Street Vendors and their Moving Markets on Carts: “More Customers!” [Archives:1999/22/Business & Economy]

May 31 1999

You see them everywhere you go. They sell everything. And they come in amazingly different sizes and shapes. 
They are the arabiyat (hand-pushed carts). 
Some sell chewing gums, biscuits, candy, and other confectionery. Some sell fruits and vegetables. Others sell clothes, garments, shoes, and other footwear. Many sell copy-books, pens, and other school needs. 
They are all over the place, mainly at street intersections. They move around in search of buyers. 
There are simple carts, but there are also double-deckers and fancy ones. 
Their capital can range from just a few thousand, to almost a hundred thousand, depending on their line of business. 
Making ends meet has become a difficult task these days. If you can manage a small amount of capital, perhaps you can start a business on an arabiyah instead of hanging around with no job. 
Daily profit can range from a hundred to a few thousand. 
In an effort to learn more about this burgeoning community, Yemen Times reporters spent a few days on the streets journeying with the arabiyah people. Yasser Mohamed put together this report based on three weeks of interviews, comments, and anecdotes. 
Have fun reading! 
Nasser Al-Had’a comes from Dhamar. His arabiyah (cart) has fruits. Nasser says, “My business follows the seasons. Now is the season for peaches, mangos, watermelon, etc. and these are the fruits I will be selling over the next few weeks.” He also carries citrus fruits of all kinds, in addition to year-round fruits such as carrots. 
He buys the fruits from the Central Market at Madbah. “I go there early in the morning and choose the best quality-fruits.” He calculates all his costs, before he determines the retail price he will charge his customers. 
One of the surprises I learned was that Nasser is charged for parking his cart near this store or close to an area. “I pay YR. 20 per day to the market management as charges for the this spot where I park my cart” In return, he can leave his cart for extended periods under the watchful eyes of his space or landlords. “But sometimes things get stolen, and I can hold nobody responsible for that,” he added. 
Nasser previously worked as a blacksmith and a carpenter. He had worked in Saudi Arabia for six years. “But I am now comfortable in my new work.” 
Arif Abdullah is from Taiz Governorate. He deals in small electrical appliances and plumbing wares. He has a very impressive cart, “It is as good as a small shop,” he proudly exclaims. He is often located near Al-Asbahi Quarter, where a lot of construction work is going on. His profit varies. ” I usually earn about YR. 500 per day, out of that I pay YR. 100 as location rent or charge, and so far I have not faced any problems.”Arif is married and supports his family, as well as an extended network of kinship and relatives. 
“I have dreams, but it is difficult to achieve them, especially if you are not educated as in my case. I am quite satisfied to push on in this business,” he says, blowing his cigarette smoke on my face. He is not even aware of that as he continues explaining. 
Mohammed Al-Izzi is from Ibb Governorate. He sells footwear, mainly rubber and plastic shoes and sandals. He supports a family of five including himself from this business. He says the income varies, but it is enough to meet his daily requirements, as well as the rent of the house, 1500 rials a month. He pays a daily charge for the cart that varies from YR. 50-70, depending on location. 
“Sometimes the municipality people take away our carts, but we get them back after paying them a fine of 800-1000,” he added. Of course, there are no receipts. The money is split between the municipality officials and the soldiers who accompany them. 
Mohammed hopes to start his own shop rather than selling on the streets. “My main worry is whether someday I will wake up, and my cart will not be there any more. I want a more settled location for my business.” 
Abdo Ahmed Al-Otumi is from Otuma, Dhamar Governorate. In spite of his old age, he pushes his hand cart long distances and for extended hours. He sells fresh vegetables. I was amazed that he can manage his finances even though he cannot read and write. It is clear he is good with numbers. “I can’t tell you my exact daily profit. It all depends on the market, but it is usually about YR. 300-400. That is enough to feed the family. 
But Abdo has a problem. Unless, he sells his goods quickly, they can rot on the cart. “I deal in fresh vegetables, and I have no proper facilities to preserve them until the next day,” he said. 
He has found an answer. Abdo has developed a good relationship with some regular customers who buy from him all the time. But that too has a downside. He was burned by some of them to whom he has sold on credit, and never seen again. He still lends to the others and they pay him back later. He pays YR. 20 daily as location rent. 
Adel Hassan is from Taiz. He is a young man who left school after he completed the ninth grade. His excuse for leaving school early was that those who had graduated before him were jobless and still roam the streets. Adel too, roams around but his roaming is with a purpose. He sells ice-cream. 
“It is good business, especially at high noon. “My sales increase during summer, but during the winter, not many people eat ice-cream, so my income falls distressingly,” he laments. 
Even though he had quit his studies, he sometimes regrets it. “My advice to the young people is to take their studies very seriously, and to take advantage of every moment of their lives to ensure a bright future.” 
Amin Hizam is from Ibb. He pushes a cart full of chocolate bars, biscuits and cigarettes. He is single and does not support a family ” It is difficult to support a family from this business, I can barely look after myself and my daily needs.”Amin is not happy with this job. He is forced to do it, since he is not educated and has no other vocation. He feels that the future is dark, and there is no hope of improving himself due to the overall economic conditions. 
He says he wants to learn, but what and where? “There are no facilities such as computer institutes which will train me for free or even for a small fee. Why can’t our government encourage young men and women to help develop themselves?” 
Whatever his hopes and frustrations, he must carry on with his job just to survive. 
It is important to note, however, that all of these ‘businessmen’ are luckier than many others. They are luckier than the sellers who do not have even own a cart to put their goods in. These are the sellers who are locate at traffic lights. They have a few moments between light changes to convince drivers to buy their goods. 
There are also the newspaper sellers on the streets, who can barely secure a daily income that can keep them alive. This is especially problematic now that the price of one loaf of bread has risen from 5 rials to 10 rials. Those people are worried that they cannot even earn the money that could buy bread for themselves and their families. 
Finally, they are luckier than those who have no jobs at all. If a person is a graduate from high school or university, then he/she cannot contemplate going in the street business – whether by pushing carts or otherwise. For these unemployed people, conditions are even more rough. 
Cart sellers form a fraction of a larger block of Yemeni people that have been devastated by economic burdens. Yet, these people are simple, kind, and satisfied. They also perform an important job in keeping prices drown because their margins are small. They are a vital part of the market system.