The Kayayei’s Tale
I walk my beat in cities and markets
Up and down in the perspiring sun
From Tamale to Kumasi Kejetia
From Techiman to Takoradi market circle
The mighty Accra is my home base
Whether it is Nima, or Mallam Atta,
Agbogbloshie or Makola, I am there.
Down I come with a head pan in hand.
To tread the markets and lorry parks.
From six to six each day, rain or shine.
I carry my wares; other people’s loads
Who strut daintily behind me,
Watching intently, anxiously
Whilst I shout and nudge my way in the crowd,
Lest I should be lost with their goods.
Yet when I finally arrive, these opportunists,
These women, mothers, genteel ladies and lazy men
Even they, begrudge me my wage.
Foxes may have holes and birds have nests
But I, a mother, a daughter, have neither.
I make my bed in lidless shacks and verandas
Where I chase elusive sleep on weary pillows
I am the prey of mosquitoes
And all blood-sucking creatures.
Unscrupulous men lurk about me
To plunder both my purse and womanhood
And make of me a penniless mother
To carry a double load thereafter
And shout and shove through the same crowds.
Shop-owners scowl at me, drivers curse me
Shoppers call me scornful names
Unless they’re after my wares; my head,
To carry loads they’re too decent to carry.
I am paraded with my head pan at rallies
As if I am not me without it or perhaps
To show the politician that I have no job.
How can you possibly know?
You the scowler, the curser, the labeler
You the gentleman, the lady, the man, the woman,
You the politician, the executive, the big man,
I would have you know,
That I am not, I become!
Note: The term kayayei (sing: kayayoo) is a combination of Hausa and Ga terms: kaya is Hausa for ‘goods, ‘ and yoo/yei is Ga for ‘woman/women’. The term refers to female porters in the major cities in Ghana. Most of these women have migrated from rural communities in the north of the country to the urban areas in search of work. They typically carry their burdens on their heads using aluminium head pans. This poem is my contribution to the many voices highlighting their plight.
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