Story: Zainabu Issah
FATIMATU Ussif is a 14-year-old girl from Kpatarigu, a village in the Northern Region. From the age of nine, Fatimatu regularly comes to Accra, during every vacation to look for money to meet her educational needs. As the first daughter of her mother, she also has a responsibility to support her mother to take care of her five other siblings even at her tender age.
That is because her father, a poor farmer, has not been supportive. After marrying his late brother’s wife, who already has four children, in line with tradition, Fatimatu’s father can no longer cope with the pressure of catering for the entire household.
Under the circumstance, the only option available to Fatimatu and her siblings is for them to fend for themselves. She had no choice than to accept the challenge and began her journey to the south particularly Accra, while in primary class three.
She had agreed to her mother’s advice to join a friend’s daughter to go to Accra in search of ‘greener pastures’. She found the pastures but with a job as head porter (kayayoo), the pastures could not have been greener.
On her arrival, the harsh realities of life in Accra hit her immediately as she was later abandoned by her companion. She had to take her destiny and survival in her own hands.
Fatimatu sleeps in the open Mallam Atta Market along with other girls who have travelled from the north to Accra to earn a living. At night, they have to contend with unfriendly companions, such as mosquitoes and bad weather.
“Sometimes, we have to share our daily sales with gangsters who claim to own the market at night. If you do not pay, they will have sex with you,” she reveals.
Fatimatu earns about GH¢10 for carrying goods on a market day and a minimum of Gh¢3 on a normal day. Regardless of her meagre income, her solemn prayer daily is never to fall sick, otherwise she loses big time. That is because her return to the north and to school depends on the income she gets. “Yes, I have to make enough money to give to my mother and also buy school items”, she stated.
Fatimatu is very committed to her education because she believes that was the only way of realising her dream of becoming a nurse in future. But she fears that her dream and ambition may soon fizzle out into thin air. “My father says I would get married after Primary Class Six”, she reveals.
Suwaibatu is another girl in a similar world as Fatimatu. She looks far older than her age of 12 she claims to be, a disparity that can only be attributed to the fact that she has never been to school. Indeed, she does not know when she was born.
Suwaibatu does not remember exactly when she came to Accra, but her two children aged two years and one year respectively, whom she gave birth to after her arrival in the city, give a fair idea about the time she arrived in Accra.
Her two little boys also suffer the discomfort of night life and the harsh realities she has been contending with in Accra. She does not know the fathers of her children.
“Some people came to sleep with me on the veranda when the lights where off. I, therefore, did not see their faces. That was how come I had the first boy. The second one is from my boyfriend but he claims he is not the father so I take care of him,” she explains.
Having gone through the horrors of the night, she embraces daylight with glee, but only for a moment as she struggles for survival. As a single parent, she has to carry the younger boy at her back when on ‘duty’ carrying heavy goods, while the elder boy is left with friends who decide to take a rest.
For all these efforts, Suwaibatu earns between Gh¢30 and Gh¢35 on a market day, but on other days, she sells iced water to supplement her income. On occasions when business is bad, she is compelled to engage in the sex-for-money business at night in order to feed her family.
Wandering on the streets of Accra is Ruwaida, another girl from the north who fled hunger back home to engage in head portering for survival.
“I ran away from home to the city because there was no work there. My mother quarrelled with me everyday to come to the city and that is why I’m here”, she recalls.
However, coming to Accra was not easy for Ruwaida. She had to outwit the police at the barrier in Navrongo because, as a minor, the police would not have allowed her to travel alone. She, therefore, had to hide under the seats of the vehicle to cross the barrier.
Ruwaida may have been smart enough to escape the police and the vagaries of life back home in the north, but she does not have the capacity to outwit the harsh realities of life in Accra.
“I came here alone and therefore I survive alone”, she says.
It has, indeed, been a struggle for survival for Ruwaida. “I sleep in a small uncompleted kiosk near the big gutter with my friends and we pay Gh¢1 everyday for sleeping there”.
But night life at the Mallam Atta Market has been anything but comfortable as she and her friends always pray that it will never rain because whenever it rains, they have to spend the night standing.
On many occasions, she escaped rape by unknown persons while sleeping alone at the Mallam Atta Market. She and other girls who face similar threats cannot complain to anyone because the response they often get from people is that nobody asked them to come to the city. They therefore keep their woes to themselves hoping for a better tomorrow.
Life has been very difficult for Ruwaida, having to make about Gh¢5 a day from her labour as kayayoo. Her meagre earning is basically because sometimes customers refuse to pay for her services and when she dares to demand it, she is sometimes given a beating instead.
In spite of the hardships Ruwaida has faced for the past months of her stay in Accra, she has no intention to return home in the north.
“I cannot go back home again because my parents say I have brought bad luck to the family, but I usually send money to them”, she explains.
The stories of Fatimatu, Suwaibatu and Ruwaida are only a summary of the plight of young female northerners who flee from the harsh conditions of the north to seek greener pastures down south only to find out that all that glitter is not gold.
Apart from poor education facilities, lack of employment opportunities and infertile land for agriculture, cultural beliefs like the female genital mutilation, widowhood rites and early marriage, have compelled these girls to undertake a rather dangerous expedition to the cities in the south for better prospects.
But their expectations have often been a mirage. Instead, they have had to contend with thieves, rapists who lurk around in the night to defile their womanhood and rob them of their daily earnings.
Some of them eventually get pregnant without having anyone to support them, while others who attempt to abort their pregnancy ended up dying or developing complications.
This is the plight of many kayayei in Accra and other cities in the south. But who really cares about them?
* The ‘kayayei ‘earn very small amounts of money for the work that they do. Very often they are unable to afford to rent space in a room, and have to sleep outdoors.
|Some young kayayees in the street of Accra,|