Shops on Wheels [Archives:1998/26/Reportage]

June 29 1998

Sometimes we walk but we feel very tired and thus we take a car or a dabbab. But there are some people who always walk. Do you know them? Can you guess? They are street peddlers – the guys pushing the arabiyyah – or cart. That is what Yemen Times now calls ‘shops on wheels’. This kind of business is done by walking.
They go back to their homes late in the evening, overworked and their faces and hair covered with dust and grime. In addition, they really become an easy prey for municipal inspectors and petty thieves, or fall under the mercy of the weather, not to speak of the difficult customers who bargain and haggle till the cows come home.
A peddler feels truly sad and gloomy when shop owners cheat him out of a few items of merchandise under the pretext that he has, for example, narrowed the way leading to their shops.
These poor souls were once ambitious and felt the sky was the limit. They could have become doctors, engineers, businessmen, etc, like everybody else and realize their dreams. Destiny, however, decreed otherwise. However, earning their living by hard work is far better than begging in the streets.
Most of the peddlers come from villages, living in the cities and sending some money to their families at home. Some of them were immigrants in Saudi Arabia who returned to Yemen during the Gulf war in 1990. Their ages range from 20 to 70.
Monthly profits vary from YR1500 to YR5000, according to the type and volume of the merchandise they peddle. Of course, the location also has a marked influence. Those working on the main high street or just outside a shopping arcade inevitably have more customers. Other profitable places are near schools, hospitals, universities, etc.
Some of the peddlers possess the handcart or the wheelbarrow they use and the goods they sell; while, others own the cart only and get the goods from wholesalers on credit. The latter have to work very hard for they are responsible for the commodities given to them.
Unfortunately, some of them spend most of their money on qat and cigarettes which affects the budget of the family.
I felt very curious to interview some of them and get closer to their problems and grievances. When I tried to talk to some of them, I felt in the beginning that my questions will find no answers. At first they were hesitant, but I tried to make them talk.
I noticed they were afraid of the municipal officials – baladiah – who are actually their horrible nightmare. Later they explained their plight frankly. Here are some of their tales.
Ali Thabet, 22, said:
I came back from Saudi Arabia, were I was selling fruits ad vegetables for seven years, because of the Gulf crisis.
I was once caught by the municipal officials, who let me off only after giving them YR 1,000.
Ibraheem Abdulsalam, 20, said:
I came from the village where I used to be a farmer. After having sold cheap perfumes for the last five years, I was once approached by three guys. Two feigned interest in buying the product, while the third was trying to steal a bottle of perfume. When I discovered that, I started quarreling with him. But they were three and I couldn’t leave my handcart and fight them.
Shayi’ Naji Nasser, 40, said:
I came from Saudi Arabia because of the Gulf war, and have been selling chocolates, pens, sweets, cigarettes, and other simple goods for the past seven years. Once a mad car driver crashed into my cart. The driver, instead of apologizing, came out of his car, took some sweets and drove away without paying. I couldn’t do anything except pray to God to exact some revenge.
By Hanan Obad