Monday, May 18, 2009

A Little Taste of Cairo

There are a few things you can count on smelling while you peruse around New York City. Trash is one. Exhaust fumes are another. But around virtually every corner, you can’t escape the tantalizing, mouth watering smell of one thing: shish kabobs.

Those who think street vendors are just small, insignificant businesses that don’t have any order or structure need to think again. Street vending is a 1.7 billion dollar a year industry in America, with half of that revenue coming from New York City alone. The cost of a single car starts at $2,000, and can raise as high as $40,000. The carts average revenues of $250,000 annually, and average $750 daily, with a third of that being net profit.

The Vendy’s, which is held in New York city, gives awards to the best food vendor in the city. Street vendors gathered in front of City Hall protesting to pass legislation that would increase the number10,000 more jobs by increasing the number of licenses and permit for vendors.
That’s right, vendors even try and flex their political muscle too. But they provide NYC with an invaluable service, especially to those who are on the move.

A hungry well dressed New Yorker whips around the corner of 5th avenue and 33rd street. Quickly, he gives his order to a short, burly man in a black Champion fleece and a ball cap. The man quickly reaches his gloved hands into a dark steaming bed of meat and pulls out a juicy lamb shish kabob dripping with sauce. The well dressed guy pays what he owes, thanks the burly man, and sinks his teeth into what must have been heaven.
Madhat Ensyed works the corner of 33rd and 5th by the Empire State Building selling refreshments, pretzels, and of course shish kabobs, to New York City’s hungry patrons. Ensyed emigrated from Egypt in 1997 with his family, looking for better options in the “land of opportunity”. A stout and rather menacing figure, Ensyed isn’t a jokester. There might be the flash of a smile to a kind customer, but for the most part he keeps a stern down-to-business demeanor, and doesn’t take crap from anyone.

“There were 5 black boys that came to my cart one day.” Ensyed recounted. “They were ordering a lot of food and when it came time to pay, they tried to give me a Metro Card.” Flashing a rare grin he said, “I told them this isn’t the subway, I only take cash.”
5,621. That’s the number of miles from Cairo, Egypt to the island of Manhattan. Though New York City is largely dominated by other vast majorities and demographic minorities, the country of Egypt also has staples around the city that are unique and specific to it. There is an obelisk (a long narrow four sided structure that forms into a pyramid at the top) in Central Park. Not far from that, there is an expansive Egyptian Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yet the most glaring aspect of Egyptian life to other nations is the people. Egyptians started to immigrate to the United States at the latter part of the 20th century. Roughly 15,000 Egyptians flocked to America after the Arab-Israeli war in 1977. Most were educated professionals and skilled workers. “Egyptian American” by Mona Mikhail, an overview of the history of Egyptian emigration and activity in America, says that “the nuclear family is the basic social unit of Egyptian Society.”

Ensyed stated that his only influences growing up, and his only influences here in America, were his mother and father. Being hard working immigrants, they instilled in Ensyed the values of sticking together and remembering their heritage.

“All of my family is close knit. Everyone. I am very close to all of my friends too.” Its this family dynamic that keeps everything together, keeps him motivated and working as hard as he needs to make it in this economic downturn. He in essence embodies the soul of New York City. The drive, the passion, the hope, the hard work. New York is a city that will always strive to make the bottom line, from the top of the Financial District all the way to the merchants in Harlem. Each borough is filled with people who are determined to do better and push toward success. People just like Madhat Ensyed.
So the next time you buy that hot dog, chew on that pretzel, or smell that shish kabob, take a minute to think about what it all means; New York City.

1 comment:

  1. Nice. "News from the Street" style. keep up the good work!