Mubarak runs a small furniture business in Nalerigu on the hospital road. They build sofas, armchairs and beds out of wood, add latex padding, and then do the upholstery. Their little operation has about 8 employees and they display their finished products right outside on the side of the road.
Like most craftsmen in West Africa, Mubarak was more than happy to show us his work and be photographed with it.
In some places (like Accra, Ghana), I’ve heard the men are independent salesmen. They hit up a warehouse in the early morning and buy a bunch of whatever they think they can sell in the road. In other cities (like Abidjan) they are often employees of a wholesaler. They are given goods to sell from an employer who pays them a small amount.
Watch the video and you’ll get an idea of how dangerous the work is. It is pretty terrifying with cars and trucks zipping by while the men try to hawk their goods to those stopped at the red lights.
Most of the buildings in Nalerigu are simple made of mud bricks. They last a couple years (depending on the severity of rainy season) and then they are rebuilt. Unlike dilapidated homes in the US that slowly fall apart and rot, the mud walls just slowly dissolve until after several years the structure becomes just a slight mound on the ground.
The men pictured below were building a “stable” for chickens, goats, and sheep. It consists of four levels and they build one each day and let it dry for 24hours before adding the next layer. A home for humans would have five levels to make it tall enough to stand in.
These photos were taken during the construction of the last year. The following day, after it dries, they will cut out a north facing door (they said the rain blows from the east and west) and add a thatched roof.
When I ran into this carpenter in Nalerigu, the sun was setting and he was finishing up his day’s work. He was working on a support beam for his family’s home. He didn’t speak English so we didn’t talk much past the greetings. I did end up setting my camera down and helping him by bracing a piece of wood he was cutting. Sometimes the silent expressions of kindness are the best.
I hung out at one of the mechanic shops in town the other day, chatting with the young men working there. The sun was going down and the light was nice for portraits.
“He is the lottery agent. She is gambling.”
That was the answer to my question asking what was going on. Outside of a family compound was a simple wooden table with a guy seated at it writing down numbers on a carbon copy notepad. A woman leaned over, handed him 50 pesowas (25 cents) and said “Two Fifty-One.”
That’s her lucky number – it also happens to be her house number. She has wagered on it for years and once won 80 cedis ($40). This 25 cent wager could win her $100.
I asked him how the system works and he explained that they give him their two numbers and their money. He keeps a record of it and gives them a receipt. In Accra, the national lotto numbers are announced nightly. If her numbers were picked, she comes to him and shows her receipt. He goes to the regional lottery office and tells them how much she won (usually 400x what was wagered), they give him the money, and he delivers it to her.
I immediately started thinking of all the seemingly apparent loop holes in the system. How does she know he’s an “official” lottery agent? How does the lottery office know he isn’t making up winners after the fact? How does she know she didn’t win more than he delivered?
However, they’ve been using this system in remote locations for years and I’m sure the process has been refined. I even remember a similar system back in the 90s in Ivory Coast in which villagers would bet on horse races that occurred in France.
It’s interesting how gambling crops up in every culture – no matter how remote, poor, or different the people may be. The temptation of that big payoff is hard to resist – no matter how unlikely it may be (I calculated her odds at 1:9801).