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Senegalese Woman Provides Food for Poor Workers

According to most poverty indicators, almost half the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is living on less than one dollar a day. One Senegalese food stand owner shows how far a dollar goes in this part of the world. Her aluminum-sided, cardboard-roofed sandwich and coffee stand in Dakar has become the community kitchen for hundreds of people, mostly men who come from far away to work in the city. For a little over one dollar, diners can afford breakfast, lunch, hot coffee, plus a helping of morning news. Phuong Tran has more from Dakar, Senegal.

Every morning, before the sun rises, 47-year-old Astou Diaw and her daughter Yoni are already awake, getting ready for work at her food stand a bus ride away. Fighting sleepiness, and guided only by dim streetlights, the two slowly make their way to the corner bus stop.

Her first expense is 100 French CFAs, or 20 cents, for her and her daughter's fare. Diaw takes out her coin purse, which stays close to her side all day.

“It is so tiring to take these buses. I would much rather take a taxi, but they cost five times as much," she says.

The 10-minute bus ride takes Diaw to her husband's metal shop. Once the sun rises, the lot filled with welding tools and leftover scrap metal becomes her kitchen. The two [women] heat water for the coffee, and prepare bean fillings for morning sandwiches.

They carry food, coffee, coal stand and utensils to their stand on the opposite side of the street. Mother and daughter work quickly to set up: bread and butter in place, Diaw takes her seat for the morning rush.

“I am always nervous at the start of the day. I never know if I can make enough to cover my expenses for the food and coffee, about six dollars,” Diaw says.

Mamadou Dieng is a security guard who works nearby. He was one of Diaw's first customers when she started four years ago. He comes every morning for the café touba, a heavily sugared, frothy local drink that tastes like a spicy mix of coffee and tea.

“I come really early from 30 kilometers away,” Dieng says. “If it were not for this place, I could not afford such good home cooked food. And Astou is so nice that if we do not have money, she lets us pay later."

For a just over one dollar, Dieng gets the coffee and the best-selling sandwich: spicy lentils served over baguettes delivered every day from the bakery.

Dozens of customers and four hours later, Diaw counts her change. It is not enough to cover what she spent on beans, butter, bread and coffee. She prepares to go home, leaving her daughter to work the lunch shift.

“Mondays are the hardest for me. A lot of people do not have money yet to pay. But I still feed them and hope they can pay me soon. Maybe tomorrow," Diaw says.

And with that, Diaw takes a lentil sandwich with mayonnaise and waits for the bus to go home.

In a country where $700 is the average annual income, Diaw made almost $2,000 last year from her food stand. Despite her day-to-day worries, she hopes to expand her corner kitchen as soon as she can save enough money.