Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I hawk, you hawk, we hawk...

In the spirit of the late George Plimpton, I spent yesterday afternoon selling Gala by the side of the road.

Gala are sausage rolls that taste like sawdust to me, but at 35 cents each they are cheap, filling, and thus very popular with Nigerian commuters. Typically sold by young men during traffic tie-ups, they are the most frequently-hawked item in Lagos.

I put on my running shoes and went to Ojota, where I bought a half box, or 50 rolls, from a wholesaler for about fifteen bucks. I set out. Of course I knew that, as an oyibo, I would not get a wholly accurate peek into the life of a Nigerian street vendor. I thought that it would be more difficult for me to make sales, since potential customers would think it was a joke.

Actually, the opposite was true -- the Gala moved quickly. Many people called me over because they were curious what I was doing, but then ended up buying a roll or two. Probably just because they wanted to tell their friends they bought Gala from an oyibo. Some people thought it was a promotion. At one point a reporter from the local paper interviewed me and took my picture. I was happy to provide entertainment, but mostly I wanted to sell sausage rolls. “You want Gala or you no want Gala?” became my most frequent response.

The experience gave me higher level of respect, if that was possible, for street traders in Lagos. A couple of them, Paul and Ogbeni (pictured) took me under their wing right away, and together we experienced the full range of hassles they face all the time: harassment from local thugs known as area boys, constant fear of KAI, and a downpour that put us out of business for a couple hours. I was most surprised at the physical coordination and awareness it required. Imagine making change with one hand while carrying a box of sausage rolls in the other, all while running alongside a vehicle in the rain, after dark, with crazy motorcycle drivers bearing down on you.

I sold out in about three hours, making a total profit of $3.50. Counting dinner and a soda, and the bus ride there and back, I basically broke even. Just think how I would have fared if I looked Nigerian.

UPDATE: Oh my. I did not expect this.


  1. Sean . . .
    This is a magnificent story! If only our interns could sell some sawdusty Gala here . . .
    keep the Gonzo coming,



  2. You're a brave man, Sean. If only our leaders or most of the youths we have today in Nigeria could make the kind of sacrifice you're doing, researching into such issues. Hopefully, Fashola will read your story and maybe get in touch with you or at least meet with the state govt and discuss with them your findings and give suggestions/advice.

    Never mind the negative comments you're getting from those news sites, they're just ignorant and so inferior.

    On a more lighter note, you're becoming famous overnight o. You're all over facebook and other naija sites. Everyone's talking about you. Oyibo man. Are you still using your mobile number? Would love to get in touch with you.

  3. whoa nellie. looks like some of the commenters are on to you, sean.