Written by: Syreeta E. Akinyede
In the midst of the quiet early morning buzz as Surulere comes to life, I hear her voice, loud — but not annoyingly loud — and distinct. It is a voice you cannot ignore. For the first few mornings, I can’t make out what she is saying, but after a few days, I notice that she has a pattern and she rarely deviates from it.
Soon enough, her arrival becomes a means for me to tell the time, and much later, hearing her voice would mean I have less than 20 minutes to trade in my nightwear for some decent clothes and dash out to purchase my weekly ration of Ogi, or what some of us would call pap, or to be scientifically specific, the result of fermented corn, which has been ground and sieved.
After a few years of waking up to her calls, hurriedly putting on some clothes and dashing down the stairs, I decide to learn more about her MO (Mode of Operation); so one morning, we (my talented photographer sister and I) arrange to do a little written/photo documentary on her as she goes through her routine.
Alhaja Fausat or Iya Ologi as she is generally called, is a native of Oyo state. She came to Lagos after she got married, and started her business of producing and selling Ogi to support her family. With no sophisticated technology, but pure old traditional techniques that she learnt from her mother, she single handedly carries out the production process. She has two surviving children who are grown now and have their own families. The others she says, died in infancy and miscarriages.
From her home in a lower class neighbourhood in Aiyetoro, Aguda, she makes an almost one-hour trek to a middle class residential area. Rising at five in the morning, she prepares for the day and sets out at 6.30 a.m. with her silver tray on her head, laden with three different varieties of Ogi — yellow, white and brown, all wrapped neatly in pieces of transparent nylon. At this point, allow me to say that Alhaja Fausat’s Ogi is like getting milk straight from the cow.
Today, it’s a cold harmattan morning in December 2013, and all she has on are her Iro and Buba, which are made of a thin material, along with a pair of flat slippers on her feet -nothing to protect her against the chilly weather. This is her usual attire, whether it is during the cold wet mornings of the rainy season, where she wades in flooded streets, determined to reach her customers; or the chilly foggy mornings of the harmattan. I have bought Ogi on one of those rainy days; you know the types that discourage you from getting out of bed, even if your life depends on it.
She moves with such precision for a woman her age it is almost as if she is on autopilot, but given that she has been walking the same route for 32 years selling Ogi, I guess it is more or less second nature to her.
At frequent intervals she raises the tray above her head, both her arms stretched upwards. She explains that she does this to provide some temporary relief from the strain of the weight of the Ogi. Sometimes, she has pains in her legs, and has to take some medicine — part of the ageing process.
She is no stranger to the streets of this middle-class area as both young and old alike, new residents and old residents — families, who were the first settlers, greet her. Some of the young were still in diapers when she started her business, and now they too have families. For the elderly, sometimes a bit of friendly banter is exchanged while she makes her sale.
As we walk on, she meets another woman who has a tray of
Agege bread on her head. She introduces us to the woman and tells us that she has also been selling bread for a long time — 23 years. The two women place their wares on a low wall by the side of the road and have a little tête-à-tête. After a few minutes, they continue walking together, calling out as they go along. After walking through a couple of streets, they part ways.
After a two-hour walk, Alhaja Fausat begins the trek back home. Just before we leave her, we ask her to pose for a portrait. She thanks us and prays for us.
It is clear that this is not just a means for survival for her, but a service that she is proud and happy to render.
Photography by Sybil
Originally published at http://souldeepstirrings.blogspot.com
Update: This article was published in January 2014, and athough Alhaja Fausat is still selling her Ogi, old age has made her go out less. She doesn’t come out to sell every day, but between two to three times a week. Customers also call her on the phone when they need Ogi.