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RURAL EXPRESS: 'Dis a my bread an' butta' - Long-serving vendors recount market life

Published:Saturday | November 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
From left: 75-year-old Sarah 'Brownie' Brown and 74-year-old Melvina Boyne, two long-serving vendors in the Mandeville Market who were recently recognised by non-profit organisation Friends in Need. - Photo by Tamara Bailey

Tamara Bailey, Gleaner Writer

Mandeville, Manchester:

We sometimes pass the market daily; we visit when we have to make a purchase or transact other businesses, but that's as far as it goes. Have you ever wondered about the story behind some of elderly vendors? What has kept them there for so long? And what have their experiences been like?

Rural Xpress decided to stop and have a little chat with two senior persons at the Mandeville Market who have together given over 80 years of service.

Seventy-five-year-old Sarah Brown, popularly known as 'Brownie', started selling in the market at around age 14.

"I used to help out my mother - I wasn't a real vendor at that time. It was after leaving school that I started my own thing and I have been here ever since," said Brown.

But why so long? "Missis, dis a my bread an butta! Me nuh have no regrets. Everything I have in life is because of my hustling. This is what I got it through and praise be to God, me a nuh di worse."

Having given birth to seven children, Brown said it is important for one not to rely on children, if possible, as making one's own money is key.

"You haffi work. Once you able to, you must work and nuh care wha nobody waan say. Once it legal, no matter what you do, God wi bless you."

Brown, who sells cabbages, tomatoes, pak choi, and Irish potatoes, among other items, said she missed the days that saw her running with goods and beckoning to customers.

"Oh gosh, man! Dem time deh did nice. People a run wid dem goods and a call out 'scallion! scallion!' all pick pocket we use to help run down. When dem tief di people dem money, we run an bawl out 'Tief!' and help ketch dem.

"Back then it was better, but now things change," she continued. "Still haffii give thanks nonetheless."

Christian music

When asked what keeps her going on slow days, with a beam in her eyes and a smile on her face, Brown announced: "The Christian music weh mek me drop foot! Yeah, man! Especially during the summer and Christmas, di Christian music ina di market nice. Back in a di day me use to drop foot hard, but now me just tek it easy."

"Yeah, man! A true, a true," chimed in second long-serving vendor Melvina Boyne.

"Market did nice when we did young. We use to have birthday party and we buy banana and cake and blow comb fi make music."

Blow comb?

"Yes, maam. We just put piece a paper ova di comb and blow til we fool," said Boyne with a hearty laugh.

With the ability to even prepare their own meals with the availability of a stove, Boyne said that those were some of the things that made their work fun.

"We cook we pot, we share, we sell, make we money and to di amount a customer we use to get, we use to pack up by all 4 o'clock. Now me haffi deh yah till all nine, 10 o'clock, and di atmosphere nuh really so friendly again."

But apart from the bad experiences and longing for a return of the glory days, Boyne says she is grateful for the opportunities she had as a vendor.

"It nuh always nice, me a go be honest. Me remember one time when dem kill a man in here and it was just pure blood and me head mash up whole day, couldn't concentrate ... and den days like weh day yah when me a eat an dust drop in a me food cause di market waa cobweb out an paint up an fresh up."

"But when me satisfy me customer dem and dem happy cause dem get dem goods, me happy. I have no regrets. This is what supported all me 14 children dem and it still supports me today," ended Boyne.