Colson Whitehead’s Zone one is marked with complex vocabulary and intellectual communication of ideas. The metaphors are resounding and the language can be quite esoteric. A dictionary or new word notepad should be in handy when reading this masterful albeit hard-to-read work of art. However, I remembered a practice I did a year ago of using metaphors and language in writing to capture a space until it felt like the reader could see it. For example, Whitehead captures the African Burial Ground avidly in his book. Phrases in his book like ” through the sad aperture of the dead” remind one of the burial ground and how it would feel to look on at the ancestors and meet them at face value. The African Burial ground remains as the resting space for the oppressed, the wronged and the hopeful. The Ancestral Chamber provides a sacred space for individual contemplation, reflection, meditation and prayer. https://www.gsa.gov/about-us/regions/northeast-caribbean-2/about-region-2/the-african-burial-ground/african-burial-ground-exterior-monument . After reading about the African memorial background I decided to capture a space I found interesting in my hometown in Nigeria. It’s the local market and it is the oldest economic centre of the community. However, it is also a place filled with suffering, hardship, loss and hope. A less sombre and vibrant antithesis to the burial ground.
There is a bumpy and horrible path that leads from the bus stop to my house but first, it diverges into a longer and bumpier road that leads directly to my house. However, on this horrible, longer and bumpier road there is a side attraction. One, not of an aesthetic nature, hah! far from it but one of a basic and functional nature.
The market exists on the side of the street like an off shot, a cast away, much like a forgotten piece of land no one really cares about. Women, who are mostly middle-aged but look way older due to the hinging pinch of poverty trade in shanty sheds. They display vegetables and local food stuffs on ancient and stained dark grey- blackish wooden tables. They wear mismatched clothing mostly the same ones they had been wearing since the beginning of the week. On the upper parts of their bodies, they wear second hand faded polo t-shirts, on their lower halves they tie old and equally faded wrappers and don on dull and worn out scarves on their heads. Each of them tie their scarves the same way a nun would cover her hair. I see them sitting on wooden benches and looking out at the people passing, sometimes one would be dozing off in sleep her head bobbing off from where it rests in her hand while one stays cooped in a corner day dreaming and the other arranges her goods whilst singing a discordant tune full of hope, frustration, pain and forced optimism. They greet their usual customers and beckon them to buy their ‘market’’. They ignore the rest. Their stalls are their pride and joy and they show it off with as much flair and enthusiasm possible. However, poverty lives here.
They are the market women known individually by the title they have as mothers. The title will be attached to their first child’s name like ‘’Mama Ogechi’’ , ‘’Mummy Chiamaka’’ and so on. They are all Ibo women on this side of the market. On the other side of the market, a Yoruba woman occupies a wooden table and has two benches around her. She and her children seem to stay at the left furthermost side of the market in isolation separate from the cluster of sheds. More of choice than force, she is the only one who sells plantain and the one who shouts the loudest. More like the divergence of rocky paths, each side shows a different people of different cultures and background while the other one short of numbers represents a different ethnicity and way of life as well. They have differing values and only because of business manage to coexist with each other. They share commonalities, living in the same poverty conditions as petty traders struggling to keep their family afloat. At the end of the market, there is a steel wheeled cart with loud speakers in them and different multiple collections of pirated CDs ranging from movie and TV series collections spanning Indian, Korean, Canadian, American, Mexican, Ghanaian cultures. An Ibo man sells these CDs and there are many like him in the community. However, in this area he is the sole “distributor”.
The market is an eclectic mix of rurality and urbanity. In the evenings, loud music can be heard raging from the speakers in the cart even as I come back to collect my change from Mama Ogechi. The foreign energetic and upbeat music is marred a little by the noise of the generator used to power the sound systems. The urban music creates an interesting auditory contrast with the the dry and rural sound of discordant singing and toneless clapping coming from the market women as they try to have fun as well. I can’t help but stop and notice the little market children dancing to the contemporary Afro pop sound blaring from the speakers. They become alive on hearing the sound when otherwise in the absence of the sound they sit gloomy and bored on benches beside their mothers. They are the future and as they turn towards the new sound of modernity I can’t help but watch the oldness and the rurality of the market fade into the background in mute shadows. The children dance under the orange light bulb dangling from the well kitted and stocked CD cart and their mothers watch them with pride. The market becomes an eerie and haunted party venue but the kids do not notice because they are busy dancing with joy bare feet under the moon light. Their reign of the market just started and they are determined to live it all up before closing time.