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‘Books Bike’ roams Cairo streets

In Cairo we used to see fava bean (ful), Taamiya and Kebda food carts roaming the grey streets every day, with dozens of people lined up awaiting their turn.

Recently, a wave of new, modern and well-decorated mobile carts presenting updated products like sushi, chocolate desserts and even flowers, have made their appearance. But, did you ever imagine that one day would come when you could actually find a roving bike with books, in Egypt?!

The answer is 'yes!'

If you walk down Tagamou Khames neighborhood, you will find a tricycle-shaped cart stationed at several places with lots of books and a young lady in attendance, waiting for manic readers.            

Along with their passion for reading and their many years of experience in selling books, Hadeer Mansour, 27, a commerce graduate and her colleague Mohamed, 26, both were tired of heavy job restrictions and bosses' authoritarianism, and were enthused to start their own private project in which they can invest all their effort and love. And so — naturally —  they launched "Books Bike" a moving bicycle, roaming the Cairo streets.

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"Both of us love books and we were thinking for a long time about launching a library or a bookstore to start our own independent business," Mohamed told Egypt Independent. "But renting a place costs a lot of money, so we thought about getting books from publishers and re-selling them in fairs and schools but the idea seemed exhausting and worthless, then we thought about a big car that sells books but it also seemed very expensive, so we decided to launch a bike."

The idea of creating the bicycle design was Mohamed's, as he saw it as a new and unique idea, one that does not exist in Egypt. Plus, it's affordable.

The team drew the imaginary design and spent a long journey searching for someone who can produce it; they finally found an engineer who has his own workshop and that produces this type of mobile carts.

"At the beginning, he was a bit surprised, saying that people usually ask him to design bikes to sell sweet potatoes and other food, but that it's the first time he hears about a bike to sell books! Then, he became enthused to develop the design of the bike and he made the exact shape we asked him for, adding some extra shelves," Mohamed recounted.

The project was launched in mid-December. The team buys the original books from the publishing houses to safeguard the copy rights. 

The Book Bike recently visited several classy residential compounds in Tagamou Khames, after taking the permission from the landlords union. Currently, they are also planning to reach out to other areas, including Zamalek, Heliopolis and Maadi.

"We usually choose a good spot to stand, in order to minimize the street harassment that Hadeer encounters in other crowded locations," Mohamed said.

The project's main aim is to spread the culture of reading. "When people get out of their building and see books right in front of them every day, this will motivate them to buy books, even if they were not much interested in reading," Mohamed explained.

"Moreover, the Book Bike aims to break the wrong habit of purchasing illegally copied books from street vendors which is violates the publisher's copyrights; the bike also saves the time and effort people may spend to reach bookstores and libraries, especially since we also have a delivery service throughout the Cairo area, within three days," he said.

Mohamed said that most of the people's feedback was really positive and many passers-by stopped to congratulate and support them. "One of the most amazing feedbacks was from an old man who gave us chocolate and water saying that he is so proud of what we are doing," Mohamed said.

Mohamed narrated another intriguing feedback which was from a man who was looking at them for a long time, and when they inquired about the reason, he said that he is very astonished by their project, because he used to see books carts in Europe and other countries abroad, but he had never seen one in Egypt.

Meanwhile, there were a few frustrating comments from some people, who said that the bike is opening the way for street vendors to come to their residential compounds.

The bike is selling books in several languages and many genres including arts, history, literature and kids books. In fact, the bike targets children especially, as it has a specially-designed shelf in the kids' sight level, so that they can easily see and chose from all the books meant for them.

"We wish that when the Egyptian children walk in the street, they find the culture surrounding them is enabling them to go and purchase a book with their family; and that they get used to the design of the Book Bike, as they are already familiar with the other food carts," Mohamed said.

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The bike moreover is trying to be a guide for the readers to tell them, for instance, which are the best-selling books, as the team reads many of the books they sell and are well informed about their contests, which helps them find the appropriate books that suits their customers' tastes and needs.

"we are doing this service through our Facebook page too as we usually write background and short descriptions about some books to make the reader more aware of the book they want to read and to change the traditional image of the book store which is a place only sells books,"

The books bike is planning to expand their services and host special events, including of book-signing ceremonies with famous writers; "there is already a popular writer supporting us and trying to give us some payment facilities with publishing houses," Mohamed said. 

The bike has received an offer from people in Alexandria to join the city's book fair in February 2017. "We will do our best to go, but I believe it will not be easy because we have been officially rejected from General Egyptian Books Organization for joining the Cairo Book Fair," Mohamed said.

Mohamed's big issue was obtaining the license for the bike: "The big problem is that this mobile bike has no license in the Egyptian law; so, it seems that if I'm doing something illegal. But I'm doing my very best to get a license in order to move easily through the Cairo streets, especially since I was asked once by a policeman to leave," he explained.

Mohamed pointed out that it's hard for them to travel from one city to another by the bike, but their dream is to spread many book bikes across the country.

While he said that going to popular areas and slums is complicated because most of the people there don't have a good knowledge about reading and no books culture. "But we are planning to launch an event to let people sell each other their used and old books," he said.


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