They rise early in the morning and head out to the market to eke out a living. The initial cool morning breeze soon gives rise to the hot blazing sun under which they persist to make enough to have food on the table for the day. They are the market vendors that contribute hugely to the vibrancy of every single market in The Gambia. Come rain or shine, they can be found lined in every nook and cranny of every marketplace selling vegetables, oil, and all other condiments. The little profit they make can be the difference between a child getting an education or staying home and not going to school.
They leave their houses as early as 5:00 am in order to make it to fish landing sites to get pans of fresh fish or fresh vegetables from the vegetable gardens. Then they rush to the market where they will prepare their supply and hopefully attract enough customers for the day. By the time they arrive back home to their families, it is usually around 7:00 pm or sun set. Then it is time to do house work and by the time they finally get a rest, it is soon time to start all over again.
“This business is not easy,” bemoaned Fatou Darboe as she negotiates the price with a potential buyer at Brikama Market. “I sometimes buy a pan for D1, 500 and along with that I have to buy ice blocks preserve the fish since there is no storage facility available to us in the market,” she tells The Chronicle.
According to her, the profit she gets only sustains her and her family for just a day’s consumption. She gets a little frustrated when customers haggle her for the price she is selling her wares. In desperation, she sometimes sells her fish and other perishable items at no profit to avoid them going to waste.
“I have been in this business for 12 years now and it’s what I use to sustain my family. The small profit I make from it is what I use to feed my family, clothe, pay for school fees them and take care of other small needs they might have. My first child is in her final year in secondary school” she tells The Chronicle.
Fatou is optimistic of her children’s future after school, despite her low-income earning status. “They would not have to depend on anyone for their needs after completion of their school, and they will not have to struggle like I am doing. This is my ultimate goal in this struggle.”
As is common in many households in The Gambia, Fatou’s husband has multiple wives and not in a position to discharge some of his financial responsibilities. This has forced Fatou to take charge of her children’s welfare – particularly their education.
“My eldest daughter helps me out but I don’t entertain it much because I want her to concentrate in school and not in this fish selling.”
To her, the most stressful moment in her work is when she goes to the landing sites and finds out there is scarcity of fish. That means no business for her on that day as selling fish is her main business activity. She normally visits Gunjur, Tanji and Kartong fish landing sites and will sometimes visit all three only to come back with little to nothing in her pan.
Another woman at the Brikama Market, Sheriffo Drammeh, has been engaged in vegetable selling for 15 years. “I have my children to take care of and also my late brother’s children which are the reasons I have to do this,” she tells The Chronicle.
“I know if I sit and relax and not do anything, I won’t be able to cater for all those children. I was able to educate five of my children though others couldn’t go to school because I couldn’t pay for all of them.”
Sheriffo leaves home at 5am each morning to start looking for vegetables and fish that she will sell at the market. Like Fatou, she only arrives home around 7:00pm leaving very time to interact with her family.
“I stay in the market till 7:00pm because customers would still come around to shop in the evening. The vegetables I sell are imported from Senegal, and sometimes I take them on credit. I don’t pay for it till after my sales.”
“My earning depends on the sales I’m able to make and the flow of business in the market. From what I earn, I’m able to cater for my needs and that of my children. Many of us market women are the sustainers of our families,” she says.
She envisions that her children will be self-reliant after graduating from school with the hope that they secure good jobs. What she wouldn’t want is for her children to make a living the way she does. Both Fatou and Sheriffo decried the lack of a storage facility in the market which forces them to sell their products at cheaper prices at the expense of their expenditure thereby, incurring a loss in the business.
They appealed for the government’s assistance in addressing the lack of a storage facility at the market. This, they believe would empower their trade and improve their standards of living. And that will allow them to educate many more children.