I’d been getting sneak shots of these Lagos State Waste Management Authority cleaners throughout my stay in Lagos, but sometimes earlier in the month as I walked past the pedestrian bridge at Oshodi and spoke to a few of them.
It was a Sunday and everyone else was either going to church or heading to their daily duty posts. I was heading to Badagry. A few minutes stop was not going to kill me, so I waited. I approached her, half wondering if I could be considered a nuisance by any of the policemen on patrol on the other side of the road.
“Good morning ma. Do you mind if I take your picture while you’re working now?”
“No, I don’t,” she said, but she looked at me as if to ascertain my motive. “No problem.”
“Thank you very much,” I said, “I’m writing something for publication and I’d like to capture you while doing your work.”
I went away from her as she stood by the concrete demarcation in the middle of the road sweeping dirt. All around were activities. Some people were crossing the road towards us, and some away from us. I made a few snapshots from different angles while keeping an eye on the policemen who – if they’d seen me could have been tempted to ask a few questions of their own. After a while, I was satisfied. I returned to her.
“What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Do you live around here?”
“Yes. I live at Abeni Bakare. Mafoluku.”
“How do you enjoy the job you do here? Do you like it?”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking. How much do you earn per month?”
“Ten thousand naira.”
That is $60. Per month.
“Really? For the whole day?”
“No, only for half a day. I stop work at two pm every day. It is from six am to two pm only.”
“Oh, so you’ve been here since 6am today?”
I asked her if there were those who worked for the whole day.
“Yes,” she said. “They earn twenty thousand.”
She won’t work the whole day because she needed to rest.
I asked what she was doing before she became a street sweeper and she said she didn’t have a job. She had been a porter and a trader, but none of them gave her as much pay, satisfaction, and free time that working with LAWMA did.
A few minutes later, she took the broom, picked up the trash bin and moved to the other side of the road. She didn’t say goodbye and I didn’t stop her. She had been stoic for the most part of the conversation perhaps because she was on the job, and busy, but she did convey a striking appearance of dignity. She may not have been the most cheerful person working on that Sunday morning when everyone else was relaxing in the way they knew best, but she had presence, and a hardworking spirit that remained with me long after I went my way.
I met a few more of them later although some of them refused to be photographed, but they all talked to me. I went away from the area with a certain respect for them, mostly women, working hard every day around the state for such stipend just to make ends meet. And they are the ones who keep the city clean.