Through the Eyes of Vendors

I pause before sinking my teeth into a salted, chili-laden fruit. Juxtaposed with the surprising heat, a pineapple has never tasted so sweet. I’m sitting on a small cinderblock; the hard corners have caused backside numbness and frequent weight shifting. On my right is Zeyoop, a kind old man, cigarette hanging from the lips and an anarchy symbol on his faded tee shirt. To my right is Rozia a gentle woman with a warm round face and maroon bindi. This couple owns a small fruit stand and I’ve been sitting, chatting and nibbling with them for several hours.
Rozia slices melon from a crescent rind, then into manageable chunks and slides them into a bag with efficient tong movements. She scoops a bit of hot green chili sauceand lets it trickle between the spirals of small carved pineapple. Wide plastic jars brimming with pickled mango, cucumber and samchat (a starchy root vegetable) sit proudly on the small cart. Tiny fermentation gas bubbles scurry around submerged cucumber hunks and escape with glee upon surfacing. Zeyoop slices mango along the pit, not all the way down, so that scrumptious morsels hang off as heavy petals. Mango texture is intimate, firm yet wonderfully soft, like sinking your teeth into summer romance. A woman next to us sells “pudding,” thick polenta-like wedges, made with maize, sugar cane, milk, cardamom and toasted coconut. I sit and time diminishes her pile.
Businessmen purchase pickled portions during their lunch break, an attorney pausing to chat with me for 20 minutes about Mauritian law. Giggling schoolgirls smile shyly, buying bags of cucumber soaked in spiced salt and tamarind jam. A cluster of Hindu women heading to the office offer friendly waves, wearing lipstick to match their bindis.
I am seeing a country’s people through the eyes of vendors.
Zeyoop wakes up at 4am three times a week to buy fruit from the supplier. It arrives in big trucks from surrounding Mauritian farms. The vendor arrives early because, “There are many more like me.” He returns with two massive baskets of pineapple, three melons and a cardboard carton of mangos all on his old rickety motorbike. After a day of vending, Zeyoop and Rozia will return to their village on this motorbike. A 12-year old daughter waits at home for them. I leave her parents in daylight, to buy those crucial postcards. But Zeyoop and Rozia must remain long past nightfall, until the last mango is sold.
—Kira McCoy

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