BASRA’S BEST SHRIMP SELLER: A day with the shrewd Basra grandma who outsells all the others

Um Adel is one of the best known shrimp sellers in Basra’s fish markets. She sits under a tin roof in every weather – in the summer, it can be as hot as 53 degrees Celsius here.

By Saad Nazem

Yet she never complains and she manages to sell between 90 and 100 kilograms of shrimps every day, with the help of two colleagues who peel and prepare the shrimps for customers.

Every morning, Um Adel, who is almost 70 years old, goes down to check out the daily catch and reserve her portion of fresh shrimp. After that, she does her morning prayers, and starts work. She usually eats a small piece of cake and a cup of tea mid-morning for breakfast. Most days, she will be in place, at work, for between 12 and 15 hours a day.

Um Adel tells Al Menassa how she gained her experience in the shrimp trade over 30 years. “Most of my clients are employed or relatively well-off people,” she explains. “I have a good relationship with many of them and often I will sell them shrimp but they won’t pay me until they get their salaries.”

Then she explains how there are different types of sea and river shrimps and how their sizes vary; they cost anywhere from between about US$37 per kilogram for the larger shrimps to around just US$3 per kilogram for smaller shrimps.

Of course, Um Adel eats shrimps all day too. She believes it gives her energy to carry on with this hard work. She likes the idea of retiring with a pension but this seems unlikely to happen so she carries on. She earns a living to support her family of five as well as a number of other poor families that she donates to.

“It gives me a great feeling of happiness to know I am helping,” she explains.

Um Adel’s day ends wither giving advice and shrimp recipes to her customers. Despite the intense competition at the seafood markets in Basra, her friendly style and long years of experience make Um Adel one of the most successful, shrimp sellers here. She even has a kind word for the customers who took her shrimps and promised to pay later but never returned.

“May what prevented them from returning be good,” she murmurs, as she leaves, “and may God protect them.”

 

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