Work life

In Egypt, a job is for life. So the young man who works the café near my apartment, who is fresh and full of fun, jokes and energy, will stay there until he ceases to work. Perhaps he’ll move to another café owned by the same man, but most likely he’ll stay. “There’s not a lot of chance for changing jobs in Egypt,” says my friend Mido.

As we take tea in the café, another young, well-presented man hawks bags of Chinese goods to the café patrons – packets of screwdrivers, torches, and steel gadgets that have little meaning for me. He is followed by a shoe shiner, cigarette seller, a newspaper man.

A teenage boy on a pushbike flies past, balancing on his head a mountain of fresh bread stacked in an open crate made from date palm spines, weaving in and out of traffic, while another man balances a large metal flask on his hip, pouring cool drinks into a cup for customers.

Nearby, three young boys, brothers of about 7, 9 and 13 years, scrape a mountain of building sludge with pieces of cardboard from a petrol station driveway. A man sells six packets of tissues and five single cigarettes carefully laid out on a cardboard box in the street while the man beside him refills disposable lighters.

A man places a plastic whistle around his neck and directs traffic parking around a popular supermarket and every day, another man brings a chair and his bathroom scales to busy Talaat Harb street in the hope he can weigh a few patrons for less than a pound a pop. These are their jobs.

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