(The African woman faces untold hardships in her quest to provide for her family; this story and a few others published on this blog are excerpts from my book on the African woman titled “Gold River.” Gold River is due for release soon. Watch this space)
She lifted a corner of the curtains to look out into the pitch darkness beyond the windows. The world outside was silent and eerie. No sound whatsoever; even the neighbourhood cocks that would start crowing as early as 3am had chosen to be quiet. They seemed to know instinctively that all was not well in their little corner of the world.
Hauwa was worried as she dropped the curtain back with a silent sigh. What was she going to do? She had no idea that time it was but she guessed it must be about 4:30 am. She had been awake for hours as she usually was most nights but tonight had been different. Most nights she was up as early as 3am to begin preparing for her day. Her daily routine involved going to the tiny building at the back of the house that served as kitchen and factory rolled into one. She would then begin the painstaking process of making her hibiscus wine, known locally as ”Zobo.” The drink was easy to prepare but it required care and attention to detail so that the taste would be just right. Many women across the metropolis sold Zobo but Hauwa liked hers to stand out. That way she sold off her stock quickly and she was assured of continued patronage. Her Zobo was being talked about in the neighbourhood and she had dreams that one day she would actually go places as her Pastor kept telling her in jest. Recently she had upgraded her operations from the simple cellophane packaging to bottling, if you could call it that. She collected bottles of water from people who drank bottled water and she washed them thoroughly with soap and hot water and used the bottles to package her drink. By that singular act she had increased sales by over one hundred percent. Her clientele had also gone several notches higher. The people who would not buy her juice because they felt the packaging was unhygienic and could not be trusted were now flocking to her.
Hauwa had also increased her product line. From the very easy to prepare Zobo drink, she had added Kunu zaki. Kunu zaki was made from millet grains and required even more care in preparation but Hauwa was nothing if not careful. She was seeing increased sales and a major shift upward in the family income. So she was excited every day and did not mind jumping out of bed before dawn. She did not mind the long hours she put into preparing her juices for sale and the long trek to where her customers were eagerly waiting for the refreshing drink. She also did not mind that she had to go to the market every day to buy her stock and then be home in time to prepare dinner for the family and attend to the kids before falling into bed exhausted about midnight every day. She did not mind that for all her hard work she had only two wrappers and a few tops to show for her wardrobe; she wore those two wrappers to church, weddings, parties and everywhere requiring her to look nice. The clothes were long past their glory days but she acted like she did not care; of course she did, but what could she do about it? There were other issues at stake, bigger problems crying for attention and clothes were not on her list of priorities; after all she was not naked was she? Her family could feed and that was the most important thing. They could go to school though it was a big challenge most of the time. They never had enough of anything and almost everything they needed had to be carefully evaluated to make sure it was a pressing need. The only catch was that these days everything on their list was a pressing need!
Hauwa’s mind ran a dozen miles that early morning as she mentally ticked off the things they needed urgently: a new pair of school shorts for Baba, whose old pair was so badly torn and patched that it would take no further mending, new pants for the two girls, the old ones had fallen to pieces and she had been scandalized to see that her younger daughter was going to school without underwear! The toilet soap was finished, they had resorted to using salt in place of toothpaste several weeks ago and she could not remember the last time the family had luxuries like body lotions and deodorants. She had learnt to improvise; Shea butter which was sold very cheaply in the market was good enough for the skin and for deodorant she had adjusted to rubbing half a lemon under her arm to eliminate the smell of sweat.
All these thoughts rushed through her mind as she paced restlessly across the room, waiting for some sign of life from outside; something to show that it was safe to step out and face her production line so her family could be assured of a meal for that day. This was not the usual pattern but then, nothing was usual about this night. The sound of heavy gunfire had woken her up hours earlier; and she knew that everyone else must be awake too; too frightened to come out before it was broad daylight. The gunfire had gone on for so long with indistinct voices shouting in a strange language a short distance away. Hauwa could not be sure where exactly was being robbed, or if it was in fact a robbery operation. She found herself almost praying that it was indeed a robbery operation, the alternative was too frightening to be considered..