Being a delivery boy in the Egyptian bread trade is certainly a delicate balance between life and death!
In Egypt, “aish” is the word for bread, and cheap bread is considered a human right for more than 80 million Egyptians. If people can’t have their bread, they take to the streets and protest, creating something not too dissimilar to a food-based Arab Spring. Aish, like the Nile, is a source of life. This delicious handmade bread is an Egyptian staple, and is eaten regularly on the streets. In Cairo, its ubiquity is made possible by the network of bread carriers (known locally as Agalati) who deliver the bread to the restaurants. The art of the Agalati is in carrying large trays of bread on their heads as they manoeuvre through the manic streets of Cairo on a bicycle, through the dust and the fumes – but that doesn’t stop anyone from eating it, such is its enduring popularity.
The job of the Agalati is extensive and crucial. Without them, bread would not be available on every corner and forsaken fast-food stand. The men must fight to keep their balance and hold their ground among the sea of vehicles. The risk of the Agalati never reaching his destination is always present, due to a chronic lack of respect from larger vehicles on the roads (that’s how we pedestrians feel in Cairo!) but this sea of death is the least of their worries. Agalati drivers must be very careful as they only get paid for a full delivery, and they are relying on this payment to feed their own families.
To get aish delivered to the bakeries and roadside vendors, these bread delivery boys transport loaves through the city’s infamous traffic and narrow back-streets of downtown Cairo on trays weighing up to 30kg. They do so by balancing the trays on their heads, with one arm stabilizing the tray and the other manoeuvring the bicycle. It is always a surprise to me how the bread does not slip off on to the pavement. But then maybe I am just a pessimist?