Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Street Corner Vendors & Beggars

On almost any corner or intersection in Johannesburg and surrounding area, you will see street corner vendors trying to sell their wares or in some way get you to give them money. There are also a lot of people begging. Among the lower class, unemployment is high in Africa and people do whatever they can to feed themselves. We were instructed to absolutely not open our windows to buy from them or give them money so we try not to make eye contact at all. This of course feels rude and stingy, but since we want to come home safely, we are following all the safety cautions. It is interesting, however, to see what a variety of things people do or sell. Some you would expect, like signs asking for help and people selling newspapers or distributing flyers. A lot of them are dressed in bright orange jumpers and often have signs that they wear on their heads. One young man was expertly doing back handsprings in the center divider and especially hard to ignore was an older man with palsy, whose body was so twisted that it was hard to see how he could keep his balance to walk along asking for money. Last night, we were driving home in the dark from a chapel on a heavily traveled separated highway with three lanes on each side. Twice we stopped at lights and saw beggars one sitting and one kneeling in the dark in the middle of the lanes!!!  That was really crazy. 

Sunglasses are offered in a lot of places, as are phone adaptors. I’ve seen a couple of men with toys that they built—one was an intricate aluminum contraption that walked along in front of him, probably pushed along with a wire. Another man had a few beautifully made propeller airplanes made out of what looked like used foam core political posters. I thought of a few grandsons who would love the airplanes! Many different foods are offered too—beautiful mangos, yellow plums, stocks of bananas, bags of potatoes and corn, either fresh or roasted right on the side of the road. Interestingly, if you get out of the city, corn often grows unfenced and right on the side of the road, but we are told that people know exactly who each section belongs to. Probably the two most interesting vendors that I have seen were a man with a large fish impaled on a crooked stick so that it would jut out into the road, and another man with a lot of paint rollers, lying either on the grass or raised on poles. The rollers weren’t new; they looked like he had gathered them from building sites and then washed them thoroughly so that he could re-sell them. You have to give the people credit for the ingenuity and determination but for at least some of them, I would wish for a safer way for them to do it.


  1. Can't believe those people are in between the lanes in the dark! Especially with foreigners like you guys behind the wheel! ;-) Sounds like good advice to keep your windows up...

  2. That would make me so sad to see things like that, but I guess you'd just get used to it like we do here. I would be much more likely to buy something from a guy who made something or reused something than just asking for money though. But yes, keep those windows up. :)