CAIRO: With her bulky rusty metal cart, Om Tofaha has been trudging around Mosky and Khan El-Khalili in Old Cairo for the past 23 years. But unlike other vendors in the capital’s historic bazaar, she’s not touting papyrus scrolls or Pharoanic figurines; Om Tofaha is in the business of selling newspapers – and she does it in her own good old-fashioned way.
Her real name is Mervat Farouk and she is one of a few newspaper and magazine vendors in the area.
Negotiating the wobbly cart with her skinny hands, Om Tofaha, 42, supports her eight children in a job that she does with a passion, more often than not luring buyers through heated conversations, even arguments, about the hottest news headlines.
She has a genuine interest in what she reads; and she has an opinion about everything from crime to politics to sports.
She knows that, apart from the traders and shop-owners, no one will take serious interest in the press when they are shopping around gold and souvenirs outlets.
“Because I’ve been living in the area for over two decades, I got used to analyzing the news with them, noted the vendor.
Yet, Om Tofaha doesn’t spare tourists either.
Two days after Iraqi journalist Muntazar Al-Zaidi hurled his shoes at US President George Bush, she was calling out the latest news that one man had offered $100,000 to buy the size tens that made history.
“He really deserved it, shouted out Om Tofaha as she walked through one alley to spread the news among a group of Arab tourists at a gold shop.
Soon one of them was enticed enough by the provocative headline and left the shop to fetch her. “It’s only LE 3, take it before the copies are sold out, she said, as he produced the LE 3.
“I’m very interested in all that happens around us. Many people ask me if I wanted to be a journalist, but I have no answer, she said.
When it comes to social issues, Om Tofaha has much to say. “Shaaban Abdel Rehim [popular singer known for ‘I Hate Israel’ song] has contradicted himself, she said. “After persuading young people to give up smoking, he was hospitalized last month for overdosing on hashish, she said.
Her experience tells her that big sports news sell the most copies. “This is when I have to go back for more copies. Al Ahly is Egypt’s pride and joy in the sports field, but it was recently defeated because some of the players became arrogant, having one victory after another.
Om Tofaha says that she appeared in “Fi Aydin Amina (In Safe Hands), a TV series starring Youssra which aired last Ramadan, and tackled the issue of impoverished communities and street children.
“They came to shoot here and I happened to be passing by, so everyone saw me on TV, she remembers.
The vendor was also an eyewitness to the terrorist attacks that hit Mosky in the late 1990s. “I could have been dead if the bombing had happened one or two hours earlier, she says.
She takes great pride in the fact that when the security forces cordoned off the entire area and banned many sellers from entering it, she was one of the few given access to Mosky to sell newspapers.
“I was the only source of print news for everyone who lives here, she said with a toothy smile.