Thwarting Poverty with Talent

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Francis Worjloh displaying his ‘peace hut’ as he makes his way on foot via the thoroughfare from Fish Market, Monrovia to Red Light, Paynesville

52-year-old Liberian Selling ‘Peace Hut’ in Traffic 

By Samuel G. Dweh/freelance journalist

Francis Worjloh, 52, had covered about thirty percent of his planned 15-kilometer journey to the main selling point in Paynesville, for his architectural creation.

“I’m on my way to Redlight Market to sell it, but I’m trying my luck here,” Francis told this reporter along a express lane in the Fish Market community, Monrovia, where this reporter met him displaying his product to people in vehicles passing by. “I’m selling it thirty-five U.S. Dollars, but I will accept twenty-five U.S.D from anybody who can pay cash-down right now.”

The time was 11am, but the scorching sun at the moment most likely had two things on people’s minds — water and shade. And in lieu of those two things, one would hope that, like Francis, one’s activity under such severe weather would at least pay off decently. 

An indigene of Grand Cess of Grand Kru County, in Southeastern Liberia, Francis told this reporter he lives on the Tusa Field, New Georgia, outside of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. “I walked from my house on Tusa Field to this place you’re talking to me,” he explained and wiped off cascading sweat from his face with the back of his hand. “I’m thirsty. You will buy me one bag of water to quench my thirst for keeping me standing in this sun,” he added in flawless English, and then giggled.

Francis’s journey on foot, beginning from his home on Tusa Field (located in Jamaica Road Community), covered the entire Vai Town/Bushrod Island, Central Monrovia/Broad Street, the UN Drive, the entire Sinkor, before connecting to a part of Congo Town where this reporter met him. The total distance to be covered—from Tusa Field (Jamaica Road) to Red Light Market—is “fifteen kilometers,” Mr. A. Samuka Dunnah, employee of the Ministry of Public Work, called the actual mileage to this reporter, quoting his colleague, an Engineer, on phone during an interview for this story.

In a car moving at most 60 kilometers per hour, this roving trader would spend at least thirty minutes on the road before he arrives at his main trading spot: Red-light Market.

What Francis was selling that day was a handcrafted hut with inhabitants — all made from bamboo: The roofs of bamboo straws; the walls made of sliced pieces of bamboo; the floor made from sticks in close knit; and the inhabitants carved from bamboo sticks glued together.

The persons and seats inside the hut are symbolic. The inhabitants were eight men. Six were sitting on a bench, opposite another bench occupied by one man. The seventh man is standing at the entrance of the hut.

“This is Peace Congress,” Francis explained to this reporter. “All are here to discuss problems in the Town and to find solution to each problem. The man sitting alone is the Paramount Chief. The six men facing the Paramount Chief are heads of various clans of the Town. The person standing at the entrance is the security.”

This work is from talent, Francis told this reporter. “Constructing this is a talent from age eighteen, when I was in the Elementary class at the Boatswain Elementary, Junior and Senior High School, located on Jamaica Road on the Freeway,” Francis recalled.

The talented man said he’s with his architectural creation in the street only for one thing. “I’m selling my product, in the street, only to defeat poverty,” he told this reporter.

Like Francis Worjloh, many other Liberians are striving to defeat poverty in their post-civil war lives, mainly with their respective natural abilities. 

Anybody who wish to contact Francis personally can do so on (+231) 880 765 519. “For now, I do not have Orange line,” he said, responding to this reporter’s question about an alternative contact number.

From the end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war in 2003, in-traffic sellers comprise all age groups of people who cannot afford the means to own a stationary selling spot. Due to the daily levy by the Municipal Authorities, which they consider “too high”, they don’t want to go into the general market houses built by the government to sell. They can’t  also think that an over-congested market building would lessen their chances for quicker sales.

But these kinds of survival methods are not without tragedies, sometimes. There are reports of deaths of many of Francis Worjloh’s street-selling colleagues by irresponsible drivers (moving against the flow traffic), over-speeding cars, or due to failure of brakes in a dense environment of traders. Yet, these sellers appear undeterred by these tragedies involving their colleagues. The pang of poverty is pushing them in death’s way.

“What to do?” Francis asked.

The writer of this story can be reached via: (+231) 886618906/776583266; [email protected].

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