Liberia: ‘Can- Girl’, A Female, Street Gas Seller
By Mae Azango
Monrovia – The clouds were gloomy from the very heavy rains that had just fallen in Monrovia. The rain had formed streams, which ran on both sides of the tarmac road at the intersection of Benson and Newport Streets. At this particular spot, are parked three-tire vehicles (tricycle) locally known as Kehkeh whose operators usually rush to anyone approaching them so as to be the lucky one to ferry that or those persons to their destinations. Also at this spot, is rather an unusual dealer in one business, which is very heavily-male dominated, especially among those of them who do the street retailing of the products. “Give me one gallon, give me half a gallon,” is all Esther Johnson, who sells retailed gasoline in mayonnaise jars, hears, as she frantically sells the petroleum product from the various sizes of jars on the raised platform.
For Esther, the day has just begun. Like any other day, she has to sell whether it rains or shines in order to make ends meet for them to survive. “I sell gas to feed my three-year-old son and to send me and my four younger brothers to school. After school, I come and sell; when my brothers come from school, they come and sell while I go home to prepare food. When I am through, I come back and they can go home to have something small to eat,” said Esther, who is a female, street gasoline vender.
It is a rare sight to find a female in such a business in Monrovia. Most of the venders are young and middle-aged men, who are referred to as ‘can-boys’, deriving this nomenclature from the jerry can containers in which they go to established Petro stations to buy the petroleum products. They can then bring their jerry cans on the roadside and empty the products into mayonnaise jars of different sizes to retail the gasoline or fuel to a motorcyclist or kehkeh operators or sometimes drivers of cars.
It is not very uncommon to see a lady selling gas at established petroleum stations. However, this is completely different when it comes to those found in isolated parts of the roadside with their jars sitting on raised platforms and exposed to the public. But that nomenclature of ‘can boy’ might now be revisited with the emergence of Esther into the business. It’s still a little far way to go as the males are still very dominant in the business.
But Esther sees no problem with it. All she wants is to make her from ‘hand-to-mouth’ livelihood for her siblings and her son. Watching Esther works, she pours the gasoline from the jars into a safe-made funnel attached to the hollowed rod leading to the gas or fuel tank of the vehicles. She is so smart and fast and has to be precise as more kehkeh riders pull in asking her to hurry up so they can go back and grab more passengers.
When asked as to how business was faring, and why many kehkeh drivers were buying her gas more than the other male vender next to her, she answered: “Business is not running like when school is open and you have the school children pouring in and the kehkeh boys are very busy. The business is a bit slow now; it’s not really running. The reason why the drivers buy from me is that I was the first to start selling gas in this kehkeh parking. Most of them are my customers; they know me very well. Another thing is that I am a woman. How many women you can find doing can boy selling? So, if they do not buy from me, they won’t be satisfied,” Esther said she shrugged her shoulders and chuckled.
Speaking about the unstable gas price, Esther said when the price of gas goes high, they do not sell because it will mean looking for additional money to add on top of the money which they do not have the extra because the profit is not much. And it is through this business they survive.
The twenty-six-year-old who is in the Sabrina school of Airline studies said it has been her dream to become an aid hostess and in doing so, she has to keep focus. “If I am not busy, I could follow friends and find myself doing things I have no business doing because some kind of way I may fall into temptation. Therefore, I just want to encourage my friends to keep focus and by the grace of God, their dreams will come into reality. They should not follow bad friends and do things they cannot control because Peer pressure is the reason most of our friends are out on the streets today.”
Main Pic: Ester a gas seller in Monrovia, photo credit/Mae Azango