Cameroon - Day in the life of Christine Banlog, market woman
Christine Banlog has been a market woman for 22 years. She is now 64, widowed, and raising her three grandchildren in Nyalla, a locality in the city of Douala, Cameroon.
In 2011 Christine’s daughter died from complications during childbirth, leaving her with three girls, the youngest being only a week old at the time. Today her granddaughters are 17, 12 and 7; and they motivate her to keep going.
Christine’s day starts early, at 5 a.m., as the neighbourhood mosque announces its morning prayers.
Douala is the economic capital of Cameroon and known for its whole-sale and retail markets. Christine belongs to the Association of Market Women (ASBY), a national network of women who buy various goods from whole-sale markets and sell them in smaller markets. Locally, the market women are called “Bayem-Sellam”. Since 2014, UN Women has supported the Association by providing financial support and various training sessions for women entrepreneurs.
Every morning, Christine rushes to different markets to pick up produce—some specialize in potatoes, others are known for their plantains or fresh vegetables. She buys her produce and loads up the sacks on a motorbike-taxi to take them to the Nyalla market by 7 a.m., where she has a stand. The early hours are the most profitable time to sell, and the market closes by 3 p.m.
For Christine, 3 p.m. is too early to stop working; she has four mouths to feed and her oldest granddaughter is registering for the public-school examination this year, which will cost her 22,000 Franc. “I use the income to pay school fees even though it’s very difficult; money is not enough,” she says.
After the market closes, she sets up a small stand near her home to sell the produce that’s left.
Every month, on average, Christine makes about 30,000 Franc. She started her business with a capital of 50,000 Franc. However, the profit margins vary by the season. In the potato season, she could make 40-50 per cent profit sometimes.
Since joining the Market Women’s Association last year, she has started growing her business. The Association has provided her with training on life skills and how to manage her finances better.
“Yes, the training has helped me improve my business skills. First, they taught us how to handle the capital, plan expenses and then calculate the profit,” she says.
This year, money is tight. During the recent elections she was not able to keep her usual market hours. Some of the market women, like Christine, are also members of political parties who involve them in campaigning, cooking food for campaign rallies, etc.
When asked about her biggest challenge, Christine talks about the red dirt road that leads to her home.
“The first problem is access to road,” she says. “The roads are bad, during rainy season the potholes are full of water. Because of the road, I fell from the bike and sprained my ankle in October.”
Christine doesn’t have insurance, so if she cannot make it to the market one day, she incurs losses.
Access to credit is another challenge for her. “I want to buy a container to store goods. It costs 300,000 Franc to buy a locally made container,” she shares. If she has access to credit, she can buy this container and minimize her daily transportation cost to buy and sell goods and also the time it takes to go back and forth. With some credit, she can grow the business.
At the end of the day, Christine goes home to cook dinner.
“The market woman’s house doesn’t lack food,” she says, grinning. “Whatever’s left over, comes home and we eat that.”
Today, she will make a soup out of smoked fish and dried okra.
Pictured: Portrait of Christine Banlog in front of the small produce stand she runs near her home.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown