The work of head porters is very important to the commercial activities around every major market in Ghana. They are called by various names depending on which part of the country they ply their trade.
Throughout Ghana, however, the most popular name for these critical members of the mercantile value chain, especially in Accra, is Kaya (generic) but Kayayoo/Kayayei (feminine singular/plural) and Kayanu/Kayahii (masculine singular/plural).
In the Volta region, they are known as Agbatetor or Agbate in short.
Theirs is not the easiest of jobs or source of livelihood but it puts food on the table and serves their basic needs.
Each one has his or her success story or challenge about what they go through in life before making a living and finally breaking through to live above the poverty line. Some succeed even beyond their wildest dreams to lead the life they crave.
Most of these success stories barely take us through the hardships and struggles that these women face. Some of the things they survive while hawking on the streets, serving as ‘trotro mates’, Kayayei and other menial jobs include robberies and rapes in the night. The majority are, however, are into Kayayei business.
Head porting in Accra, is not exactly a lucrative business that most young girls would find as their source of livelihood. Several factors account for this phenomenon including poverty, child marriage, and the attraction of “greener pastures”. The bulk of Kayayei originate from the northern regions of Ghana, many of who escape poverty to Accra, Kumasi and other big towns and cities to earn a living. Many are also children who escape child marriage and cannot go back to their origins. They work to cater for themselves, their children, and their families back home.
Some also come to work to acquire the essentials of life.
The Kayayei business involves carrying goods and wares of people who purchase items at market places in large quantities. In other words, people go to the market to shop for and often cannot move the large number of items purchased, so they call a Kayayoo to carry the goods to their destinations for a fee. The monies that are paid to them is what they live and feed on for as long as they wish to continue the head porting. The majority of those who find themselves in this kind of business are young females from the north between the ages of 14 to 22 years.
TUUNYV Magazine spoke with some of the kayayei and they had interesting information to share. Adamu is a kayayoo who operates from Makola market. She is 16 years and hails from the north. She is the first child of her parents. Life was a daily struggle for survival so came to Accra to earn a living. She is hoping to save enough money with which to support her family when she goes back to join them.
Fatima is 22 and this is what she said – “hhmm, it has not been easy but it is not bad at all. During festive seasons people come to do a lot of shopping so we take advantage of that and work as hard as we can”. She explained that when she goes for one trip she can earn five Ghana Cedis or ten Ghana Cedis depending on the distance and weight of the load.
No matter how small their savings before embarking on the journey down south, they are encouraged by their dreams and aspirations in life.
They have various reasons for migrating from the north to the south but one outstanding reason is that they wish to set up their businesses. They realize their dreams would be unattainable because of their background and their perception of being women and the need to married off early and take care of the home.
THE HARSH REALITY
Often, the harsh reality of daily survival becomes obvious once in the city, having sacrificed the little comfort they had back home to come and hustle.
The migration from the northern part of Ghana to the south in the case of the northerners is a challenge on its own. These young girls are forced to find money by any means (from savings, stealing or selling of personal properties) to help them come down south. Talking about the risk involved in travelling such a long distance not knowing whether they will make it to the south or not and when they arrive where to lay their heads is also a struggle.
Kayayei are suffering under perilous conditions as they live, work and sleep in the open, exposed to inclement weather and mosquitoes. In Accra, Kayayei and their male counterparts are located in three main locations – Tema Station area (Tudu Main Lorry Station, CMB Railway Station), Darkuman/Kokompe and Agbogbloshie. When it rains, they pick up their beddings and huddle together standing on their feet until the rain is over. It is worse when they are with children or pregnant. Health and hygiene are major issues as they are forced by economic and financial conditions to bath once at the close of day. They pay to access privately-owned bath and toilet facilities at a cost of 1.00ghs a day.
Their work is fraught with the dangers of vehicular accidents as they solicit for loads. Their children are not spared from the dangers either.
Some of these young girls have to perch with people they either know or don’t know that is if their fellow Kayayei have ‘decent’ places and are willing to accommodate them or they find a kiosk or shed to sleep.
The story does not end with their ability to find themselves established in Accra but they also go through other challenges such as the weather conditions especially on rainy nights, the ability to afford medication or visit the hospital when sick and sometimes become victims of rape. The unfortunate ones get pregnant and have to go through an ordeal of fending for themselves and the children.
Despite these challenges, they are still determined to succeed before returning to their families. They believe as women they can also make a significant input in society and it all starts with the little effort they are making.
Right down at the South Eastern corner of Ghana, Aflao to be precise can be located in this category of workers. At Aflao they are called agbatetor, the equivalent of Kaya.
Most of these people come from Aflao and its environs such as Agbozume, Denu and a few from the middle belt and northern parts of Ghana.
The border shuttle
Every day these workers converge at the border before six am in the morning and cross the border to Lome to ply their trade. Some of them stay and work at the border while others move to the Lome main market to work. Those working at the border help to carry goods across the border. They have worked there for several years and are very familiar with the terrain. They are capable of bargaining down various fees charged at both Togo and Ghana Customs, thus very useful especially, to the new folks crossing the border for the first time. They carry the goods whilst the owners follow them. At immigration, Customs, Plant Quarantine, Port Health, they speak on behalf of the owner of the goods at both sides of the border. Upon crossing the border with the goods they are paid off.
Life of an Aflao Agbatetor
Mercy Ganu, 37 years old, hails from Akame near Agbozume. She is a single parent who has two children and a mother who is very old to feed. For the past ten years, she is up as early as four in the morning to organize herself and leave the house before five-thirty o’clock to take a vehicle to the border. On the days she has enough money, she leaves some for the children and the mother. If she does not have enough money she buys food from the money she got for her first job of the day or a borrowed money from a colleague and give it to the driver plying Aflao to Agbozume road to drop at a place for the children to pick up.
According to her, she has no choice as the job brings her money quicker than many other jobs. On a good day, she makes as much as fifty Ghana Cedis; on other days, she barely makes enough to cover her transport fare from Akame to Aflao. But for the Corona virus, she was hopeful that things might turn round soon.
The virus, with its attendant problems, affected Aflao porters too. Borders have been closed to human traffic and the usual convergence at the Aflao border has stopped. This has gravely affected those who ply the trade across the border and subsequently, their trade and daily revenue because their numbers in the market have increased. This is compounded by a reduction in the number of Ghanaian traders who visit to buy goods for export across the border with an attendant increase in the cost of crossing the border in and out. The increase is because they resort to using routes other than the main border, called “Beats” where the border officials charge them higher fees and allow them passage. However, to survive, most of them have moved the trade to the Lome market. Like all Ghanaian, however, they are hopeful that life might get better when the virus goes away.