The Roasted Plantain Seller of East Legon

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Dodzi on her perch

At 9:30 a.m, Dodzi has already roasted wedges of plantain arranged in a pyramid, the thin ends converging upwards. Her face glistens with sweat. She perches on the table that supports the rusty enamel pot of smoldering charcoal, using tongs to turn over the plantains. Usually her eyes hold a sardonic grin but when she sees me slow down in my car, she breaks into delight, displaying even teeth I envy.

I pull over. She jumps down to come for my order, but I wave her back, motioning I’m getting out. Before my car arrived from America, I used to walk to her plantain stand, taking my time to point out which ones I wanted, sometimes eating there. Now, I’ve become one of those enclosed in an air-conditioned car, waiting for a seller to approach my window and fill my order before driving off. I’ve missed the leisure of relating.

Dodzi says something in Ewe to her younger helper and they both smile. I suspect she said I’ve come to visit this time. My purse slung over my shoulder, I cross the gutter and make my way to the bench behind her roofed stand. We exchange greetings. She’s well; I’m well. I sigh with contentment. The breeze is so tingly.

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Dodzi’s helper sweeping around. My car is in the background

I’ve thought of writing about her and even prepared questions on my phone but have never found the time. Now I ask her if I can take her picture and probe into her business. She rolls her eyes and snorts. “People are always coming to ask us questions. Newspaper people, Legon students, asking all sorts of questions. We don’t know what they want with us.” She darts a suspicious look at me. “What are you going to do with my picture?”

“I want to write a blog about you,” I say.

“What is a blog?” She throws her hands up, shaking her head. “I don’t want trouble!”

“Oh, just an online article. Something I write for fun.” She’s still suspicious, so I pull out my phone and open my blog. “See?”

Somehow, she gets the idea that it’s only in America and relaxes, flipping plantains over. I feel a smidgen of guilt for not telling her I have readers the world over.

“Should I give you the usual?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Two cedis, and one-cedi groundnuts.” In the glove compartment of my car, some nuts from the previous day nestle in their clear plastic envelope the size of a deck of cards, but I want to give her business. She hands me two hot plantains wrapped in paper. They are just the way I like them: not too ripe. I settle down to munch and talk, looking round me. I’m not sure how to proceed. The questions I’ve prepared suddenly seem artificial:

How much do you make in a day?

Enough, she answers without looking at me. She has no time for that kind of silliness. A suited customer awaits in a car. She rushes to the window to take his order, then she serves him, wrapping four cuts of plantains in paper before slipping all into a blue plastic bag. After delivery, she smiles at the man and waves him off.

“You still serve in plastic?” I ask when she returns to her perch on the table.

She sighs. “Yes, I told you before, they won’t take the plantains without plastic. I hear on the radio; they tell us plastic with hot food is dangerous, but if I don’t give them plastic, they ask me if I take them for bush people. Look at them, educated people wearing suits in their cars and they want plastic. What can I do? I have to serve them in plastic or they will go to someone else. I wish they were like you. It would save me money. I have to buy these plastic bags that might kill my customers.” Her smile is bitter, sardonic again.

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Reluctantly serving hot plantain in plastic bags

As she’s talking, a friend of hers from the other side dodges the Lagos Avenue traffic and dashes over, smiling at me. “Ei, Mommy, you have come to visit us again.”

I give her a half smile. Mommy. It’s a politeness thing that makes me feel ancient. I loathe it.

“Ei, is that your car?” she asks. “I remember you complaining about dusty taxis, haha.”

“She’s complaining about plastic again,” Dodzi says, wiping her hands in her blue apron.

“Hmm, Mommy, as for die, we will all die. It’s in God’s hands.”

“That’s what’s wrong with this country,” I say with heat. “We take no responsibility for our lives. We say, Oh, God is in control, so we don’t need to change our toxic behavior, we don’t need to take care of ourselves!”

“That’s why we go to church,” the friend says. “When it’s your time to die, you die. But you go to heaven.”

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Friendly advice: When it’s your time to die, you die

I snort. “Yeah, church is fine, that’s why pastors have so much power. People are so full of “God is in control” that pastors are the ones in control. No wonder they take people’s money and impregnate their women.”

The friend gives me a tolerant smile and turns to Dodzi, but Dodzi smiles contemptuously.

“Sister, I agree with you,” she says. “Let me tell you, I know this pastor. He prays for women who can’t have children and when the children are born they all look like him, ha! He fucks the women, that’s what. I am no fool. I know what is going on, but people are afraid of pastors so men let them chop their wives, ha!” Her laughter is full of scorn.

I’m impressed. Usually the not so educated aren’t this irreverent. As we’re talking, her younger helper sweeps around us. I’m about to ask Dodzi more questions about pastors when I notice her starting a fire about ten yards from us.

I turn to Dodzi, pointing. “Is she burning the rubbish?”

“Yes.” She goes on flipping plantains, the perfect arches of her brows serene. She squeezes a plantain to see if it’s cooked through, then wipes her hand on her apron. A customer awaits. She serves quickly, asking the lady to have a nice day.

I eye the gray smoke rising into the air, then I note that on a long table near us, sachets of pure water are stacked in an ice cooler, as well as soda.

“Does the trash contain plastic?”

“Yes,” she says, still not looking at me.

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Burning rubbish containing plastic

To be continued.

 

 

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