I eat breakfast before going to work but by 10 am I’m hungry for a midmorning snack. I don’t have to look far for a bite to eat. Throughout the day various food vendors stop by my job – one selling rice with sauce, another beans with gari (dried, ground manioc), another selling boiled yams served with pureed habanero peppers, another with a dish like hot grits. The women* carry trays with the steaming hot food in coolers on their heads. They carry a stool with them, as well, to put the tray on during a sale. Sometimes one at a time, sometimes in small groups, they walk up to the front of our office building and clap or shout to see if anyone inside would like to buy something.
If there are any takers, the vendor lifts the tray from her head and places it on the stool. If it’s early in the day and the tray is still extremely heavy, the purchaser will help lift the tray from the vendor’s head and put it down. An order is placed by how much you want to spend. “Give me 100 CFA ($0.20) of rice and sauce.” Or, “I’d like 50 CFA ($0.10) of beans with gari.” Either amount, 50 or 100 CFA, gets enough food for a large snack or a small meal. Along with the food, the vendor carries bowls and spoons and a bucket of soapy water to wash off the dishes. All the necessities of a small restaurant are carried around on the vendor’s head.
I am soaked in sweat sitting in the shade. I might curl up in a ball and cry if you made me carry an enormous tray of hot food on my head in the sun all day. While carrying a stool. With a baby strapped to my back. The food vendors start out early and generally go through the late afternoon, walking through the community and stopping at various businesses. The tailor’s shop, the mechanic’s shop, the welder’s shop, the carpenter’s shop. Our town has hundreds of small businesses, mostly with less than five employees. There are more formal food stands also, but the roving food vendors generally serve the busy workers in our community.
Move over American food truck craze. You’ve met your match.
*It’s inevitably a woman or girl selling all types of food except, inexplicably, the spaghetti and omelette stands which are mostly run by men. Go figure.