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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sales on Wheels

 Ratha, my friend the noodle seller, was upset.  For the past few years, she sets up a food cart in front of the school across the street.   She had a decent business and a social network.  Then the city built a new police station.  The grass surrounding their new stucco building was barricaded with crowd control fencing protecting their pristine white motorcycles.    One night I noticed a gauntlet of public service employees ranging from lower-level neon vested minions to jackbooted and armed officers who were shaking down the SUV's.  "Ah." I thought to myself, "The boys need a new flat screen for the station."
This woman shows up in front of my apartment each
day at 4pm. I usually only see her on weekends.
 She fries a rice flour cake with minced onion
over a small fire. 
The vendors were told to move.  Ratha reported that the police were saving those spaces for their relatives' businesses. There was some mention about doubling the street side rent. (Mind you, there are no permits, there is only payoffs to local authorities.)  She was worried about the change and  considering other locations to take her metal cart on wheels.  Change this big is huge for these poor Cambodian vendors.  It means navigating a new landscape, relationships and power dynamics.  She was understandably fearful.

The street vendors are everywhere.  Sellers are on a schedule. They have established routes, times that they typically show up in places and they stick to their inventory because it is known and trusted.  To change could mean a potential loss of income.  The people who use  bicycles and push carts for selling stay low on the class structure, vulnerable to the vagaries of those in more power who want a parking space for their SUV.  They navigate traffic, pushing a cart with a smoking grill through the cars on the way to their next stop.  They are one step away from an accident or a crisis and the ensuing descent into loan sharks and poverty.
My favorite. Women who bicycle
with donuts in the case. Such a beautiful
portrait and she insisted on giving me the
donuts for free.

The development and change are everywhere yet the street sellers seem to prevail for now.  When I returned from the trip to Disneyworld, the small grassy park next to my house was covered with bricks and turned into a parking lot.  Fortunately, they kept the trees.  For weeks before, I'd been thinking I should have photographed the cyclo drivers who often napped there in the shade or laid out their laundry on the grass to dry.  But I didn't.  Now they are gone.

Fruit sellers who provision at the larger market
and stop at locations around town to sell. There is a lot
of entrepreneurship happening outside the hospital where
this was taken. 

Not only food!  School uniforms!

And cleaning supplies! (Siem Reap)
Ratha has found a new location on the street.  She's happy in thinking she can sell the noodles to the tuk tuk guys, who hang outside the supermarket next to my apartment and frequently use the public washroom and running water for their moto engines. There's a set up with a guy who does tire repair, has an air-compressor and gas for sale there, the other sandwich seller that also was positioned near here in the former location,   For now, her life is restored.