Walking Commerce

In Mali there are many people who walk around selling knick -knacks. At traffic lights you see mostly teenage boys selling phone re-charge cards, Kleenexes, air fresheners and cheap plastic made-in-china toys. And not once have I understood why. I  have never understood why – it seems like such a waste of energy walking around in the blazing sun to sell the equivalent of $3 worth of goods in a day.

Until the other day. I was tired, and cranky, probably dehydrated, and hAngry. I was biking home from work after a long day in the car, in the fields, under the hot sun and I was tired. My internal dialogue of defeat kicked in – why is everything so hard in Bamako? Why did I choose to come here and better yet why do I stay? And then I saw someone selling pots. Sets and sets of pots were tied together with pieces of string, balanced on his head, his arms, any other place he could fit them.

Then I had a cliche light bulb moment; if i find life hard imagine if I earned $100 a month. People don’t walk around selling things because they see it as overly profitable they do it because they don’t have any other options in a country where unemployment is so high and education rates so low. People find clients because it is better to hope that there is someone else who is tight for time, money, and energy so will buy your wares because you are close not because of quality or competitive edge. People want to catch a break – their tired and hungry and a little bit cranky. So they choose to pay a tiny bit more because they don’t have to go looking, searching, And vendors choose to walk and walk and walk for the hope of a small sale instead of sitting around doing nothing.

This is why I reject the notion that impoverished Malians are lazy or not strategic. So many people are looking in every corner and walking thousands of steps a day to find that one opportunity that will change their story.

Moral of the story: Muise quit your whinin’ it isn’t so bad and Mali I wish only good things for you – we can do this.

Sets and sets of aluminum pots and he looked more tired than I did.


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