George Will once said “childhood is frequently a solemn business for those inside it,” and I never understood that quote. Nor did I want to understand it. I’d like to think, since my childhood was fairly carefree, that everyone’s childhood was comparable to mine. However, that’d be my optimism and naivete shining through rather brightly. Now I’m not saying my childhood was entirely peachy keen but it certainly was not like anything I witnessed at the outdoor market in Kumasi. The most accurate words fail me in describing the emotions I felt watching the Kayayei street girls working in and around the market. The market itself was essentially a swap meet on steroids, or even some sort of labyrinth. It was a big ball of Ghanaian confusion, hundreds of people going to and fro at record speed, bartering for what could very well have been their family’s next meal. Everything from toilet tissue and laundry detergent to rotting meat and the service of the street girls was exchanged for cedis, pesewas, and even Michael Jordan apparel. The hustle of the street girls was actually admirable, but it broke my heart at the same time. I can’t ever imagine having to part with my adolescence to do everything in my power to ensure that my family and I were cared for. The street girls carried their burdens atop their heads just as they did their merchandise, but they always seemed to walk upright. And while that was certainly a testament to their bearing, a testament to how strong they had to appear in order to obtain work, I’m sure their inner workings were quite shattered. For these girls, these children, they were in the solemn business of childhood, and for once in my life I understood that quote by George Will. Age means nothing; school means nothing when an entire family’s well-being is dependent on a daughter’s (or a sister’s) meager earnings from selling or carrying a basketful of items on top of her head. Despite it all, though, there’s no way these girls can be pessimistic and survive in their line of “work”. They are the young saviors of their familial units, the people who hold destinies in their hands. They’re independent and are learning much more about the world than most girls their age. These are the realities and experiences that push some of the Kayayei girls forward. And hopefully the drive they use to maneuver merchandise in and out of the market and up and down the city streets will be used to escape the slippery slope of street girl life.
– Shanae Auguste