By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
Come wind, rain, blistering heat or even sandstorms, nothing stops the ice cream men of the Middle East. Trustier than your post man, the ice cream man in the Gulf is always there when you need a cool treat to beat the summer heat. However, unlike the air-conditioned ice-cream trucks in the U.S. that are painted in all the colors of the rainbow and play a whimsical tune to attract the littlest customers, the ice cream men in the Gulf rely on the power of their feet to deliver frosty treats to grateful customers.
Ice cream men in the Gulf tool around town on bicycles fitted with large wooden carts on the front of the bike. The construction is simple, with the only design being the logo of the ice cream company emblazoned on all 4 sides. Inside the box is a huge slab of dry ice and piles of individually wrapped ice cream sticks, cones and cups. Amazingly enough, the delicious inventory stays frozen solid despite the searing temperatures of the Gulf, which ranges between 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer depending on the country. Things are not as pleasant for the ice cream man, outside the cart, who suffers from the heat as he pedals from street to street looking for customers.
The job is very rigorous with the salary only being around $60 per month. The ice cream man begins the day at the crack of dawn when he goes to the ice cream company to fill up his cart with as many frozen treats as it can hold. The workday commences as he makes his way down the first street, peddling alongside speeding cars, trucks and water tankers. The ice cream man covers a lot of area during the space of the day and looks for premium spots to ‘park’ his cart to get the most sales. Choice places include schools, parking lots, gardens and recreational parks. Its not hard finding customers, but spending the entire day in the unforgiving sun while peddling a bicycle is very grueling. The day is long and lasts until well after midnight, with ice cream men often being visible on the city streets as late as 1am.
Ahmed, is a 34 year old ice cream man in Kuwait. He, like the majority of ice cream men in the Gulf, is a poor expatriate laborer. He is an Egyptian by birth and has lived in Kuwait for the past 15 years, 5 of those years being spent as an ice cream man. “I do not mind the heat so much,” he shares, “but riding my cart all day is very difficult on my back and knees.” He also says that his job is getting more dangerous as the roads are heavily congested and more people speed down the streets. It is not uncommon to read about an ice cream man getting mowed down and killed by a speeding motorist.
Things are, however, looking a bit brighter for ice cream men in the Gulf. A few of them have had their bicycles upgraded by their companies to small motorbikes, which is a lot easier than peddling all day. It remains to be seen if all of the ice cream carts in the Gulf will be refitted with motorbikes or if the ice cream man will have to continue selling his frozen wares one weary peddle at a time.