Dignity Market

Dignity Market is a place that my friends rented so that disabled people living in different collective homes in and around the city can come there to work, men doing mostly tinsmithing, women gara-tie dying.   It was imagined as a workshop and a shop. Appearance  of workers was not steady and the selling never succeeded to make the place self-sustainable but at least it offered some hope that tomorrow would be a bit better.  Then the owner of the house terminated the contract. Disabled people have the reputation of being troublesome.  “There is discrimination everywhere”. This is what I hear all the time, but what I know is that those that middle class people are afraid of are not simply disabled, they are considered – in most of the cases rightly – as disabled beggars. That changes all.  Popular contempt and the fear of magical contamination follow less disability as such than deep poverty.  When visible physical disability and poverty meets, they come together to form a powerful stigma. So when the renting contract of Dignity Market was all of a sudden terminated that did not surprise anybody.  It also did not discourage the group. Dignity Market was reborn from its ashes at a brand new place – in the middle of Ebola. I had not known this place. I visited it at the very night of my arrival – to find a new configuration: instead of a mixed group, I found at least 50-60 women sleeping and working together in two big rooms.  They had received a large command from an American lady representing an unknown NGO who came with the mission to buy batique T shirts for a big American mark. Strangely enough, although it all seems to me a business enterprise, UNDP also came in with some support to the “project”.  It takes me some time to understand who is playing what role in this enterprise and  I am not sure I have all the pieces of the puzzle. I wonder if I can hope for a genuine start up or is it only another chapter speaking of big dreams and subsequent disillusionment.  Realistically, the second option is more probable. But it does not really matter.  These dreams keep these women going.  And for those who will live to see it, tomorrow might effectively be better.  By Sunday they finish the job and organise a party to celebrate their achievement: they painted 5000 T shirts in a week.  T shirts hang from every corner and the spirits are high. They even bought a genuine cake, covered with white sugar, decorated with the not totally relevant inscription: “Happy Birthday!” I watch the women dancing:  they let go the crutches, put their weight on one leg – on the less damaged one – and shake their bodies in a way that it is difficult to believe they have got physical disabilities. However, they are all polio-victims.  They encourage each other shouting and laughing, covering the head of the leading dancer with empty plastic bags, symbolizing the money that the audience would throw on the best performers in normal circumstances.  Creating normality in totally abnormal circumstances, this is their strength.  They humanise with banal everyday gestures the objective hell they live in, transforming it into something not only bearable but worth living for.

dignity market


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