“Amoo, Boodie, Enam fo fo fo, Panoo fresh o!” Vendors peddling their wares; tomatoes to plantains to fish to bread. Most average Ghanaians I know rarely went to the market daily. Street vendors were a life saver even on those days when you had made that market trip. Buying cooked meals, sweets, or snacks was forbidden, especially after Mass when we were socializing in the church courtyard.
People, she said, were always observing us and making assumptions about our social status. Purchasing and consuming street food in public places was what the locals did. This became increasingly difficult to avoid as we began spending inordinate amounts of time at the rectory planning Bible competitions, retreats, and founding the local Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Grandmother claimed that in addition to ruining her reputation we would also open ourselves up to contract diseases because our constitution was such that it would be unable to withstand these germs. We thwarted these concerns however because no matter what kind of street food we bought, they all tasted better than what we were fed at home. Peer pressure for me, at a time when some of my friends were giving in to other riskier behaviors like sex and drugs, came in the form of sneakily buying street food.
The irony of this issue was that Grandmother allowed street vendors who brought things to our door, as if to say, those were approved because it occurred in the privacy of our house gates. Some of the numerous men and women who roamed the streets advertizing their wares were sometimes permitted entry into our compound. There was always a system to who qualified to enter the compound to exhibit their wares. Grandmother usually approved of them because they were well behaved and spoke very eloquently. This was a difficult criterion for the average street vendor because a large number of street vendors were not educated. First impressions were very important for Grandmother to approve or disapprove. The other deciding factor was our need at any given time. Our house-help might have forgotten something on the grocery list, or wanted to cook something fresh (usually seafood) for dinner but did not have the time to make that trip to the market. Sometimes Grandmother had a craving for something in particular. However, if my sister and I had a craving, we had to have been on our best behavior that day, and we had to convince her that we needed it, had the pocket money for it, or deserved it. Whatever the reason was for beckoning a street vendor, Grandmother made that call, and Sheela and I gathered around to observe the interaction. I recall having a smattering of regular approved street vendors; the ones who peddled fresh baked bread, fresh fish, and fresh vegetables were regulars. Our household usually consumed three distinct types of bread: butter bread, sugar bread, and tea bread. Ironically, these names actually corresponded to the texture and ingredients of the bread. Our bread vendor, from as early as I can remember to about age fifteen, had been the baker next door. When she got too old to work, Grandmother gave in and approved a vendor who fit her criteria, and whose wares seemed to hold up to Grandmother’s scrutiny. I recall the presence of other approved vendors: the one selling smoked fish, or freshly made porridge in the morning, the ‘manicure-on-foot lady,’ the knife sharpener, the mortar and pestle mender, and the hair lady. As if these itinerant vendors were not enough of a disturbance to my Grandmother’s “proper” house rules, the neighbors living catty corner to our house decided to rent to a family that owned a storefront grocery kiosk. At first, my Grandmother worried about the depreciating value of our house once the appraisers came around. Then, she became obsessed with the people she called ‘riff-raff’ who were patronizing the store. She eventually made peace with them when one night they came through when she needed to get me some cold clay to soothe the habanero burn I had inflicted on myself while I was leaning to grind pepper on the traditional beba (stone) for the first time. The only other acceptable situation in which street vendors were approved of was at snack and meal times during recess at school. In this case, it did not seem to matter to her that others might observe us buying from the street. Perhaps it was because our school was an elite one yet everyone equally purchased from the street vendors. Sometimes it was because we did not have time to pack lunch. Whatever the reason for this one other permission, Sheela and I did not question it because we were all too happy to not eat yesterday’s leftovers.

2 thoughts on “Enticing Street Vendors (A piece of the memoir pre-revision)

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