Tuesday morning I go to the market.
Initially this was a very stressful event. It is on the grounds of a church and there is a wide open area where everyone sets up their things. All kinds of people go there, Zambians, Chinese, Indians, Europeans and Americans.
I have the same people I go to now for the same things I get each week.
The apples, and oranges, grapes occasionally for a treat since they are more expensive and then tomatoes somewhere else, green peppers, onions, potatoes. I squeeze through the people to walk down the next row where I get the bananas and then most of the time I finish off with the lady selling eggs. She greets me each time and we ask each other how the week was. Then she says, "Enjoy" as she hands me the eggs. The are in a plastic sack carefully arranged but thats why she is last, less time to break the eggs. I just have to walk from her out the market to the car.
This is pretty much the same every week, no changes.
But the thing that was most stressful and changes from week to week is who to say yes to when they come asking to carry the bag.
As soon as I turn down the road that the market is on, teenage boys start pointing to me and holding up their finger as in number one. They yell and then chase after the car waiting until I stop. They follow me to wherever I park and are there at the window. Usually there are about 3 or 4 of them that think they spotted me first and so I owe them the privilege to either watch my vehicle or carry my bag. The first couple months this was stressful because I was a bit overwhelmed pulling into a place to park and everyone is right there crowding me out. One week I thought I would avoid the hassle and park inside the church grounds pay the few thousand kwachas and not have the trouble. Well that day seemed to be the worst because every boy that saw my vehicle followed through the parking lot (which had no space) so I ended up going outside the parking lot to where the boys were on the other side of the street. That day they even started pushing each other saying they saw me first.
I think I must not have been in the mood for it because I was pretty firm and said, Stop. No one is watching the car! And got my basket out of the trunk and walked away quickly as I hit the button to lock the car and set the alarm. And kept repeating No.
Since that time, once a boy came up and asked to carry the bag. I told him , "no thanks. " I'll get it". He asked a few more times and I said the same thing. He followed me the entire time I was there, just looking at me always ready to take the job. I got to the end of my shopping and he was still walking by me. i thought there is something to be said for persistence. So I asked him his name, Matthias. Then he asked me if next week he could carry the bag. I told him there are so many boys it is hard to know who is who. he said well I am Matthias and I will look for you next week.
So for many weeks following he has come and found me and carried my bag. I think he is probably around 15. Well yesterday I didn't see him. I told the group of boys no thanks and started carrying my bag and then a boy came up and told me, "Your boy is at school, he is not here today. I am his brother so I can carry the bag". He was older and for some reason I wasn't buying it so I just said, "oh. ok." and then asked him if he went to school also. He said yes, in the afternoons. Then I said, well "no thanks" and started walking on. Another little boy saw me a minute laster and asked me and I said "that's ok" , well he proceeded to follow me and kept asking please.
My dilemma is usually I don't know how to choose who to carry the bag.
it might seem like a no brainer and such a small thing, but some days when I look at all these young boys wanting the job I just don't know what to do. That's when I wander around repeating, "no thanks". Its not that I mind paying about a dollar to a boy that needs the money, and the basket does get heavy with potatoes and apples and things, I just don't know how you pick one.
So yesterday, when Matthias was not there and this other boy started following me around I said, Ok", and handed him the basket. I asked his name, "Johns" he said. He helped me carry the basket and I watched him too. His clothes were very worn and torn and he looked younger than many of the other boys. I noticed he even struggled a bit with the basket at the end. He looked at me a few times and smiled.
I asked him if he went to school. He said, "no money". Then I asked him where he stayed. ( that's how you phrase the question, where do you live?) He just looked at me. I asked him again and he still didn't answer and then I said do you stay on the street? He looked away and then said, "I don't know…I don't know how to answer".
I dropped it and we started walking back to the car. I asked him how old he was.
He said 12 years old.
I hope I never get used to hearing that. I paid him and watched him walk off as I sat in the car. 12 years old. He doesn't go to school and probably lives on the street, at 12 years old.