Picture an old man with two younger boys riding a cracked wooden three-vehicle cart driven by a weak donkey. Moving around the streets of the more impoverished districts in Cairo, the man starts his journey at 7 in the morning. By filling the large metal containers on his carriage, he is now ready to call for the sale of gasoline.
Going hand in hand with the problem of the lack of natural gas existing in most of the Egyptian houses, the sale of gasoline in the streets can be considered a further addition to the problem. It is nothing more than a hectic and illegal job, but at the same time, it might be the only dependant business for some people.
Shaaban Mahrous, a 57-year-old liquid fuel gas seller, says his sole job is to refill the metal containers with gasoline and sell it in the streets. Selling gasoline in the streets is considered the life saver for him and his wife and eight sons.
“My sons help me out every day in refilling the containers with gas. The problem is that the demand for gas is not very frequent. It can take me four or five hours roaming in the streets with no single reply to my sale calls,” says Mahrous.
He added that most of their clients are mainly drivers, as they use it to refill the tanks of their cars.
Mahrous says, “Most of the people who buy from us (street gasoline sellers) are taxi drivers. They take the gas from us after we refill the tanks from the gas stations. We sell it for a much cheaper price than that of the station”.
His 13-year-old son Gamal says he helps his father in refilling the metal containers in the cart and exchanges shifts with him to lessen the load.
“My father starts at about 7 in the morning every day until I come back from school at 3 in the afternoon. I start the afternoon shift by riding over the carriage and moving around to different streets than those visited by my father,” he says.
Gamal says his brothers sometimes help him out in during certain days of the week, when he has to study over the cart to maintain his good academic standing at school.
“Sometimes my brother, Ahmed, drives the cart until I write my homework while we are roaming the streets. I know it is tiring and hectic. I don’t live my life as normal boys do and I do not hang out with friends…But I have to help my father because he is an old man and already suffering from heart disease,” says Gamal.
But the story of Mahrous and his sons is not the only one. Azeem El Araby, another seller who sells gasoline in the streets, complains about the business, which he describes as “non-profitable and time consuming”.
“What can I say? I am 60 years old and I have been working in this exhausting business for more than 30 years now. I remember when I was a child, my father used to take me on his cart and teach me how to drive the cart with the donkey…At the beginning I used to think it was fun roaming the streets and earning 5 pounds every day, but when I got older, I re-evaluated the whole issue within myself,” says El Araby.
He added that none of his sons help him out in selling his gasoline in the streets, but he has some friends who usually drive the gas cart with him to entertain him while moving around.
“Many friends come over with me every morning. They help me find drivers to sell them my gasoline for their cars. Not many drivers ask for the gasoline sold in the street; in most cases they go to gas stations because they fear that my gas would ruin their cars,” says El Araby.
He says his job is illegal and dangerous, but asserted that he never found a more suitable job than selling gasoline in the street.
“This job is dangerous. I live in a 10-meter-apartment with all my family in an alley in Masr El Qadima district. I park the cart in front of the house and if a man threw a cigarette near the cart, the whole cart and the house will go up in flames,” says El Araby.
Despite the risk, he assures that his job makes him feel more satisfied than anything else.
“I know I am an old man to still be working alone, but at least I do not steal to in order to get money for my family. Sometimes you have to bear the hard things in order to live in this country,” says El Araby.
Mahmoud Zakareya, a 25-year-old gasoline seller, says the government is not providing suitable jobs for any of the graduates, so he thought of buying a small gasoline cart to start up his own business.
“My father died three years ago and I have three sisters and my mother. I applied to most of the jobs that might be reasonable for me and none were as convenient as selling gasoline in the streets…I might be earning only 4 pounds a day, but at least I feel I am a working and am an effective person, not a useless, jobless one,” says Zakareya.
He says he thought of working in this felid in particular as his uncle, who sells gasoline as a part time job besides his job as a porter, suggested he do the same.
“My uncle has his own cart and he encouraged me to drive with him and see if the job will suit me. I tried going out with him for more than four times and I found that he is already established very good contacts with taxi drivers and lorry drivers whom he sells gasoline to,” says Zakareya.
He also stated that the most important thing in this business is to build up your own networks with the clients, so that you won’t waste much time trying to sell the amount of gasoline filling the metal containers in the carriage.
“If you know a couple of taxi drivers who you deal with every day, then you have guaranteed a constant income that would help you feed your family everyday,” he says.
By Ethar Shalaby