From our Correspondent: In heat and chaos of Cairo an army of couriers has sprung up

The TimesBel Trew, Cairo
The doorbell of my Cairo flat rings. A five-man medical team arrives including two who are carrying an x-ray machine. Earlier that morning I had ordered a doctor through a medical delivery service called Tabibi 24/7. She examined me on my sofa and sent a team round that afternoon. The x-ray and blood test were conducted in my living room and the results were couriered to me the next day. For the entire process, which cost less than £80 and diagnosed a chest infection, I didn’t even get out of my pyjamas.

There has long been a delivery culture in Egypt’s cities driven by the searing heat, crumbling infrastructure and clogged roads. You can have almost anything sent to you, such as prescription drugs, documents, a barber or a single brownie. Most restaurants, pharmacies, supermarkets and salons have their own six-digit delivery number.

But there is a darker side to the luxury of having everything delivered. Labour is woefully cheap, a third of the population lives below the poverty line and the youth unemployment rate is more than 23 per cent. The Egyptian pound lost half its value last year after the government decided to float it. The devaluation of the currency has put pressure on households, but has also had the peculiar effect of encouraging low-cost sectors such as the service industry.

For many, weaving in and out of the traffic on a delivery motorbike or bicycle for less than a £10 a day has become one of the only ways to make a living.

“The delivery culture has spread more in Egypt for many reasons,” says Kiko, who has his own delivery empire within the middle-class neighbourhood of Garden City. The young man used to work for a grocer’s but became so popular that he now has an order book of his own customers who want everything from pastries to prescriptions brought to their door for a small fee. He works eight hours a day and is paid tips of between 3p and £5.

“About 60 per cent of my clients are 80 to 90 years old. These people can’t always carry groceries,” he said. “Some of the rich families bring up their children knowing they can buy anything. But it doesn’t explain why my delivery service is used in poor neighbourhoods and among foreigners who are taught to do everything themselves.”

Entrepreneurs are also cashing in on the delivery craze in Egypt. Apps, such as Mumm and Zeit Zeitoun offer women a platform to earn a living making home-cooked food for delivery.

Vodafone Egypt has created Red Personal Assistant. For £1 a month it will take care of your errands including delivering groceries, arranging bus tickets and sorting out paperwork.

The most ambitious is Elves, developed by five young Egyptians and launched in the US. You can ask the “elves” for anything and the 35 who are based in Egypt will find it for you — often for nothing more than a small delivery fee.

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