Whenever you stroll through the district of the Covered Bazaar and the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar you probably will see human pack mules with all sorts of cargo on their backs.
Bent over, groaning under their burden, they trudge through the streets, up the hills, and even up the stairs in the wholesale houses – the traditional Turkish ‘hans’ where they deliver the goods. Their loads range from carpets to refrigerators, and boxes with bicycle parts to furniture.
These men are dirt poor. They work six days a week, long hours and in groups, usually from the region they came from. They have a leader who collects all the money and at the end of the day he divides it equally among the men. If one needs a back surgery, they collect money among each other until there is enough money to pay the surgeon.
‘Hamal’ (porter) is the name of their profession; from the Arabic verb ‘hamala’ (to carry). It is done in several Muslim countries and is the second oldest profession in this city. The saddles on their backs are made by themselves. I have great respect for these guys (aged 18-70), who work in a way that hasn’t changed for thousands of years.