Tea-Selling Sudanese Women: Making Ends Meet
By Sabah Moussa**
Sudanese women sell tea in the streets in order to raise and educate
When you travel to Khartoum, the first thing that attracts your
attention is the women sitting on the streets of the capital selling
tea. It is a widespread occupation of women, especially divorcees and
In a country like Sudan, where traditions and religious obligations
ban women from working in many public domains, what are the motives
that push them into an occupation like selling tea?
The people of Khartoum explain that widows and divorcees resort to
this occupation to escape their difficult living circumstances. They
sell tea in the streets in order to raise and educate their children.
Throughout Sudan, you can see women sitting on the streets in front a
tea set, which is composed of a gas cooker, a tea pot, glasses, and a
bucket full of water. They are usually surrounded by their customers
who come to drink tea.
Because of their difficult circumstances, these women find much
sympathy from the people of Sudan. However, at the same time, they are
attacked by others as some of these women sell drugs and alcohol to
young people. But these cases are exceptional.
Better Than Begging
Widows and divorcees resort to tea-selling to escape their difficult
I sat with a woman in her 40s close to one of the governmental
buildings. Her welcoming manner surprised me when I said that I wanted
to discuss her situation and her reasons for selling tea on the
street. Her face remained welcoming and full of customary Sudanese
kindness and simplicity.
Rakika Daleil is married and has a son and four daughters. Her son is
married and has children. Her oldest daughter is also married and has
a daughter in the university and another one who could not enter
university because of their lack of finances. Her youngest daughter
also sells tea. Daleil's husband used to work in an oil factory, but
he had an accident in 1992. Since then, he has been unemployed and
Daleil has had to take responsibility for the family.
Daleil works as a cleaner in one of the governmental bureaus, where
she earns the equivalent of US$45 a month. "After I clean I go out to
sell tea next to the bureau. I earn from selling tea a small amount of
money daily, but it is better than begging," she says.
Problems With the Municipal Authority
Locality officers are the biggest problem that the tea sellers face.
Sara Edward, who has been selling tea for 3 years, says that the
problems with locality officers are never ending. Her tea-making
equipment has been confiscated several times, although generous people
have helped her to buy new equipment.
"I earn from selling tea a small amount of money daily, but it is
better than begging."
Howaa, also a tea seller, complained of the same problem. She
wondered, "What is the alternative for working in peace? We women will
resort to begging, and even then the people from the municipal
authority will chase us. So why don't they let us work?" she says.
Zainab Adam, a divorced mother in her 40s with five children, screamed
at the top of her voice, "We are bored of the cat-and-mouse game that
we are playing with the local authority." She explained how she has to
hide when the people from the municipal authority appear.
Is There a Solution?
While most tea sellers in Sudan face harsh conditions in the street,
sellers in Kalakla, a low-class district on the outskirts of Khartoum,
have better luck. The municipal authority in Kalakla has recently
started to provide them with carts. Sellers pay for the carts in
installments. Each cart has an area earmarked for it and sellers are
"I live in Omdurman and I travel daily to Kalakla. It takes me two
hours to get there, but I have to do it because the municipal
authority in Kalakla provides tea sellers with carts. It is safer to
have a cart and it is better than sitting on the streets," Fatima
Minister of Social Affairs Samia Ahmed Mohammed says that they are
trying to empower women by selling them carts bought with zakah money
and with the help of the General Federation of Sudanese Women. They
try to make sure that women are treated with respect and that the
civilized face of the Sudanese capital is maintained.
** Sabah Moussa is a freelance journalist who is interested in
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