A day in the life of… an envelope vendor
Bawwab: ‘I still have the spirit in me’
By Mike Derderian
Star Staff Writer
Prancing around holding a small key to a mailbox, the eight-year-old boy approaches the central post office downtown. He is proud for his father finally allowed him to bring in the incoming mail, if there is any.
As he goes into the office he passes by an old man sitting next to a cardboard stall, where a bundle of large and small envelopes are neatly aligned next to a set of paper-writing pads adorned with flowery illustrations.
Sixteen years have passed now, the child has grown into a man and he no longer rushes to the mailbox, a lot of things have changed.
The post office was given a more modern metropolitan wrapping, as if it will affect the circulation of the incoming and outgoing mail, some shop owners passed away peacefully or retired leaving their ancient business in the hands of their sturdy offspring. Yet, one thing hasn’t changed entirely, except in age and appearance, over the past sixteen years.
Abu Ibraheem, the envelope vendor with his stall full of stationary, still lingers around the post office watching life as it changes through his wet spectacles, wearing a wool hat that shelters his balding head and his undying dream of having a decent kiosk.
For those whom haven’t bumped into Ismael Ibraheem Bawwab during their rushed strolls at the first leg of Prince Mohammed Street then they will fail to realize that he has been standing there for more than 35 years.
Abu Ibraheem’s story started in the mid sixties when he decided to open up his humble rickety-rackety stall next to the post office’s former entrance in order to provide ends meat to his family. Selling writing paper, envelopes and pens was his only way to earn money and still is.
“It was easier for people to buy the necessary postal stationary from here than to go to offices and bookshops far from the post office. In addition to its being a decent source of living I felt like I was offering people a service,” commenced the elderly man.
A Sri Lankan woman handing over the 60-year-old man a coin grabs the envelope and rushes away into the scattered multitudes, before a man throws a friendly salute to Abu Ibraheem, calling him by his first name.
“When you treat people decently, they will in return treat you the same. I haven’t harmed any one throughout the years I’ve stayed here minding my own business,” gently expressed Abu Ibraheem, whom appears to know everyone passing up and down the street.
Even the policeman, who assists the old man in pulling the small newspaper stand into shelter from the scattered rain drops, appears to be on friendly terms with him and jokes with him all throughout our interview.
“My only demand is that the Amman Municipality would allow me to put up a small kiosk that will allow me to sit in out of the sun’s reach—It’s been ages since I’ve asked for that,” added Abu Ibraheem, masking a sense of bitterness for the way he was treated.
Having a kiosk will not only help boast Abu Ibraheem work—which according to him is sufficient to cover the costs of living for himself and his family—but to provide a comfortable environment where he can sit during a rainy day or a cold frosty morning, allowing him to spend longer hours working. “Rainfall, to me, means folding my stall, packing everything inside the wooden box I have around the corner,” said Abu Ibraheem pointing at the post office’s back entrance, “and going home early.”
Off course the ride home is not as easy as person would expect for the man resides in Sahab and he has to ride three different transportations in order to get in and out of Downtown Amman.
Abu Ibraheem supports a family of nine girls and five boys, whom according to the vendor were allowed a decent education through his selling envelops. “There were times I used to sell a hundred Dinar’s worth of stationary,” said Abu Ibraheem, who further added that he now barley sells above thirty or forty—the arrival of the modern correspondence technologies led to a decrease in sales.
“One of my sons works in the air conditioning business, he only earns JD 170, which barely suffice his own family’s needs for he is married,” explained Abu Ibraheem on why he still works. “Even if they ask me to retire, I will work, so long I still have the spirit in me.”
On how he acquires his merchandise, Abu Ibraheem says that he buys the stationary from different libraries and sells them at his stand, where a person can also buy copies of local newspapers.
“Believe it or not, a lot of people approach me by saying that my prices are expensive until they go to a library and find out that my prices are actually less,” smilingly says Abu Ibraheem, whose customers are mainly foreign laborers residing in Jordan, like Indian and Sri Lankan nationals.
Ironic enough for a man whose living revolves around selling epistle stationary, Abu Ibraheem admits that he doesn’t know how to read and write, which is one of the major reasons why he can’t find another job.
These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on December, 16, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.
The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.
A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month.