On a normal day, I visit the market at-least once. If I am on my way to class in the morning, I can easily grab an egg sandwich with cheese for 2 cedis and 60 peswas. It isn’t a gourmet meal, but it is convenient and tasty. It takes about 5 minutes for them to make it and then I am on my way. If I am on my way home, I will usually purchase 1 cedi of bananas for a post dinner smoothie. I usually purchase most of my fruits and vegetables from the “Night Market,” and the best part about it, they’re all organic! I can buy large cucumbers for 3cedis, a bag of potatoes for 10 cedis, a full pineapple for 3 cedis, 3 bananas for 1 cedi, a small avocado for 1 cedi, red onion for 1 cedi and a bundle of green onions for 1 cedi as well. In addition, I can get tomatoes, lime, and smaller fruit bags for 1 cedi. Really, it is such a great deal and extremely convenient (it is important to keep in mind that 1 cedi is about 25 cents). I appreciate how accessible organic fruits and vegetables are here. Back in the States, organic anything costs an arm and a leg. Here, they are cheap and found just about anywhere.
The market is one thing I will surely miss when I leave Ghana. I have been able to cleanse my diet while living here. Fortunately, the market is about a 4 minute walk from the International Student Hostel, so I have no excuses when it comes to eating healthy. However, there is something that will always be a bit difficult to swallow when it comes to my trips to the Night Market.
Initially, I was not sure if I should share this, but I don’t think this entry would suffice without honesty. I cannot turn a blind eye to reality. The two babies pictured above are Auntie Olivia’s children. Auntie Olivia is a favorite among international students; partly due to the fact that her fruit is always great, but honestly, mostly due to her cute babies! They both accompany her at her fruit-stand everyday. They are absolutely lovely, but definitely not able to live as the “typical” child does in the U.S. (the U.S. is not the standard, as there are cultural differences, legitimate lack of resources in Ghana, etc. but for comparison purposes I wanted to draw a line between the two). For example, last semester, CSU and UC students collected money to buy Auntie Olivia’s baby girl malnutrition supplements from the local pharmacy, because she wasn’t able to afford it (it was about 40 cedis which is $10). She was extremely grateful, as the doctor said that her baby absolutely needed them to survive. We were happy to be able to help. But really, what would have happened if she was unable to get it after-all?
Auntie Olivia also has an older daughter who is 15 years old. Every time I see her, she is watching after her younger siblings, while also concurrently managing the fruit stand alongside her mother. It would be safe to say that I see her acting as a mother figure to her younger sister. She attends school and immediately heads to the market afterwards to help her mother with the stand.
Many children, between the ages of 10-15, sometimes younger, work in the market. (Based on developmental milestones, I can assume this age range is accurate). Some are able to attend school, but many aren’t. Abigail, a 15- year old girl, manages an entire stand by herself. She sales egg sandwiches, crackers, drinks, and many other small snacks. I always wondered why I always saw her working at the market, so I decided to ask her why she doesn’t attend school. When I asked, she mentioned that both of her biological parents are dead, and that she works at the market for a woman, in exchange for a place to live. I asked her if she wanted to go to school and she said that she really does, but she, nor the woman she lives with, are able to afford it.
The reality is, this is very common in Ghana. As a Social Work major, it is difficult to cope with. I cannot tell them “this is wrong. She is too young to work here!” because the reality is, they are doing what they can for themselves and their families. In addition, it is outlined in the Children’s Act of Ghana that the minimum age for child labor is 15, and “light work” is acceptable if the child is a minimum of 13 years of age, as long as it does not interfere with development and health, and attendance in school. That fact in itself makes me wonder, “do the girls tell me that they are 15 because they know this is the minimum age for child labor? (because truthfully, many of them look way younger!!!).” Another thought I have, if all “requirements” are met i.e. they are in fact 15 years of age, attending school, not working between the hours of 8am-6p (night work prohibited) and seemingly healthy, is it okay for them to work “strenuous” hours, even if they are able to manage? (At the market directly after school/before and doing homework while working..) This one is hard.
All-in-all it is extremely important to refrain from automatically equating poverty with abuse and neglect, because most of the children come from loving families. The worst part about it all, though, is that you witness child labor so often, that it almost becomes the norm. In Hohoe, I saw several children Hawking down the streets. Is this considered “light work” ? When I visit Ghana in the future, I hope I will have a better understanding.