Fanny’s Story

A woman is sitting in front of a container full of vegetables and smiling at the camera.

“Amigaaaaaa !!! Amigaaaaa !!!” (=”Friend“)

The first time I heard a lady screaming like that at the door, I got scared. Did something happen? – I wondered. But the voice kept screaming, louder. I left what I was doing in the office and went to the door, opened and there I saw a short woman with a big smile and a huge bowl on her head full of vegetables: “Amiga, there is cabbage, tomato, carrot, eggplant, onion.” I was still staring at her with my mouth open like “I don’t understand what’s going on”, as she was going down to land the bowl on the floor. Just then, I noticed her swollen belly and wondered if she was pregnant. Months later, when Amiga disappeared for a while, Mireusa was born, a beautiful baby girl who soon began to accompany her mother in the zunga, tied behind her back. From that first day, in fact, we almost stopped buying vegetables at the market, because Amiga would pass by every day from Monday to Saturday and a step at our gate was a must!

Estefania Cateque Ngueve, known as Fanny, was born in Benguela on December 1, 1987. When I discovered her age I was surprised because I thought she was older than me. Amiga grew up in Huambo after her parents separated and her mother decided to return to her homeland with her youngest children. They were 7 children, but today only 4 are still alive. Amiga tells me about those times at her mother’s house: she didn’t like it much because her younger brother was always messing around, she preferred to go to her grandmother’s house, because she kept the pan for her to lick, and starts laughing “Now back at the house of my mother as they were buè (many) people, one  would not find anything to eat, they had already eaten everything! ”

She stayed in Huambo during the war and remembers how it was a very hard time, a lot of suffering. The war determined much of her life and especially her education: it was difficult for them to have classes normally, teachers were rushed, so she barely learned to write her name, but she could not distinguish the letters well from each other. If she could, she would like to go back to school, but life is still hard on her. She returned to Benguela, at her father’s house, in 2003 after the war ended. Still a little girl, she soon started working as a “zungueira”, or street vendor. As she tells me about those early days, she remembers the difficulties: “My sister taught me. I could not sell, my feet were inflamed, I said I will not sell anymore, but she said no, you have to sell, work, to earn your money. ” Fanny, newly arrived in Benguela, did not know the city and had to follow her sister, who sold vegetables while she sold fruits. Only after her sister got married and returned to Huambo did Fanny take her place as a vegetables zungueira.

But the daily routine of the street vendor is hard! She wakes up at 5 o’clock, prepares her house, the breakfast for her son who goes to school, then takes a taxi to the new market (the 4th of April market, also known simply as “the 4”), where she gets the veggies, then goes to the Calombo neighborhood. Then she arrives in the city center, tidies up the product well and begins to work. Around 4 pm she returns home. When I ask how her business works, she explains to me, “I buy veggies from the ladies in the yard of the market, first where they sell carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, then I go in the yard where they sell lemon, I come out more in the vegetables yard and I get lettuce , cabbage, cucumber, parsley, coriander, so I get out of there, take the taxi and come here in the city. What I couldn’t sell (during the day) I leave here in the city at a friend’s, because if I take it home the neighbours will end up asking for everything ” she ends this sentence laughing, with that cheerful laugh so typical of her.

And that’s not all: zungueiras are often run off by police inspectors, because legally their work is not allowed (but I wonder: what would Angola be without zungueiras and other street vendors?). Other days

A woman is carrying a container full of vegetables on her head.
Amiga at work

the police are actually making life difficult for the mototaxis (motorbikes that work as taxis), as on the day of our conversation: it was not possible to enter the city because of a stop operation, so the biker who took her from the neighborhood of Graça where she lives left her on the street because he didn’t want to go through the police block.

I really don’t know how she can handle walking all day under the sun, with all that weight on her head: she starts at the tennis court, where she tidies the vegetables and sometimes passes 3 times on the same street to meet her clients. In fact I feel bad when she passes by and I’m not home because then she will have to pass again until she finds me. The worst thing is that this job does not allow to earn a sure money: some days she sells almost nothing, 500 kwanzas is lucky, so she can take just a few veggies to make soup for children to eat. When she has no money she borrows from the neighbour, with interest, “1000 comes with 1000”. Also the husband does not help, “he has a lot of women, he goes here, he goes there, I don’t care about him anymore. Come home or not, I’m already at his house, he knows. ”

I feel very sad to think that this friendly and cheerful woman has such a difficult life, so I ask about her children but the news she gives me is even worse unfortunately. She is the mother of 6 children but 4 have died, all due to illness, one after the other. They used traditional treatment, went to a “saint” thinking it was someone who was practicing spell on them, but that person, “the shadow” as she calls it, has already died and thus stopped the strange diseases. Mana Fanny tells me how her first child died, who at the time of our conversation was supposed to be 13 (now 14), born in 2004 and passed away in 2005. “The kid always had a fever, they said he needed blood, we went to the hospital for analysis, the doctor who visited him said that the kid was fine, he gave only him pills to take, acetaminophen and metrozedon for the belly. We got home and the kid started getting worse again and then died. Then came a very pretty girl, Joia, but she also died. Now I only got 2, 1 year old Mireusa and 10 years old Janilson (July 2018).” She stops talking and I feel a note of sadness in her voice, I decide not to insist on asking more.

I can’t imagine what a mother should feel about losing a child, but 4… if I were in her shoes, I would probably be in a psychiatric clinic or worse… but she continues her life with incredible strength and energy. Angolans are usually happy people, but someone as cheerful as Fanny is rare to find: she is always smiling, transmits great joy when talking to her, with the well-marked accent of those who learned to speak Portuguese in the countryside, always with a ready sentence and free laughter.

I greatly admire this woman who had to go through so many difficulties and unhappiness, who must take care of her children alone but still keeps fighting on. Now, a year after our original conversation, her younger sister came to live with her from Huambo and helps her at home and with the children, but of course there is one more mouth to support as well. Since a few months ago, Amiga has started helping us at home for cleaning, 2 days a week, so she can earn a fixed money per month and, on the other days, she continues to sell and we buy her vegetables. The first time she received her salary she was so happy, she kept hugging me. I know it’s not much, but it’s also something. However, we are friends and that is the most important thing to me.

Every time I see a zungueira in the street I think of Fanny, and of all the strong “fighters” Angolan women who must face life on their own, with children on their backs and huge bowls on their heads.

Written by: Mirriam Bacchin