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Magazine / Geographical

30/07/2011 00:33

Geographical Girl power In Ghana, thousands of young women migrate from the rural north to cities in the south to work as street porters. It’s exhausting, poorly paid work, but for many it offers a taste of freedom and money. Peter DiCampo reports

At times, their words and their actions tell two different stories. ‘I won’t go back to that place. They are suffering there. If you don’t have money, you suffer. You won’t eat. At home, you can always cook and eat,’ says Amariya, a woman in her 20s who worked in Ghana’s capital, Accra, until she had enough money to return to her village and marry. ‘The work is not good,’ says 19-year-old Abiba, who left her village to work in the city of Kumasi. ‘You carry one load and already you are tired. A whole day and sometimes you get less than 20,000 cedis [two new cedis, or 86 pence; Ghanaians often speak in old cedis]. And the people insult us. They don’t respect us, even though we’re the ones who carry their heavy things.’ ‘When you go to bath, you have to pay,’ says Hommo, a girl in her early teens who worked in Accra until she decided to continue her education. ‘When you go to toilet, you have to pay. As for the rooms where we stay, 14 girls in a small room, and every week you each pay 5,000 cedis [22 pence]. At home, you don’t have to pay any money.’ These girls are all Kayayo, women and young girls from Ghana’s barren northern regions who leave their homes to work as porters in the cities of the south. They make the journey to escape a place where meagre subsistence farming is the primary occupation; where it’s standard practice for girls to do housework and raise their male siblings rather than attend school; and where education, infrastructure and health care lag far behind the rest of the country. Going south The tradition of Kayayo is so common, even expected, that the only statistics are a handful of rough estimates from aid organisations that have recently become involved with Kayayo girls. Some place their numbers as high as the tens of thousands, and many Ghanaians maintain that nearly every northern woman will travel south at some point in her life. The girls rise early each morning and spend long hours waiting in a market or on a street corner, hoping to find someone who needs them to transport their purchased goods or personal belongings. The loads they carry on their heads are large and heavy: head pans full of tomatoes or yams, a traveller’s bursting suitcase. But if the story their words tell is of hardship and poverty, their actions often display their enthusiasm for a chance at independence and opportunity. At the entrance to Doctor Mensah Market in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city, ten or 15 girls sit on their overturned white head-pans, chatting, giggling and pointing at the people who walk by. As a bus full of passengers pulls into the bustling station, the girls spring to their feet in a cloud of dust. They laugh and shout as they chase the vehicle, some of them jumping onto the back bumper and peering inside. Long before the bus has stopped, they are claiming pieces of luggage and calculating how much money they could earn by carrying them. http://www.geographical.co.uk/Magazine/Kayayo_-_Jan_11.html?print=page

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Magazine / Geographical

30/07/2011 00:33

Most of the passengers take their luggage and go, without any assistance. Still, the girls are playful as they return to their seats, skipping and pushing each other along as they walk. ‘I like this place,’ claims one, Alietu, who is no more than 13 years old. She is from Wa, capital of the Upper West Region. Uneducated, she was raised with five brothers and sisters by her mother alone after her father died. About a year ago, her older sister, a hairdresser who teaches Alietu the trade on weekends, led her to Kumasi. Like others who plan to stay in the cities, rather than return to their villages, she cites a new-found freedom as the reason for her decision. ‘I miss my mother, but I won’t go back,’ she says. ‘Here, I’m free. I don’t work for anybody. After market, I don’t fetch water for anybody. I don’t have to go to farm and then come and cook.’ Kayayo city In Accra, communities of Kayayo have developed based on tribal affiliations. Mamprusi women and girls sleep huddled on the pavement outside the markets in which they work. Konkombas, who started moving south en masse during a tribal conflict in the 1990s, have become a minority in the shanty town that bears their name. Now, this miniature city sprawls for several kilometres around Agbogbloshie Market in central Accra, and the various tribes of the north each have their own neighbourhoods. Slowly, their wooden shacks are being replaced with concrete rooms, a sign of increasing permanence. ‘We are all from the same village, and we know each other before we are here,’ explains Lamisi, a 25-year-old woman from Tumu in the Upper West Region. Lamisi shares a room with seven girls, all of the Sisali tribe. They sleep together on the floor of a nine-square-metre room, their belongings hanging from the ceiling or piled on shelves. ‘There are no problems,’ Lamisi says. ‘Nobody [in our room] is there stealing, a witch, no. We are all the same.’ While Lamisi says she is happy to be living with her friends, she admits that Konkomba is not always a comfortable place to live. ‘If you do bad, or you do good, nobody is there to control you, to say that what you did is wrong, or what you did is good,’ she says. ‘There should be some control, from parents. Some people are not going to work. They will be stealing, and some of the girls, in the evening they will go to Circle [a place where prostitutes congregate].’ Whether they like their lives in the city or not, all of the Kayayo tend to agree on one thing: they could not make this money in their home villages. Hamama Mahama, a middle-aged mother of four, has been working in Accra for months at a time throughout her life. She makes more money than her husband, a farmer, and is putting three of her children through school. ‘For us, we’re used to this,’ she says. ‘But our children shouldn’t have to come and do this.’ January 2011

http://www.geographical.co.uk/Magazine/Kayayo_-_Jan_11.html?print=page

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Girl Power  

‘When you go to bath, you have to pay,’ says Hommo, a girl in her early teens who worked in Accra until she decided to continue her educatio...

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