Life, in myriad colours
A glimpse into the lives of street vendors
01 Feb 2017 - 11:44
Fazeena Saleem | The Peninsula
Mani is a very active newspaper vendor with a never fading smile on his face, whom you can meet in the streets of Doha during the morning hours. It has been more than 20 years since he came from a small village in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu to Qatar. Since then Mani has been selling newspapers and takes pride in helping news reach readers.
Unlike many in Doha, his day starts around midnight where he goes to the printing press, help in gathering newspapers and reaches his selling point by 5 am.
“I’m doing this job for the past 20 years. Arabic newspapers has a high demand than the English newspapers. But business is not like old days, now many people read the newspapers on the mobile phones, yet I sell around 80 newspapers a day,” said Mani while busy running across the road selling newspapers.
According to him the peak time for newspaper selling is until 8 am, while Al Sharq has a high demand among Arabic language newspapers and The Peninsula among the English. Newspaper vendors get an approximate monthly salary of QR1200 from the newspaper company under which they work and an extra of QR40 for every 100 newspapers they sell.
Every month Mani sends money to his family — two children and spouse. He plans to work here for another two years until his daughter completes her engineering degree.
Besides his family, authentic food from his home town is something Mani misses here badly is the authentic Chettinad Cuisine originated in the areas around Karaikudi, a district in the Tamil Nadu State in India.
He says his regular customers are kind and genuine, “They pass by this road daily and see us every morning, some days if they don’t see , the next day will enquire if everything is fine. Some will give extra money, especially ladies will offer us food like sandwiches and fruits.”
Mani is one of the many humble faces of street vendors in Doha. There are several other newspaper vendors, cobblers, watch makers, vegetable and fruit sellers who have been in to the trade for decades. Recently The Peninsula met with several vendors during the morning hours of a Wednesday on the streets of Doha to know a glimpse of their life.
The Ministry of Economy and Commerce has specified general licensing conditions for street vendors. The applicant should be least 18 years old, obtain a written approval from the employer in case he is a foreigner, have a health certificate from the Ministry of Public Health, and a certificate of good conduct (clean criminal record), in addition to the approval of competent authorities depending on the business activity.
A street vendor’s activity should be restricted to a specific geographical area in case of using a vendor trolley. The annual licensing fee for the vendor is fixed at QR500 and at QR1,000 for the trolley. The vendor using small trolleys should not obstruct the flow of traffic or movement of pedestrians. The trolleys should meet the health and environment specifications.
Unlike the other street vendors, newspaper sellers are full time staff of the newspaper company, and they benefit all facilities provided by the employer including allowances and air tickets to the home country once in two years.
Nayeem another vendor from Eastern Sri Lankan district of Ampara is selling newspapers near The Mall is here for the past two years. His routine is also similar to his colleague Mani.
“Many buy Arabic newspapers and they ask for the Al Sharq. Business is bit slow during the school holidays, but other days most papers are sold between 6am and 8am,” he said. He says there is also a considerable demand for English and Malayalam newspapers.
While speaking Nayeem was running across the road between vehicles deliver newspapers to customers, at some situations traffic was moving.
“We are now used to this and know how to cross the roads safe. Most times vehicles slow down and let us cross the road,” he said.
Nayeem sells around 50 newspapers a day and manages to send a savings of QR 500 (LKR 20,000) to his family back home.
Daily life of a cobbler and watch maker is much different from newspaper vendors. They are not employed under any company, but have a sponser and obtain a license from the ministry.
Prabodh is a watch maker in Old Airport area for more than eight years and claims that his daily earning is less as QR 20 on certain days.
He has two children and spouse in Bangladesh depending on his earning. Most of Prabodh’s earnings are spent on his three year old son, who is in need of a liver transplant due to a birth defect.
“My son needs a liver transplant, it has to be done in India and will cost more than QR 200,000. Until now have spent more than QR 50,000 by borrowing from brother, friends and selling everything I had,” says Prabodh who is clues about saving his son’s life.
He starts his work around 9 in the morning and sits in the trolley until 10pm, but only a few customers come to him as many chose to buy a new watch instead of rearing.
“There are watches sold at very cheap prices, so people don’t like to repair but buy a new one,” said Prabodh while repairing a ‘duplicate’ Rolex watch. Another watch maker Akram from Kerala, South Indian State in India is repairing watches on the Old Airport road for the past 15 years. His trolley was moved recently to his current location by the authorities as it was previously blocking the entrance of a retail shop.
“We will charge maximum of QR50 to QR60 to repair a watch. But not many customers come for such major repairs. Although we get less customers compared to previous years, the earning is enough to manage daily life but don’t get to save,” said Akram.
A cobbler from Pakistan sitting comfortably in his trolley, opposite to Akram, is repairing shoes for more than two decades. Admiring the fast growth and changes of his neighborhoods and Doha he says, “I have seen the city change and new buildings coming up, it’s something happy to see.”
Been for a long time in the area he is called as ‘chacha’ (meaning uncle in Urdu) by his customers and nearby shop keepers. “Everyone calls me as chacha, so you too call me the same,” he said laughing. As he said so, a young a man passing by greeting him “Assalamu Alaikum chacha, how are you?”
‘Chacha’ works in two shifts, from 9am to 1pm and then between 4pm and 8pm. He cooks his dinner and have lunch from a restaurant. He gets to speaks to his family in Pakistan only once a week, as he uses a old model cellular phone which has doesn’t have the features to make free calls over the top services.
“I have some regular customers, even if they don’t have a shoe. But there are many who use us as a place to dump their broken shoes. They give shoes for repair but never come back to collect, it becomes a problem when the authorities come for inspection, they tell us to keep the trolley tidy. Shoes keep inside plastic bags makes the place look untidy. So now I tell the customers that if they don’t come back within three days, will throw away the shoes,” he said.
Another cobbler Omar is also from Pakistan and in Doha for 20 years. He charges from QR 2 to QR 20 to repair any type of a footwear and it takes a short time to finish the job.
“We can’t charge too much form the customers. If we ask for more to repair, it’s cheaper for them to buy a new one as footwear is sold for even for QR 30. I charge only QR 2 to fix the sole of a shoe with glue,” he said.
Omar was once a football player and a fan of the game, has posters of Qatar winning the 2022 bid and several others related to football pasted around his trolley.
“I love playing and watching football, hope I will be able to watch the 2022 world cup in Doha,” he said.