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They stole my rented cart, Kano female water vendor cries out

The pre-dawn Kano sun casts long shadows as Aisha Isiya, a 48-year-old mother of five, joins the crowd of water vendors at the public tap. This has been Aisha’s daily routine in the Sauna area of Nassarawa LGA for over a year, a stark departure from the usual bustle of getting children ready for school.

Aisha’s rented cart is a testament to the economic realities of her household. Her husband’s income as a daily paid labourer is unpredictable, leaving the burden of providing for their family squarely on her shoulders.

“There’s no shame in this honest work. I’m not stealing; I’m simply striving to provide for my family. With limited resources, this is what it takes.”

Struggle for survival

Aisha’s story resonates with the struggles of many Nigerian women. Recall that last year, Daily Trust had reported how Gambo Haruna, a single mother in Kano State, resorted to selling water after her husband’s passing. Like Aisha, Gambo refused to yield to despair, and her story garnered support from generous individuals.

Aisha on the other hand became an inspiration in her community, as more women have embraced water vending. 

“A year ago, I was the only female water vendor in this area. People watched me struggle every day. At first, I could only make one trip, and it left me sore and sometimes even with a fever. Carrying a 25-litre jerrycan full of water, fetching water, and pulling the water cart was all new to me. Some kind-hearted men helped me out of pity whenever they saw me struggling with the cart. That’s why I started with just one trip. But as my body got used to the hard work, I gradually increased to 3-4 trips daily. Initially, I could carry only one jerrycan per trip, but now I manage two easily. You know what they say: necessity is the mother of invention.

“Secondly, I can confidently tell you that all my neighbours and other women in this area have also become water vendors because of me. Despite the struggle and the small amount of money I earn, my family isn’t starving. We may not be rich or eat fancy meals, but at least we’re not hungry. I take care of my family at home, and that’s what motivated them. Other women followed my example and joined the business. I think that alone is an achievement,” Aisha confides.

“The rising cost of living casts a long shadow, and putting food on the table is a constant concern. The most heart-breaking moment came when my children were sent back from school due to unpaid fees. Feeding a family of seven is a challenge in itself, let alone affording school fees for five. Even with the public school’s lower fees, there are additional religious school costs and other bills. It’s a constant balancing act,” she added.

Aisha’s challenges extend beyond financial constraints. During Ramadan, in a bid to increase her income, she rented two water carts. However, a cruel twist of fate saw both carts stolen, adding another burden to her already stretched finances.

“I had to pay for them. That is what has added to my current struggles. Even my 13-year-old daughter has to contribute by selling peanuts and tiger nuts after school to ease our financial strain,” Aisha says.

“I thought of doing more trips to keep up with our needs. I saw some people doing it, and I thought of doing the same. But I couldn’t because unlike some who resort to stimulants to fight fatigue and intensify earning, I prioritize my well-being. Rest and a hot bath are enough for my aching muscles. Three water runs a day are my limit, and I rely on traditional herbs to combat the Kano heat. No drugs, no shortcuts.”

Water Source challenges

The source of water presents another obstacle to Aisha. The closest tap dispenses water with an unpleasant taste, forcing Aisha to undertake a long trek each morning to fetch clean, drinkable water.

“The water in this area tastes bad, making it unfit for consumption. As a result, I wake up very early to travel to a distant location where the water is better. If luck is on my side, I manage to sell it before returning to our area. If not, I come back here to sell it and then head out again to fetch more water.

“The stress I endure is beyond what I can express. It may seem like an exaggeration, but I endure for the sake of my children. As I mentioned earlier, I’m in this business to provide for them, not for financial gain. Their well-being is my priority, especially given the current economic challenges. Alhamdulillah, the meagre earnings allow me to buy some tiger nuts and peanuts, which my daughter sells after school to supplement our income. However, it’s still not enough, though it’s better than doing nothing at all,” she said.

Her plea for help:

However, Aisha’s most pressing concern is getting enough profit to start a female-fitting business to reduce stress and have enough time for her children.

“I know this business is not considered a female business because it takes a physically strong person to pull out and carry two-litre jerrycans three times a day, even for a well-fed man, let alone a semi-fed old woman like me,” she explains. 

“Furthermore, I am worried about the state of my home. Almost every room leaks, and with the rainy season approaching, the fear of a collapse looms large. My plea is for a helping hand to repair my house and create a haven for my children.