Interview with Zau: mum, grandma and street vendor in Mindelo on São Vicente
"The worst moments were during the pandemic"
A conversation about her everyday life, about selling on the street and her life.
Zau is sitting in the middle of Mindelo, right on the busy Praça Novo. The umbrella protects her from the sun. She has set up her small stall in front of the Telecom CV; it consists of a few stools on which sweets are offered in traditional baskets. In the pandemic, the tourists are missing, but Zau keeps her optimism.
vista verde tours: Who are you? How old are you? How long have you been running your stall, what else have you done? How big is the family you have to feed?
Zau: My name is Isaura dos Santos Neves, known as Zau, 58 years old. I started selling since 1987, because my children's father lost his job.
At that time, I only worked at night, from 6p.m. until around midnight, where there was more movement on the streets.
There was Eden Park, an old cinema; there was a group of musicians who performed at Praça Nova for the little ones every Sunday, which led loads of people to move around the city. We had a lot of problems with the police and I was often taken to the police station.
My children were small, I had to bring them with me, and they slept on the street until I decided it was time to go home. It was very stressful and entiring, which forced me to stop selling on the streets in 1993.
I started working in hotels, washing clothes when someone went on vacation or as a housemaid in someone's house but nothing sure and for long, which led me to resume my little shop eventually.
At the moment I live with my 2 children and 2 granddaughters (students) – a household of 5 people and everyone depends on me.
vista verde tours: Do you have a 7-day week, what determines your rhythm? Who replaces you when you are sick?
Zau: I work from Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Even when I'm sick I will be there.
vista verde tours: You told me that you have children - do they also help you here in sales? Did all your children stay on São Vicente?
Zau: I have 3 children (2 sons and 1 daughter); the sale is on my own. All are in São Vicente and 2 of them live with me.
vista verde tours: Did you take over your stand/sales area or did you set it up yourself? How do you get a stand in Mindelo - is there something like a "right of inheritance" or is it rather "first come - first serve"? Do you have to "defend" your stand, i.e. are there territorial fights among the vendors?
Zau: The area where we set up our business has to be a strategic place, and it is very difficult to be chosen, since there are many disputes between the sellers. From the moment you choose your location, information spreads and salespeople start to know and respect each other`s location.
vista verde tours: Have you already tried another stand? Why are you here now?
Zau: I've placed it in various parts of the city, especially at night. Now I only work during the day and here at the door of CV Telecom that seems to me a very convenient site.
vista verde tours: Rain is not the biggest problem on São Vicente, quite the opposite. How do you protect yourself from the heat, since you are outside all day?
Zau: Indeed, rain hasn't been a problem, because we've had many years of drought, but in the years that there was rain, I had a lot of damage because normally I don’t go home immediately - I wait and try to stay as long as possible.
To protect myself from the rain or sun, I use an umbrella.
vista verde tours: Do you have government controls on street vending? Can you basically stay all day or are there "standing times" from the official side?
Zau: There is no governmental control, and we do not pay any kind of tax. We define our schedule. The officers who control the streets don't bother me unless they're cutting off access or if we would sell alcoholic beverage ;-)
vista verde tours: where do you get your goods from? I only see packaged sweets and candy, is there any reason for that? Are there any regulations?
Zau: Products are purchased from local wholesale stores. The products are packed because they are under the sun all day.
vista verde tours: You don't have price tags, how do you make your prices so are there any differences between locals and tourists?. Can you tell us how much you sell per day and whether your income from street vending is enough to make a living?
Zau: Prices are based on the amount you pay to purchase them. There is no price difference for locals or tourists. I make less than 1,000cve a day (note: 1.000cve = 9,06€). This value exceeds when there is an event in the city, for example Carnival, where we sell other things and the demand is bigger.
The income from selling on the street is not enough to make a living; in addition to this income I have a small monthly pension that helps me to pay the rent. What I earn here is to eat and pay for water and electricity and restock. I have tried to get some help from the municipality requesting a social house, but without success.
vista verde tours: What do you do with the sweets at night or being on holidays. Do you have some kind of "storage"? Do you put them away every night?
Zau: I keep everything stored here in the city, at a friend's house, because otherwise I would have to pay morning and afternoon transportation.
vista verde tours: Have you ever thought of expanding your range? I could imagine that you could also offer fresh "finger-food", similar to the pasteis sellers at the beach.
Zau: I have already thought about it, but the demand is not worth it, I only do it when there are big events in the city, such as carnival.
vista verde tours: You probably know everyone here, and everyone knows you. The community shapes you here in the streetscape of Mindelo. What does this community mean to you? Do you street vendors in Cape Verde have an umbrella organization, are you in some kind of trade union, do you work collectively or is each of you a "lone fighter"?
Zau: During all the years I worked on the street, I have met many people and made many good friends. On the street I'm known as Zau. Saleswomen are not part of any union. In the past they were more united, but nowadays it is everyone for himself and God for everyone.
Vista verde tours: What impact does the Corona pandemic have on your work; can you keep to the Corona rules in street vending?
Zau: The worst moments I experienced were during the pandemic, I had nowhere to look for money to support my family.I applied during the pandemic to access help for needy families or street vendors, but without any feedback or success. I went through several difficulties, but God is great.
I wear my mask, I have my alcohol gel, when someone wants to buy something I serve them, and they don’t touch my products. Every day I do clean everything thoroughly.
Many thanks to “Zau” and Maria for this interview, which was conducted in Creol by our colleague Maria Delgado in Mindelo on São Vicente in mid-July 2021.