Hustle & Glue

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The economy of Guinea is powered by small business. A woman selling fruit from a well-balanced platter atop her head; a man leading his cow to slaughter; and a water girl running alongside vehicles as they slow to a stop at police checkpoints.
Here men turn tanned goat and sheep skin hides into leather and tire tread shoes completely fabricated by hand. Little light pours into the steamy market center where the smell of sweat mingles with hustle and glue to turn hard work into a few Guinea franc.

As with many things in African economy, there is little waste when a goat or sheep is slaughtered. The meat and organs are eaten, the bones given to dogs, and the skin tanned. Some skins are used as rugs; others turned into leather. If the skins are bound for the shoe market, all fur is removed during processing. For ties and straps, leather strips are dyed and cut with utility knives, and broad pieces are cut for insoles. Occasionally, cobblers heat metal plates over a single- eyed butane burning cylinder and press patterns into the insoles. Insoles are glued to pieces of old tire tread before the shoes are nailed to a display board; available for purchase. Shoes bought from stock are about $2 a piece and shoes made to order are about $3 each after haggling. Never pay the first price. Or the second. Always offer forty percent of the initial price and settle at half.

Pro-tip: If you’re a Bah buying from a Diallo, tell him he’s a no-good, lying thief who eats vultures and snakes for dinner. Hilarity will ensue, and you’ll get your shoes for a bargain.

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