Fluidly and 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 accustomed 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 bargainer for the final price and quantity. Every minute is accounted for by repetitive tasks and there is no time for leisure or relaxation in the hustling and bustling marketplace. The Queen is not in business for herself; it is for her family. Every cent that is earned is to help her husband for family maintenance and survival and her children.
What is overlooked is that the market woman plays a much important role in moving her country toward 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. The productivity of the Queen of the Market is truly heroic. It is for every market woman that I write this poem:
Vivid colors of tropical fruits,
Limes, oranges, mangos and pawpaws,
Pineapples, plantains, bananas, guavas,
Plums, eddoes, yams, and cassavas,
Sugarcanes, 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, lupus and why shirts.
Distinct arts of carvings and paintings,
Jewelry 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;
Fuzzy green okras, ten to a pile.
Her hard 16-hour workday continues;
Settling her price for diminutive profit,
Dashing to satisfy her buyers and
Hoping they remember and come back.
Cleverly, she fills a crying infant’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.
©2006 Ophelia S. Lewis
From the book: Journeys (a collection of poems)