Stabroek Market Square is one of the places to visit on Friday nights. It represents the University of Life, teeming with people from diverse background and experiences. Farmers arrive on the evening, by trucks and vans, bearing their produce. It is their intent to have a good sale and be gone by the crack of dawn.
What makes this visit special is the variety of fresh foods, the ability to bargain or receive a bargain, and the interaction. The hustle and bustle of our people, irrespective of race and socioeconomic background, the persuasive techniques employed to get a sale, only to be enticed by another with the promise of a better bargain, showcase our camaraderie and competitive spirit. You can’t help but wish this type of relationship permeates other aspects of our lives.
We all have one thing in common- the desire to live comfortably. It is difficult not to admire the determination and strength of the farming and vending communities to achieve this through the dint of hard work. Farming is not easy. It is backbreaking work that carries serious risk. A farmer can invest all of his/her resources and then face tremendous lost, through factors not within his/her control. With that investment gone down the drain, only love for the field of endeavour and determination to succeed would keep that person going.
The vendors’ situation is not dissimilar. They have to face a City Council that seems erratic and devoid of a Sustainable Development Plan. Uncertainty and fear of what tomorrow may bring are always lurking in the shadows. They know that officers of the Council, on instruction of the policy makers, can relocate them, break up their stalls and damage their goods, even though they are expected to pay market fees, which legitimize their presence. Having lost their investment or knowing it can happen in a snap, to look at the determination in their faces, you cannot miss their tenacity to hold faith and keep going forward, in spite of the odds.
Then there are the food and beverage vendors who provide a quick meal or opportunity to stop, take a drink, and ‘buss a lime’. They ease the tension of having to go home, after a hard day’s work, and light the stove, or provide reprieve to relax with friends and catch up on the happenings.
The people referenced are not giving up on themselves or life. It is also not surprising to find within their midst university graduates, artisans, teachers and so forth, who, unable to get suitable employment or retired, have turned to this route of economic self-determination. Another characteristic of this itinerant class is that if you stop at one van, truck or stall to purchase something and that item is unavailable, that vendor doesn’t think it too much to ask another if he/she has it or begrudge the other for having same and getting the sale.
Some may consider this class of citizens merely providers of goods and services and of no significance beyond, but their lives and stories tell and teach us so much. Outside of providing an invaluable service to society, you can meet the most informed people, capable of having energetic and sober debates on current affairs. Their un-pretentiousness and view of the world could serve as lesson for decision-makers in politics, the private sector, trade union, religious institutions, etc.
Walking through the area, apart from the greetings and words of encouragement received, persons will stop me or walk beside me, as I go about my business, to share an opinion or have a talk on some issue. Very often, it relates to governance, the state of the economy, and issues impacting their lives. For instance, even before government makes available its statistical report, the vendors can tell you how the economy is performing. It’s interesting the indicators they use to gauge same.
Someone would say something like, “Mr. Lewis, things rough you know. People ain’t buying like before. Look at what I have here-last week I brought X amount of plantains and I carried home around half. This week I bring less and look I still have plenty to sell.” Last Friday, a female vendor said, “Mr. Lewis, don’t worry with what they say about the economy growing, let them come here and see, people not spending.” Such are the anecdotes they use to give meaning to their experiences and interpret issues around them.
For the permanent vendors, their attention is glued to two things. 1) the Local Government Elections (LGE) and; 2) the Commission of Inquiry into the Georgetown Mayor and City Council. Opinions being expressed are that the LGE cannot come fast enough in order that they can see the back of some councilors. As it relates to Royston King, none who spoke of him has expressed sympathy.
And, within the vending group, they are persons I respectfully refer to as the pavement lawyers, trade unionist and politicians, that can’t wait to stop you to engage. They are savvy when it comes to accessing information via their cell phones and are amongst the most avid newspapers readers. There is very little, if any, they don’t know or not have an opinion on. From oil and gas, China belt road initiative, domestic violence, the court, sugar, bauxite, US sanctions, crime, corruption, government, opposition, the teachers’ issue, etc. Once it’s in the news, they know and have strong opinions on the matters.
They tell me about the letters and issues I’ve written on, often going beyond noting to wanting in-depth discussions. There is no denying their smarts, regardless of the level in formal educational. I encounter those with strong political views, who make no bones about their political affiliation. Of course, some expressed concerns about my writings, feeling same can bring their government down, though they have not denied the veracity of my charges and views. All they want is for me to “leave my government alone.”
With no hard feeling, these persons are reminded my loyalty is not to personalities but to principles, and if they are offended by my writings then tell the government to do the right thing. The oft rejoinder is “Man, dem people don’t talk to poor people now, but we gonna see them in 2020 when they want we vote.” Amongst this same group, in spite of their expressed view about “we government,” persons would generally encourage me to continue my activism and holding government accountable, even as some say, “but go lil easy pun dem nah.” Their interactions represent a maturity hardly seen in our politics.
I don’t know if the respect for disagreeing without being disagreeable/vengeful is borne out of their circumstances and experiences of inter-dependence, informing an understanding that each one teaches one or needs one. It is admirable. Finally, they are the coalition supporters and those who wanted to see the back of the PPP/C but are expressing consternation that the ministers are repeating what they condemned the PPP/C for.
These are some of the lived and lively experiences infusing Stabroek Square. You must sample it, for such not only represents the voices of the people, but also the pulse of society in viewing events, the manner we could treat with each other, and man’s dogged pursuit to live comfortably.
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