Shopping on the metro

This morning on the train, I bought some hair pins and that liquid glue that instantly sticks your fingers together.

A woman in a niqab (the black robe that covers everything but eyes) was doing a roaring trade in eye liner pencils for about 50c each.

This is one of the great things about Cairo (and many non-first-world countries). Your shopping comes to you. Forget newspaper sellers, you can buy screwdrivers, pens, combs, washing-up cloths, scouring pads... sometimes all hanging off the one body.

Of course, tissue sellers are a given on every carriage, every metro station, every corner, and I even saw Vodafone top-up cards being hawked on the train the other day. My best investment to date has been a pretty fold-up paper fan, perfect when the fans on the metro carriages' roofs break down.

Kids often work with their parents or alone, rushing down the carriages to drop lollies or gum in passengers’ laps, shouting the price as they go, then sweeping back up the carriage to collect the unwanted sweets. Sometimes, a woman will silently drop religious leaflets throughout, instinctively avoiding the non-Muslims.

Of course, they’re all illegal traders competing in an economy where unemployment is officially at 9%, but most pundits place in the mid-teens. A recent Reuters report stated that 20% of the population live on less than US$1 a day.

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