“Does the trash contain plastic?
“Yes,” she says, still not looking at me.
“But burning plastic is so bad! You know that!”
She turns the glare of her slit eyes on me. “What do you want me to do? If we don’t burn it, this place would be nasty.”
I cast my eyes along the road. There’s not a single trash can in sight. Only twenty yards down from us, another roasted plantain seller waits on a customer. Once called Kofi Brokeman, roasted plantain with groundnuts is no longer a meal for the poor. Lagos Avenue in affluent East Legon is dotted with women roasting away. Nowhere to put their trash.
I turn to Dodzi. “Don’t you wish the government would put rubbish bins on the street?”
Both women snort. “Ghana government?!”
Dodzi gives me a side glance full of scorn. “They should put rubbish bins where? No one cares, tweaa! Go to Kasewa. There are mountains of rubbish everywhere. Right by the rubbish heaps, they sell foodstuffs. Trᴐtrᴐ drivers drop and pick up passengers right in front of a mountain of rubbish. Kai! It’s true. So, we do what we can. We sweep and burn the rubbish because there’s nowhere else to put them.”
My words dry up. What can I say? I should be attacking Accra City Council or something, not her.
“What about these,” I say, pointing at a carton full of plantain skins to my right. “Why aren’t you burning them?”
“Those? We sell them at Medina market. They use them to make alata sɛmena. The black soap, you know. They burn them and cook the ash.”
Her friend chimes in. “It’s a long process of boiling and cooling and until the soap rises to the surface. You can smell it.”
“I can show you how to do it if you like.” Dodzi says. Then she turns indignant. “That soap, I grew up with it. We always made our own soap. Now, they, they, they, they say we should use Dove, Lux, stuff from foreign lands. Our soap makes your skin feel good and young. Our food is better too! Look at you, looking so young. It’s because you’re eating roasted plantain and groundnuts, Ghana food. You’ve got fresh blood! Ghana food is good for you. I’m sure you’ve got a boyfriend. I’m sure all these young men are chasing you. Someone is fucking you, no?”
I’m spared a response, because at that precise moment, she spots a young man strolling past. He is clicking a pair of tiny scissors. “Herh!” she calls. “Come cut my nails for me.”
“Who is that?” I ask.
“He cuts nails. That’s his business.”
What do you know, an ambulatory mani-pedicurist! He swivels round and steps behind the plantain stand. Dodzi sits like a lady riding side saddle on a horse. She can roast her plantains and peel off groundnut skins at the same time, filling tiny plastic envelopes with the peeled nuts. Her bare feet hang down, and the pedicurist goes to work. He’s from the north, with the tribal marks of a Frafra though he communicates in Hausa.
“Where are the leaves for the apklɛ?” Dodzi’s friend asks. Dodzi points at an aluminum bowl. The friend picks up the bowl and begins separating the leaves from the stems. Then she turns to me. “Do you know akplɛ?”
“Sure, I do. Is it not like banku, only with more cassava?”
“Aha, you see?” Dodzi says. “Some people don’t know, just because it’s Ewe food. We are all one Ghana, with slight differences.”
“It’s true,” I answer. “So how much for the pedicure?”
Her friend jumps in. “One cedi.”
One cedi! Less than 25 American cents. Dodzi laughs at my expression. “Yeah, you can go to the salon for a pedicure where they put your feet in warm water and do all kinds of fancy stuff. Me? I don’t have time for that. I can paint my own nails when I get home. I don’t need to pay 20/30 cedis when I can get my nails cut for one cedi and not waste time.”
“She has to go home and cook for her family,” the friend says. “She’s going to make soup with the leaves to go with the akplɛ. She doesn’t have time for salons. That’s why I’m helping her.”
“No, this pedicure is great,” I say. “Look, he’s even got his soap for cleaning the nails. Wow.”
Nail clippings settle on the ground near my feet. I ask if they are going to sweep them and burn them. A look of horror overtakes Dodzi. “Sweep them and throw them away? My nails? No, no, no!”
“Ah, Sister, don’t you know? Human nails are powerful. You never know what people are going to do with them. I’m taking them home to burn or bury.”
I’m confused. “What will people do with them?”
“They can do medicine. Ei, hmm. You don’t know! Maybe someone is jealous of you. She takes your nails to the medicine man, and next thing you know, you’re dead. Or your belly gets swollen with rotten intestines.”
“Let me tell you,” the friend says, “even your soiled menstrual pads can be used.”
“Yes!” Dodzi says. “Do you know people steal those from your rubbish bin? Hmm, I had a neighbor. Ah, she kept noticing that any time she woke up, her rubbish was scattered on the ground, like someone used a stick to poke and separate them. And yet when she collected them, she would notice that not a single used pad was to be found. Her neighbor was stealing her used pads to use them for medicine.”
“You don’t know? They put water on it to redeem your blood, then they take it to the medicine man to make juju and either sabotage your business or kill you. Ei, let me tell you. I even know someone who would stalk her enemy at the hairdresser’s to get her hair. Make sure you collect your bits of hair when you go to the salon.”
I nod in shock.
“Don’t let them keep your nails. And watch out for your pads.”
“Erm…thanks.” I don’t want to tell her about my hysterectomy. Who knows where that conversation would lead to? “So, where do you get the paper you use to wrap plantain in?”
“Medina market. You can get anything from Medina—Hey, MTN!” She’s looking at a lady sitting under a large red umbrella selling phone cards. “Bring me ten cedis’ credit.”
I marvel at how Dodzi multitasks: roasting plantains, serving customers, prepping for dinner, getting her nails done and keeping up with the competition.
“There are so many of you roasting plantain,” I say. “Don’t you worry about not getting enough business?”
She smiles confidently. “No, there’s enough for us. God provides for us all. They have their customers; I have mine. Like you. You come back, don’t you?”
“I do,” I say, smiling wickedly. “Even though your plantain wedges are thinner than others!”
Her tongs hang in the air. She looks betrayed. “You bought from someone else? What?”
“Well, erm, sometimes I have to. If I can’t fight the traffic to get here. But you’re my favorite!”
She smiles and shrugs, turning over a plantain. “Anyway, I can’t envy anyone. My customers always come back.” She picks up a stick and pokes at the coal.
I know I will always come back. She’s sassy and witty. And she’s my friend.