African Woman’s Plight

Queens of the market
What is playing in your ears today? I hear a voice from Africa that tells a story of need. Poverty in Africa has a woman’s face! Women labor with the burden of being the backbone of the country’s economy, making small farms and selling fruits and vegetables to provide the basic necessities for their families. They have a hard time, often travelling long distances to the markets on dirt roads that are mostly impassable, especially during long rainy seasons.

For many, formal schooling was interrupted for so long because of war (mostly internal conflict). Opportunities for young African women in Liberia and across Africa are scarce, so most women run their small business market. To run a successful business, women need to be able to read and do basic math calculations. The most fundamental way out of poverty is Education—knowledge and skills. Women must learn valuable business and social skills that will allow them to participate fully in planning and organizing their communities.

Education is a key to ending poverty, giving women a voice to reject the corruption that has also contributed to Africa’s poverty, and to embrace a culture of human rights aimed at protection for them and their daughters. Education will give them a fighting chance against discrimination and exploitation. It will give women the possibility to become economically self-sufficient. Education will give women the opportunity to decide on matters concerning their own lives, giving women a voice with which to defend their own interests in those societies that undervalue girls.

But challenges remain all over the continent. Women leaders are still in very small numbers, however, that will change. Hope lies in the kind of example set by organizations like Shades of Liberia, Women of F.I.R.E., and Ward Academy for Girls, which develop projects enabling women to become economically independent. We need to support their efforts to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality. Women entrepreneurs, like the market women, are playing a major role in the fight against poverty. I call them, Queens of the market.

You see… gracefully, she makes her way toward the market balancing a pan of eatables—or anything for that matter —on her head. At times carrying her baby under her arm or tied to her back.

She takes her familiar place in the stall and amidst the noise of the market, you will see a tough, assertive woman evolved in her own power structure to settle with a customer for the final price. Every minute is accounted for by repetitive tasks, and there is no time for relaxation in the marketplace.

The Queen is not in business for herself; it is for her family. Every cent that is earned will help her husband for family maintenance and her children. What is overlooked is the market woman plays a much important role in moving her country to economic prosperity. She is rarely praised or acknowledged for her hard work. Most do not realize that it is her strength and resourcefulness that is responsible for the food found on the dinner tables in just about every home.

I pray that they be encouraged, as I end with the words of Franklyn Douglas, “Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.” It is for every market woman that I write this poem:

The Market Woman
Vivid colors of tropical fruits,
limes, oranges, mangos and pawpaws,
pineapples, plantains, bananas, guavas,
plums, eddoes, yams and cassavas,
sugar canes, palm nuts and red hot peppers.

Gleaming white heaps of new country rice,
tan baskets and brown mats,
blue-purple eggplants, red-violet kola nuts,
indigo head ties, lappas and Vai shirts.
Distinct arts of carvings and paintings,
jewelries of flashing gold, brass and copper.

The stage is set;
the buyers and the sellers have met
with plenty of haggling on the price
until an agreement is reached.
In Africa’s colorful marketplace,
women reign supreme.

Swift and graceful,
she takes her familiar place in the stall.
Then on a table or a bamboo mat,
she spreads her wares of
fuzzy green okras; ten to a pile.

Her hard 16-hour workday continues;
settling her price for little profit,
dashing to satisfy her buyers and
hoping they remember and come back.

Cleverly, she fills a crying baby’s mouth,
smiles at a waiting buyer whose order she’s tending,
exchanges three okra piles for some money,
then embraces her baby who stays hung sucking.

No leisure time, no relaxation;
attentive, diligent and tireless action.
Amidst the hurly-burly marketplace,
she, too, haggles with customers
over price and quantity.

Money earned feeds the family,
dresses the children, pays for schooling;
Grateful for her hard work on their behalf,
she is the heart of her family survival.

The market woman returns home,
kindles the fire and prepares the evening meal.
She serves food to her husband and children—she eats last,
washes herself, puts her house in order
then goes to bed at last.

Liberia: Picking Up The Pieces

Changing ideas and the way of life in Liberia:

For those who desire freedom, Liberia is a land of promise, not a promised land. When Africans in their despairs were being removed from their homes by slave traders (Africans and others) and while Africa was being divided by European powers, our tiny beloved Liberia stood alone as an independent state upon a continent of western colonies. The division of Africa would have been an accomplished fact, in which Liberia could not have had a place. When the British held Sierra Leone to the west, while the French held Cote d’Ivoire to the east as well as Guinea to the north, our tiny beloved Liberia stood alone as an independent state. We also give accounts of the many struggles between the black-skin and brown-skin Africans, settlers and tribesmen, and the formidable difficulties of acceptance of one another. How can anyone not agree that Liberia’s story is an impressive one of fortitude?

We have fought our wars, we have died, we have cried, we have mourned; now we must pick up the pieces and strive to put every Liberian’s life back together. Each of us must set the pace for others to follow, to become a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. We must each challenge ourselves to make a positive difference in a Liberian’s life. It is up to us, Liberians, to build a nation of national consciousness.

We must pick up the piece of hope and dream of a better tomorrow for us and our children so that our universities, colleges and trade schools will engage in accepting students’ applications for higher learning rather than being used as a place of shelter from stray bullets. We must give our children, Liberia’s future builders, an equal chance to make changes for Liberia’s growth in years to come. We must keep hope alive!

We must pick up the piece of joy and celebrate the laughter that once echoed with the drifting wind from the Atlantic, as the voices of our children were heard from their games in neighborhoods, village yards, city yards, schoolyards and playgrounds. Playing together is a fundamental tool in learning to get along; in building togetherness so that when children grow up to become adults they can respect one another.

We must pick up the piece of prosperity and dare to travel the many roads to accomplish our wishes of becoming teachers, taxi drivers, auto mechanics, small business owners, carpenters, governors, clerks, electricians, secretaries, journalists, doctors, rubber tappers, nurses, policemen and policewomen, farmers, market vendors, ministers of the gospel, senators, soldiers, lawyers, writers, musicians, tailors, plumbers, artists, etc, etc, etc.

We must pick up the piece of pride and help to build Liberia into a nation that will compete with the rest of the world in economic growth, sports, science, and research for the benefit of mankind. We can build manufactories, create jobs, export merchandise and acquire wealth through honest hard work. Liberia is blessed with many natural resources. How wonderful it would be to have malls or shopping centers built in every nook and corner throughout Liberia. Not just in Monrovia. If we build it, people will use it! Some may say that I am a dreamer, but I can assure you that I am not the only Liberian dreamer. Every human can appreciate things that somehow accommodate his or her needs.

We must pick up the piece of dignity and have our beloved Lone Star wave alongside flags of other great nations of the world and be recognized as a people, wearing the well-deserved badge of honor and respect. Our presence, along with our voices, must reflect the need for basic human rights in our country as well as around the world. We must stand up and be counted as peacemakers, not abusers of human lives in meaningless wars.

We must pick up the piece of unity and consider our ethnic heritage as one; we must address our uncompromising conservatism of tribalism and embrace each other as one people with the common goal to continue the legacy of our brave mothers and fathers who sacrificed their lives for ours. Working together, Liberians are capable of acquiring greatness on God’s planet earth.

We must pick up the piece of faith, regardless of your belief, Christian or Muslim, and treat each other, as you would like to be treated. We must be able to open the doors of our place of worship with eagerness to praise God together rather than with fear that it could become a place of massacre.

Our Progress or our Past? Liberians are faced with the same dilemma confronting people throughout the world—illiteracy, illness, poverty, human rights, opportunities and uncertainties. Why should the achievement of a better life for every Liberian seem hopeless when our struggle is not against outside factors? In Liberia, it should not be hatred and segregation that must determine our future. We ought to use positive influence to create a good life for every Liberian in every community. Liberia will grow when each Liberian can produce something beyond his own needs. I believe in Liberia’s progress because I have acknowledged Liberia’s past. Success in Liberia is foreseeable. If not us, our children will make this possible!

To be a Liberian means that you are a star, a Lone Star, unique in every way and by all measure, special. Liberty children, Lone Stars, be encouraged.