Hussein Salloum: the delivery man who works for his daughters’ education’
Their daily life is a struggle; their future and that of their loved ones remain a question mark. As the economic situation in Lebanon get worse, these are the stories of people on the frontlines. They represent a precarious social class that struggles to survive on a daily basis in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon. We decided to give them the opportunity to tell us about their hardships, their aspirations, their hopes and their sacrifices. Today, we met with Hussein Salloum, a delivery man in Beirut.
It’s 10 p.m. and Hussein Salloum has just finished a 12-hour work day. Wrapped in his black raincoat, the 37-year-old father of two is freezing cold. During storm Myriam, he spent the day delivering food for a famous restaurant chain across Mount Lebanon. His clothes, and even his socks, are soaked. "Between two deliveries, I managed to go to my father-in-law’s for a few minutes to dry my clothes on the ‘sobia’ (traditional heater),” he says.
Originally from Baalbeck, Salloum comes from a big family. "Six boys and six girls," he says proudly.
Today, he lives in Chiyah, a suburb of Beirut, with his wife–who is expecting a boy–and their two daughters: Joud, 8, and Reine, 4. "When my wife found out she was pregnant, she started crying. She kept asking how we would be able to cope with a new child,” he says, his smile fading. "It's going to be difficult, but as we say, every child brings a lot of luck."
Six years old and working
When Salloum was only six years old he entered the world of work and hard labor. "After school, at 2 p.m., I would go to the vegetable market in Chiyah and I put the stalls in order," he says, visibly embarrassed to recall this episode in his life. "I did this until I was 11 because my family's financial situation was not very good.”
At 14, after obtaining his brevet certificate, he decided to quit school. "I started working in a furn (a bakery) that made manakish. I was paid 600,000 LL ($400) a month, and I helped my parents buy a house in Chiyah,” he says.
Back then, military service was still mandatory, so when he turned 19, Salloum joined the army. When he was done, he decided to buy a bakery in Chiyah. It was 2002, and suddenly he was making money like never before. "I was earning $3,000 a month,” he says, adjusting his cap over his blue eyes. "For the first time in my life, I did not worry about money anymore... I started spending a lot. I bought a bike, a car, a BMW and a phone. "
But in 2007, his business started suffering. "It all became more expensive,” he recalls. “The gas, the flour, the oil... But I could not increase the price of my manoushe: 1,750 LL for the cheese one, and 750 for thyme.”
He met his wife, Haifa, when she came to buy a manoushe in 2009. A year later, they were married. He was 27-years-old at the time, and his income was half of what it had been a couple of years earlier. When his first daughter was born in 2012, he was earning only $800 a month. "I decided to close my business," he says, pulling a cigarette out of a pack of Cedars. “My manoushe was good; my dough was excellent,” he adds wistfully.
"My daughters do not know"
Salloum started working as a delivery man in a Lebanese restaurant chain in 2015. "My daughters do not know what I'm doing,” he admits. “I told them I was a chef in a restaurant, so I'm always careful to get home without my delivery bag... Sometimes I'm ashamed of my job, especially when I remember I owned a bakery.”
Customers sometimes add to the job’s difficulties. "Some customers are good; some are not,” Salloum says. “Some wait until I am in the elevator before closing their door. Others close it to my face. I often feel totally transparent; not to mention the hard work and long hours. On the roads, I'm really cold in the winter and I suffocate in the summer. At the end of the day, my face is black with dirt.”
“If it were not for my daughters, I would have left this job a long time ago,” he continues. “But I have nothing to give them as an inheritance, so I do my best to provide them with an education that can open doors for them.”
That's why he chose to enroll them in a private school, which costs $4,000 per year for each of his daughters, instead of in a public school that would be almost free of charge. "The education level is better in the private sector,” Salloum says. But he has to make a lot of sacrifices to provide his daughters with a good education.
12 hours a day for $700
Salloum works 12 hours a day, six days a week for a fixed salary of $700 a month. His base earnings are supplemented by tips that average out to be around $400 per month. His gives this money to his aunt from whom he is renting a house. “But then there are expenses,” Salloum says.
To make ends meet, he saves as much as he can. "Every day, I fill my bike with 5,000 LL ($3.31), and every night I buy bread, a bottle of juice and a chocolate bar for each of my daughters for their breakfast and snack the next day.”
His wife, a nurse, helps by earning a salary of 2,000,000 LL ($1,330). Having two incomes allows the family to afford a little getaway twice a month. "Last week, I took my girls to play in the snow, in Ouyoun el-Simane," he says.
Today, Salloum is thinking of buying a house, which would provide stability for his family. But he can’t even consider making such plans before he finishes paying back his car loan, which won’t happen until next year. He wishes his wife didn’t have to work and could be a housewife, happy to take care of his children and his house, he says.
Salloum and his brothers often talk about leaving Lebanon. One is always praising Switzerland as a country "where a man has value". But for Salloum, leaving is not an option. "I love my family and Lebanon too much," he says.
(This article was originally published in Frenc in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 6th of February)