On one of Cairo’s famous squares, Sabah Mahmoud and her two year old daughter sit quietly on the pavement. Mahmoud makes her living buying tissues and selling them for a small markup, but mostly she gets by on people’s charity. “The people are very nice here and mostly they help me. Some tell me to get a job but they do not know how it is.” She said she randomly picked the spot to sell her wares and that sometimes when she leaves and comes back, there is another woman in her place and she has to share, since there are no standardised rules about where people can sell. She says the police never bother her because she knows them and since the revolution, they do not seem to care.
Mahmoud has been in the square for five years. For 60 months, she has lied to her son, who is in middle school, about being on the street with his sister. “You do not understand”, she said. “My son’s future would be ruined if people found out. His friends would taunt him, it would be catastrophic.”
She adamantly refused to have her picture taken. “Not even a picture of just the merchandise?” we asked. “No, not even.” She explains that being from Upper Egypt if anyone found out about her selling tissues it would mean she would be stigmatised. “I come from a good family,” she said, as if countering something we had said. She was a woman with pride. Despite of how she helps provide for her family and herself, her reputation remains her most valuable asset.