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Dodging Clashes, Cairo's Deliverymen Take Big Risks

Feb 2, 2013
Originally published on February 2, 2013 10:14 pm

In Cairo you can get most anything — food, medicine, groceries — delivered right to your door, anytime. But civil unrest in the streets of the Egyptian capital has made it a riskier job for deliverymen.

Tabouleh restaurant, an upscale Lebanese joint, is tucked into a quiet neighborhood just south of Tahrir Square, the center of Egypt's revolution.

It's usually packed. But clashes between protesters and police have been ongoing for a week just two blocks away. On a recent night, there's only one table of diners.

"These days, I think 80 percent [of] the business is delivery," Ahmed Said, Tabouleh's manager, says.

He says it's been a tough week for the employees.

"Our staff, [they] cannot go home because all the streets [are] closed and we have action here," he says. "We stay here."

But their deliverymen on motorbikes find ways out of the neighborhood despite the clashes. Through the chaos they keep a semblance of normalcy for Egyptians, delivering food to their doors.

"If all of us at any job stopped work and we're afraid from the streets ... we're not going to live," Said explains. "We're going to die."

Downtown Cairo's traffic-jammed streets have never been easy to navigate. But cycles of violence and regular mass protests make it more complicated and dangerous to get around. The police have blocked off many major streets with concrete walls about 12-feet high.

Said says Tabouleh's best and bravest deliveryman is Sayed Masoud Abu Gabal.

"[He's] over 50, and he's more strong than the youth. He's going all [the] time, any order he's going. He's not afraid from anything. 'OK, I'll solve it,' " Said says, describing Abu Gabal's attitude if he finds out a street is shut down. "'l'll go from another way.'"

Abu Gabal walks into the restaurant from a delivery run, and his eyes are red from tear gas.

"I was delivering food nearby and I was caught in the clashes and went into a building to hide. On my way out, riot police were arresting people and I had to show them the delivery receipt to prove I was not with the protesters," he says.

He says his job has become more dangerous in the last two years.

"Sometimes you find demonstrations erupting out of nowhere. You don't have any guarantees. You can get shot. But God protects us and we get by as well as we can."

Abu Gabal doesn't have much time to rest before another order comes in. Said says the rest of the staff helps their deliverymen find safe routes by checking for the latest on violence erupting downtown.

This time, they're packing up lamb sandwiches and sweets for a delivery just across the bridge, but because of the clashes, Abu Gabal is going to make a wide loop around the area, quadrupling the distance.

With the smell of tear gas is in the air, he revs up his motorbike and takes off, once again.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

[SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Cairo, you can get most anything - food, medicine, groceries, delivered right to your door anytime. But civil unrest in the streets of Egypt's capital have made it a riskier job for deliveryman. Merrit Kennedy in Cairo sent this report about how one restaurant manager and his deliverymen are handling the violence.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: Taboola Restaurant, an upscale Lebanese joint is tucked into a quiet neighborhood just south of Tahrir Square, the center of Egypt's revolution. It's usually packed.

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET NOISE)

KENNEDY: The clashes between protesters and police have been ongoing for a week just two blocks away, and on this night there's only one table of diners.

AHMED SAID: These days I think 80 percent from the business is delivery.

KENNEDY: That's Ahmed Said, the manager. He says it's been a tough week for the employees.

SAID: Even our staff, he cannot go home because all the streets close and we have action here, action here, action here. He will stay here.

KENNEDY: But their deliverymen on motor bikes find ways out of the neighborhood despite the clashes, and through the chaos they keep a semblance of normalcy for Egyptians, delivering food to their doors.

SAID: If all of us, or at any job stopped work and we are afraid from the streets and we are not going to live, we're going to die.

KENNEDY: Downtown Cairo's traffic-jammed streets have never been easy to navigate, but cycles of violence and regular mass protests make it more complicated and dangerous to get around, and the police have blocked off many major streets with concrete walls about 12 feet high. Ahmed Said says Taboola Restaurant's best and bravest deliverymen is Sayed Masoud Abu Gabal.

SAID: Over 50, and he's more strong than the youth, going all the time. Any order he's going, he's not afraid from anything. OK, I'll solve it. I'll solve - this closed, this, this closed. I'll solve it. He'll go from another way.

KENNEDY: Abu Gabal walks into the restaurant from a delivery run and his eyes are red from teargas.

SAYED MASOUD ABU GABAL: (Through Translator) I was delivering food nearby and I was caught in the clashes and went into a building to hide. On my way out, riot police were arresting people and I had to show them the delivery receipt to prove I was not with the protesters.

KENNEDY: Abu Gabal says his job has become more dangerous in the last two years.

GABAL: (Through interpreter) Sometimes you find demonstrations erupting out of nowhere. You don't have any guarantees. You can get shot, but God protects us and we get by as well as we can.

KENNEDY: Abu Gabal doesn't have much time to rest before another order comes in. Manager Ahmed Said says the rest of the staff helps their deliverymen find safe routes by checking for the latest on violence in downtown.

SAID: We have the news from here and from my office, from the laptop.

KENNEDY: This time they're packing up lamb sandwiches and sweets for a delivery just across the bridge, but because of the clashes, Abu Gabal is going to make a wide loop around the area, quadrupling the distance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORBIKE STARTING)

KENNEDY: With the smell of teargas in the air, he revs up his motorbike and takes off once again. For NPR News, I'm Merrit Kennedy in Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.