‘Life skills for life’ as small acts count for life

Last week I had an interesting experience together with my colleagues as we visited some groups that are undergoing trainings in Mugwo Payam of Yei River County of South Sudan. Women for Women International (WfWI) works with socially excluded women affected by conflict and civil strife. The program empowers women through trainings and provision of resources in order to enable them sustain an income as well as get knowledge on key life issues around health, decision making and social networks. On this particular day we were accompanied by the WfWI Vice President Programs – Julianna - who had visited the South Sudan program, the Country Director - Lizy - among others. On the way we decided to enter the local market to buy a few fresh products as well as experience the local market. That is where an interesting incidence happened. We knew what we wanted to purchase and top on the list were pineapples, avocadoes, greens – items we know very well. As it is the case in many African countries majority of the sellers in the market were women. This is where we met an older woman who was selling some product that I have never seen and none of us really noticed it. This lady who I will call Joy since she seemed to radiate a lot of joy started gesturing towards us to buy her product. We have no idea what is this so why bother? But she insisted and started showing us how the product is eaten. She hurriedly started cracking it open with her teeth and this caught our attention and we stopped. She continued ‘talking to us’ but really none of us knew the language so we could not hear her but we ‘listened’ understood! She wanted us so much to buy her product and realized we may not have prior knowledge of this item but language was not going to be a barrier. Soon a crowd of other women in the market gathered around as she went on to gesture, speak and act to show us what the product was like inside when she broke it and started eating it. We were really touched by this as other women in the market watched amused and there was quite a bit of chatter. I made up my mind; I was going to buy this item that was costing 1 South Sudanese pound regardless of what it was. My colleague Lizy had been in process of buying some green vegetables from the neighbor to Joy when she (Joy) stopped us. Lizy had selected what she wanted to buy and wanted green vegetables worth 2 SSP. The least denomination I had was only 2 SSP and 1SSP had go to Joy and the least that Lizy had was 10 SSP. Joy’s neighbor a much younger woman had no balance to give us neither did she have a paper bag to pack for us the greens, but she was at the market. She did not make any efforts of looking for lose money or paper bag but it was more of “if you have lose money and paper bag you can buy my products, otherwise too bad” attitude. At first we thought we would then buy greens worth 1SSP. But guess what! Joy had several paper bags and after packing for me the ‘Joy-Fruits’ (Oh up to now I am not sure if they are fruits, or roots or legumes or…) she had bigger papers. Lizy commented “this woman is so organized” and quickly came with an idea; she would give Joy the 10 SSP and ‘buy’ a paper bag and the ‘Joy-Fruits’ from her then she can give the neighbor the 2SSP later on. That meant she would have 7SSP (about 2USD) as ‘courtesy cash’ for one old paper bag. A certain lady rushed to ‘save the situation’ since she could speak English thinking we were taking advantage of Joy in taking her paper bag to buy products from the neighbor. But somehow Joy already understood this transaction and she was beaming and said ‘Asante…thank you’ but those were the only Kiswahili and English words she knew. We left the market awed and we are not likely to forget Joy any time soon. I know if I go to that location I will want to go to the market again and seek her out and see what she has to sell to me. Small acts matter a lot. The life skills that one has as they engage in business may make a difference between them getting profits or not. I will not excuse the other lady to culture etc. since they were obviously living in the same locality hence likelihood of similar socialization but Joy had discovered that business is about small acts that will enable a customer to come back. I hope that incidence gave the other women who gathered around some food for thought.


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