the bag with your teeth then suck the liquid out, and (the woman in the brown striped shirt) plantain chips which are delicious by the way.
(This was a google image, we didn't take any photos of our selling. Sorry.)
Since coming to Ghana, I've joked about going "hawking." However, the longer we have lived here, the more I've wondered what it must be like. Plans were made to go on Wednesday night and Mason and Franklin decided to come along for the experience. Two of our neighbors also accompanied us, Beth, and her daughter, Maria.
We debated on how to do this and tossed around several ideas -
1.) Should we buy all of the items from the hawker then give them away? No.
2.) Should we pay the hawkers to let us hawk with them? No.
3.) Should we buy all of the items from the hawker then sell them ourselves? No.
4.) Should we sell something different creating new competition? No.
5.) Should we try to partner with a hawker then help them sell their items? Yes.
And that's what we did.
I partnered with a bread seller. Balancing a loaf of bread on my head at times, I shouted to buses, cars and trotros (public transportation = overcrowded vans), "BUTTER BREAD! 2 CEDIS 50 PESWAS! SUGAR BREAD! 3 CEDIS! FRESH BREAD! BUY IT NOW!" (For those who know me, well, yes, I did it in my LOUD ROBIN VOICE!) I even ran beside the trotros trying to sell bread to the crowded passengers inside who could not seem to stop laughing at the sight outside the window.
Mason sold plantain chips. He sold several bags, but he was not as loud as his mother. Franklin sold phone credit with our friend Tony. Franklin also had a successful night selling. I, however, did not sell anything. Not one loaf of bread.
My neighbor, Beth, was the master seller of the night. In the 90 minutes we sold, she parted with 5 bags of plantain chips! Impressive!
After experiencing this way of selling, I appreciate the business effort of the hawkers. It is hard work. My arms hurt from holding the bread. My eyes stung from the diesel exhaust and red dust being spit upon me. My feet were tired from running beside vehicles. Geez, my voice even hurt from yelling over-and-over, "BUTTER BREAD! 2 CEDIS 50 PESWAS! SUGAR BREAD! 3 CEDIS! FRESH BREAD! BUY IT NOW!"
Again, most people enjoyed seeing us participate in "hawking." Some laughed. Some pulled out their cameras and took pictures. Some Ghanaians joked around with us. But not everyone.
In Ghana, there are times I can feel the animosity toward the color of our skin. Daily, it seems, we have police encounters simply because the officers want a bribe. They pull us over and then try to find a reason to arrest us. It's tiring and it's frustrating, but it's life for us here. Our white skin seems to indicate money to some people here.
As cars drove past, there were some people who looked at us with disdain. Some stares were so fierce it made me uncomfortable. During the night, twice I was given the hand motion to indicate a sale, so I ran beside the two trotros to make the transaction. Both times, the person wanted to take the bread for free instead of paying for it. I suppose both men thought they should not have to pay the purchase price if they were buying from a person with white skin. Why? It's very sad. As the sun set, people were urging us to get off the road for our safety.
Perhaps the people who were offended by our hawking efforts thought we were poking fun at their culture or making this profession into something glamorous. This is not the case. We simply wanted to learn what it is like to "hawk." After all, a majority of the spontaneous purchases we conduct here are done through our car window.
When I see children selling, my heart breaks because I know they should be in school. Ghana has cracked down on this in recent years so the number participating is fewer, but there are still children out selling everyday. They should not be. However, for the adults making a living this way, I am thankful they are willing to work. These are intelligent men and women who speak multiple languages and can compute difficult math transactions in their heads producing correct change. Basically, they are running a commission-based business so if they don't sell, they don't make any money. They start at sunrise and work until after dark. These people seem to have a strong work ethic.
There are more questions I plan to ask the next time I go "hawking." How much profit do you make in a day? What are the best times to sell? Where do you buy your items? Etc... Oh, yes, I will do it again because I have several friends who wanted to go but were unable to do so this time. (Right Bible Study gals? Ha!)
We've experienced one great benefit from our evening selling on the street. Now, when I pass through the place where we partnered with "hawkers," I now know many of the sellers names. Smiles and waves are given freely to our family every time we pass. Even though I didn't sell any bread, the new relationships made it worth it!
The next time you are walking down the bread aisle at the grocery store, just picture me with a loaf of bread on my head yelling, "BUTTER BREAD! 2 CEDIS 50 PESWAS! SUGAR BREAD! 3 CEDIS! FRESH BREAD! BUY IT NOW!"
She is a hard worker, strong and industrious.
She knows the value of everything she makes, and works late into the night.