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How far would you go?
“I’m a pedlar”

Adam Abker Ali
20km | Ismail Abdul Karim is constantly on the move, roaming neighbourhoods selling water to support his two wives and nine children.
10.11.2015  |  Khartoum, Sudan
Ismail Abdul Karim spends his days carrying containers of water around Khartoum to sell. (photo: The Niles | Adam Abkar Ali)
Ismail Abdul Karim spends his days carrying containers of water around Khartoum to sell. (photo: The Niles | Adam Abkar Ali)

> Departure: around Khartoum, Sudan
> Arrival: -
> Distance: 20km per day

When did you start doing this job?

In 1976. In the past, this job used to be better, you could even save some money. Nowadays the money I earn is not enough to make a decent living. The money I make per day is only enough to eat and drink. When does your shift start and end?
I work from dawn to dusk. These days, selling water is limited as most people have water taps in their homes. Business is better during the summer.

What are the best places to sell water?

I’m a pedlar. There is no “best place”, but I usually roam near slums, teashops and stores. Most houses in the neighbourhoods now have water pipes and no longer need to buy water except when the water is cut off. When that happens we bring in water from distant places.

Was water scarce when you started out?

Yes, we used to carry water from Al-Jarif and sometimes Ed Babiker, both about ten kilometres from El-Haj Yousif. Now I have to walk 15 to 20 kilometres a day to sell enough to get the food I need. Water sources are closer by than before, but demand is lower, meaning I have to walk further to find customers.

What do you like about your work?

Nothing – but I have to put up with it to support my family.

What do you most dislike?

It is a tiresome job and earnings are low. But working is better than doing nothing and I know this work well.

How do people view your job – both today and in the past?

In the past, people used to treat us with good manners, appreciation and mutual respect, but now their attitudes have changed because most people have water taps at home and they look down on us.

What are your favourite memories of being at work?

In the past, a group of pedlars would gather and share money to buy a sheep. We would chat with each other like we were family. These days we are scattered and each individual keeps to himself.

How is your work regulated?

We used to have committees in charge of organising our work. Yellow was the prescribed colour for water drums. But recently a group of thieves changed the colour from yellow to green and charged us 80 Sudanese pounds (US$13) without any kind of organisation involved. We had no choice but to pay.

This article is part of:
On The Move: Experience is a solid walking stick
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