Hats off on Labor Day to the Arab worker! Celebrating Unappreciated Jobs

Published April 30th, 2012 - 07:15 GMT

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Arabic gas man
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Image 1 of 17: The gasman in Arab world terms differs from a guy who visits your house to read the gas meter. This archetypal man often wears a gas company uniform, and offers gas & plumbing services. Our Arabic counterpart can be seen on the streets lugging supplies of gas barrels for home stoves & heating. His truck emits a signature 'ice-cream' van tune.

'Doorman' or Bawaba
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Image 1 of 17: Bawab: 'Doorman', most endemic to Egypt, he is known variously around the Arab lands as 'natour', 'concierge' & 'haris' (security guard). These guys live in modest set-ups, often at the base of an apartment block, from where they service the residents in all manner of ways. Jack of all trades, this man is depended on for building repairs.

Ka'ak seller
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Image 1 of 17: The 'Ka'ak' man can be found on Beirut's corniche, or any Arab locality! This bread-seller's wares come in regional variations, shapes & sizes. The 'ka'ak' man peddles his sesame-seeded bread on the streets, or indoors. Our carb-pusher hawks them ring-shaped or horse-shoe. You know he's coming from the 'Ka'ak', 'ka'ak' that he barks out.

Recycle lorry
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Image 1 of 17: Metal and scrap truck collectors. This tradition of collecting 'junk' and metal scraps occurs all around the middle east landscape. In Jordan, lorries to the bidding of the 'scrap collector'. In Egypt, the collector rides around the neighborhood scouring or scavenging for recyclable materials in a rickshaw.

Metal scrap collector
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Image 1 of 17: The recycling man, whether in Jordan or Egypt, sifts through the treasures of the day. Having done the street rounds scavenging for people's precious refuse, he stops and separates the wheat from the chaff.

Construction workers
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Image 1 of 17: Construction workers in the Gulf states are often immigrant workers (like a large portion of the labor force there) busy building up the next colossal Arab projects under the sun.

Truck of workers
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Image 1 of 17: Construction workers in the Gulf states live in notoriously cramped conditions - often critically tagged 'labor camps'.

Street coffee seller
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Image 1 of 17: Street coffee vendors: In Egypt, particularly in Cairo, the Arab Big Apple, a lively Middle East city that defies sleep, these caffeine merchants operate late at night.

Arabic ice-cream man
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Image 1 of 17: Ice cream man. Arabic ice cream made the traditional way requires a lot of elbow grease and 'pounding'. Most famous in Syria, especially if you like your ice-cream 'stretchy' and beaten the old way, as sold in popular "Bakdash"- the ice cream parlor people flock to in the Old City of Damascus to enjoy this mastic and sweet cream treat!

Shoe cleaner
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Image 1 of 17: Shoe cleaners are abundant in the region, but unlike some metropolises they can be found outside the transportation hubs, beyond the train stations. With that friendly polish comes a bond established with regular customers who start to know their street corners by their shoe-cleaning fixture.

Cotton factory workers
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Image 1 of 17: Cotton factory workers in Egypt. This is the industry whose guild or union galvanized the Egyptian revolution with their striking action early on. These strikes spurred the spirit of revolution and paved the way to Tahrir.

Koshari man
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Image 1 of 17: Staying with Egypt, presenting the 'Koshari man': This guy sells a popular traditional Egyptian dish that comes streetside food, from stalls, or as a more fancy affair in a restaurant, as the national dish of pride. It is made of the simple vegetarian ingredients rice, lentils, chickpeas & macaroni, with an optional tomato sauce & fried onion.

Garbage disposal
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Image 1 of 17: Trash man-- 'everyman': These ubiquitous garbage disposal guys can be found working industriously in their orange jumpsuits. Or green suits a la Lebanese 'Sukleen' - the cleaning service provider in Lebanon that recruits Syrian or Sri Lankan street cleaners. Jordan's crew, in their orange, are often friendly and helpful.

Yanassib (Lotto) man in Jordan
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Image 1 of 17: Lotto ticket man: This salesman of lottery tickets is a very common fixture in the Arab-scape. In spite of religious debate it's come to have an accepted place in society and sales. In Jordan, 'YaNassib' (lotto!) is even dressed up or tied in with charity for good measure.

Falafel-maker
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Image 1 of 17: The local falafel maker: Your falafel man is your friend. He sweats over the deep fried oil for hours on end as you buy your baker's dozen of deep-fried balls made from mashed chickpeas and/ or fava beans, across the Arab globe. In Egypt it goes by 'ta'meyya' (same fried patties, different name).

Street sweeper
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Image 1 of 17: Sweepers taking risks in the middle of fast highways, in the night, in some Arab countries. Or in the scorching sunlight of the day time cleaning vast stretches of road in intense heat can leave them sun-baked and a few shades darker, no matter what their skin tone to start.

falafel happy seller
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Image 1 of 17: Another day, another falafel! This purveyor of the deep fried chick-pea balls brings a smile to his job, even while exposed to the intense heat and often long hours of burning the midnight oil!

May 1, the day of the working man, and woman of course, is upon us. In the Middle East, the 1st of May, 2012, 'Labor Day' is a chance to shift our attention to the working class man or woman (leaving Mona Eltahawy crying misogyny aside), as we tip our hats off to the daily work that surrounds us. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries, offering workers some deserved respite and often a long 'bank holiday' weekend break, and is marked by many members of the Middle East. 

International Workers' Day or May Day, if you're outside the US (where 'Labor Day' is held on the opposite side of summer, from the global spring affair, in September) is a celebration of labor movements and left-wing worker politics.  The charming spring date champions the working man. While mainly attributed nowadays to an official or public holiday for workers, it traditionally sees organized street demonstrations and marches by working people and their labor unions, around the globe.

This year, the day that historically rallies around the working man, looks to be a poignant moment to consider the many job-less work-force and labor force facing hardships in times of austerity in the Middle East and Europe. 

Europe's May Day (also a pagan spring-time date) has traditionally seen some spirited marches, and in London the day has often escalated into violent rioting that tends to protest capitalism. This year, post Occupy 'All' Streets, the mood may be particularly charged. Middle Easterners do not need more pretext or call to protest in the form of a 'holiday' with a history of demonstrations in the name of people power. This public holiday was originally given rise to by Europe's proletariat movement, and today the occasion steals the opportunity to protest the rise of Capitalism.

Keeping it Middle Eastern, it seems fitting that we shift our global tuned eyes to the under-appreciated traditional workers in Arab society. We pay tribute to the labor intensive work performed under the scorching Arabian heat, to the silent man who lugs the crates or barrels of gas door to door in your neighborhood. From the coffee man on a street stall, or hands filled to the elbow with decks of cups, to the modest bread-seller with his 'Ka'ak' cart.  Or the ubiquitous falafel-maker or still more prevalent the 'garbage disposal' men in orange, or the Gulf-dwelling construction workers who make up a whole army or labor force whose job is unremitting as the sun they work under.

These workers bear out that there are good works done on the Arab street daily, and that we should honor and celebrate these on May 1st at least, if not daily in our own generous Arab ways!

This series of 'occupations' presented in the proud panel above pertain less to political conflict or disputed land, and more to celebrating the simple values of hard work along the Arab-scape. These defined job roles are deserving of a hat tip, a mark of respect, from us as customers, road-users and members of any Arab society.

 

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