What My African Mother Said on Market Days

I grew up in the remote village of Nano in Togo, West Africa, from 1983 to 1994, which allowed me to witness the final years of traditional village culture before the modern West crept in. Life in rural Africa requires a lot of hard work, and that includes the kids. They had little time for play and relaxing. Their life was filled with chores.

One of my friends, a young village girl named Lamis, helped her mother sell beanballs in the local market. Lamis looked forward to market days. On Sunday afternoons, our family would head to the market to visit Lamis and purchase beanballs. I loved watching her work. She served us hot, steamy, fresh snacks that burned our fingers.

Men and women come together on market days to buy and sell goods. Markets were the only opportunity for villagers to glimpse life outside their village. Lamis longed to learn new things and have adventures. Here is her story.


“Fetch the water!” my mother calls. It’s earlier than I like to wake up, but I hurry to get dressed. Mother doesn’t speak much; she’s too busy. But when she does, I listen. Market Days and funerals are the only time I wear my lovely dress and shoes. I am careful not to spill. I want Mother to be proud.

“Pack the pan!” My mother says. In a large metal pan, we load the bean flour, water, salt, dried pepper seasonings, firewood, a rag, and clean bowls for serving our hot beanballs. Mother is strong. She will carry my little brother tied to her back and balance the large pan on her head, filled with all we need. Like her mother (my grandma) and her mother before her, we will sell our fried beanballs to hungry customers. I want many customers, but I also hope there will be a break to explore the marketplace.

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”—2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NCB)

“Mix the batter!” Mother orders as she gets the fire going. Her hair glistens in rows of tight braids my aunt braided for her. Mother is proud to carry on the family tradition. I whip bean flour, salt, and water into a runny paste. Mother checks it and adds a little more water. She always knows just the right amount of flour and water to make the perfectly cooked beanball: crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside. We are known for making the best beanballs at the market. I grip the bowl tightly and mix my wooden spoon until my arm is about to break off. She may let me venture out of our booth if I work hard.

“Keep that fire hot!” Mother says as she balances the baby on her hip. I crouch outside our little stand and blow at the fire, holding my breath as a billow of smoke comes rushing back into my face. A bicycle rolls past with a radio strapped on the back—strange music blasts from the speakers in words I do not understand. My eyes wander from the fire to watch the bustle around me. I’m curious about all the beautiful things I see at the market. I watch people from town display beads, lotions, dolls, soccer balls, soaps, string, watches, books, pens, pencils, paper, and notepads. I want to touch and smell each thing I see. The colors are so vibrant. Everything looks so new and clean. I want to ask if I can explore, but Mother needs me.

“Call to the customers!” Mother reminds me. I move to the front of our booth, building my courage. People begin to arrive, and their stomachs remind them they haven’t eaten yet. The buttery-rich scent rises from our booth. All our clothes permanently smell of fried beanballs. A few drops of batter go in to test the oil. They sizzle and hiss. The scent brings back memories of my grandmother handing me the crispy cooked bits of batter to sample. My mouth waters, but we will not eat until the last customer leaves. I call out, “Fresh beanballs!” to those passing by.

“Clean the floor,” Mother urges me as a new batch of people crouch to enter our booth. We now have a line waiting for our beanballs. Three men share wooden logs and discuss business while they eat. As I sweep, I listen to their conversations. I always learn something new on market days. They talk about politics, education, and the rise of gas prices. They complain about the low cost of millet and look at their mobile phones.

“Keep the money safe,” Mother hands me another bill. I know where we keep them and run to tuck them into a hidden, sealed jar. Mother doesn’t want to seem rich to her customers. They might think she was getting too high and mighty. With her money, she will buy string to do our hair and seasonings to make a tasty dinner at home. She will buy us books and shoes for school. I am proud of my mother. She is brilliant with money. Like Mother, I also want to make money but do not want to sell beanballs. I am ashamed to tell her that. Now, the day is almost done; there was no time to explore.

“Stick close and keep up,” Mother cries as we make our way around the noisy market, getting deals on the last scraps of dried fish, salt, and seasonings. As she haggles, I study the cover of a book, clasping my hands behind me to keep from touching. The book has a picture of a bus on it, with tall buildings and strange statues around it. The stand owner is packing his things but stops and hands me the book with a smile. I shake my head, knowing we have no money for books, but I want it badly. I want to learn about the world and meet many interesting people. But my life is here, and I must help my parents. I turn and walk to another booth, pretending to be interested in something else.

When we get home, Mother stops to smile at me. “You did well today,” she says. Then she handed me the book I wanted. I am so surprised I cannot speak. I want to ask how she got it or how much she paid for it. I take the gift and hold it gently. Mother smiles. She is proud of her life in the village, but she wants me to grow and learn.

That day, I learned that I could walk in two worlds, with one foot on each side. My mother’s words remind me to keep busy and be proud of my past. But her actions show me that the world is a big and beautiful place, and I am invited to be a small part of it.


As missionaries, our family wanted to show others that even when things seem to change quickly or the opposite, each day drags out the same as before; we know what will bring life to any situation. You have promises you can count on:

You belong to Jesus.

“Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.”–Philippians 4:7-8 (CVE)

You are safe and secure.

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”–2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NCB)

These promises are for you, too. Life can change quickly, and you may feel lost and confused. But understanding that you are valuable and that someone died for you changes how you look at things. You are not destined for suffering; you are invited to belong.

I often wonder what my old African friends are doing now. Near or far, I believe they still remember God’s promises we taught them. No matter their situation, Jesus loves them and has a plan for them. Jesus loves you, too!