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Egyptian Soccer Player Becomes Street Vendor During Crisis

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On a hot Saturday afternoon, Mahrous Mahmoud is busy. The professional soccer, or football, player is working up a sweat in a different way these days — as a street vendor. A vendor is a person who sells something.

At this time of the year, Mahmoud is usually on the field playing for Beni Suef, a team in Egypt's second division. But like many people in his country of 100 million, the coronavirus crisis cost the athlete his job.

Before the pandemic, Mahmoud made about $200 a month playing soccer. He also took on some small, non-soccer jobs to increase the earnings with which he supports his three family members.

The football league was shut down in March. Officials had ordered a curfew and closed restaurants and stores. Mahmoud's team leaders told players to stay at home until they could return to play.

But staying at home was not possible for Mahmoud, or many others in the Nile River area of Assuit. His family has to eat.

So, now Mahmoud is at work at the market in Manfalut, a town 350 kilometers south of Cairo. He sells qatayef, a sweet food popular during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

The market has remained open throughout the pandemic.

It is a busy place. Buyers are in line to food for the meal that will be made that night. After sundown, Muslims will break their fast. Mahmoud's qatayef will part of the feast.

In this May 9, 2020 photo, 28-year-old football defender Mahrous Mahmoud, right, makes Ramadan sweets at a souq, in Manfalut, a town 350 kilometers (230 miles) south of Cairo in the province of Assiut, Egypt. Mahmoud should be on the field at this time of year playing as a defender for Beni Suef, a club in Egypt's second division. But like millions in the Arab world's most populous country, he has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
In this May 9, 2020 photo, 28-year-old football defender Mahrous Mahmoud, right, makes Ramadan sweets at a souq, in Manfalut, a town 350 kilometers (230 miles) south of Cairo in the province of Assiut, Egypt. Mahmoud should be on the field at this time of year playing as a defender for Beni Suef, a club in Egypt's second division. But like millions in the Arab world's most populous country, he has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Mahmoud returned to his hometown not long after the country's partial lockdown began. He looked for jobs but could only find work as a daily laborer in construction.

Before the coronavirus, Mahmoud said, he could find usual work in construction, making no more than $7 a day. After the crisis began, he had trouble getting even two days of work a week. Then came Ramadan, and the temporary job at the market.

In Manfalut, most of the townspeople are daily laborers, so staying at home and keeping physically distant are not possible. In many rural and poor parts of Egypt, some people believe the measures to protect against the spread of coronavirus are worse than the disease itself. But, should the virus arrive in these areas, it could spread fast.

Like many other places in the world, the results of the pandemic have been bad for most of Egypt's citizens, especially in the south. Even before it hit, Egypt's economy was troubled. Before the outbreak, one out of every three Egyptians, or roughly 33 million people, were living on about $1.45 per day.

The 28-year-old Mahmoud is the oldest of two sons. His father is retired and has heart problems. Mahmoud supports his father, mother and brother, who live in one room of a three-story building. They share the building with six other families.

Mahmoud showed athletic talent from a young age. He started as a boxer in a local club, then moved on to handball, before coaches persuaded him to join the club's soccer team. By 16, he went professional.

"They told me I would be a good defender," said Mahmoud, whose teammates gave him the name Kompany.

Mahmoud helped his team to the top of its league, and he hopes to go into the country's top division. But for now, he will just have to keep working, even with the health risks. He has his family and another reason to save: Mahmoud's marriage will be next month.

"Nobody is immune," he said. "But those like me and my family have to survive."

I'm John Russell.

Sam Magdy reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

sweat – n. the clear liquid that forms on your skin when you are hot or nervous

division -- n. a group of teams that form one section of a sports league

league – n.a group of sports teams that play against each other​

feast – n. a special meal with large amounts of food and drink​

construction – n. the business of building things (such as houses or roads)​

immune – adj. not capable of being affected by a disease not influenced or affected by something (not used before a noun)

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