Musaffah’s underground market where anything goes

A CITY WITHIN A CITY ... The Friday slum market at Musaffah, Abu Dhabi, owes its popularity to the cheap prices at which the goods are sold here.

A CITY WITHIN A CITY … The Friday slum market at Musaffah, Abu Dhabi, owes its popularity to the cheap prices at which the goods are sold here.


Abu Dhabi – Roadside barbers, tailors, street food, old clothes and textile vendors, butcheries, bars and footpath gambling — you name it and you will find it at the Friday slum market of Musaffah set up by expatriate workers living in nearby labour accommodations to make some extra bucks.

The market itself — in Musaffah Industrial City Number 11 — feels like a bustling city within a city where the streets are crowded with vendors selling goods ranging from a needle to a camel so to say. And moreover, the market owes its popularity to the cheap prices at which the goods are sold here. Compared to the prices of licensed groceries and supermarkets, goods sold here are three times cheaper and, therefore, hundreds of bachelors and families flock here to shop.

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                                                                            A seller in the market.

The market is mainly dominated by Bangladeshi vendors and is thus called ‘Bengali Market’, followed by Pathans from Pakistan and others from India and Nepal.

The market has several designated areas for particular products. For example the liquor shops selling beer (mainly a particular cheap brand called Red Horse, which has high alcoholic content of around 9 per cent), Indian whisky, and one beer here can cost Dh9 while a small glass of whisky costs Dh5 — and all this is sold and bought publicly.

As Khaleej Times (KT) team entered the market, the first thing that came to sight was some Pathans selling niswar (green tobacco mixed with lime that is banned in the UAE), followed by Bangladeshis selling paan stimulants (betel leaves with nuts, tobacco and other ingredients) and on the other side of the road young men carrying bags with beer for sale – all illegal — could be seen. The liquor sector is run by Indian Sikhs who have hired Nepali and Bangladeshi workers to be the street vendors.

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                EAT AND DRINK … A vendor mixes a drink and cheerfully serves it to customers.

He also said those selling liquors when alarmed about the police or municipality inspectors approaching, hide their products in sewage lines and run to their accommodations.

In fact, KT team narrowly escaped getting attacked when chased by gamblers and liquor sellers for taking a photo.

A couple of years ago the vendors had their businesses inside labour accommodations that were stopped after the murder of a Pakistani worker by a Bangladeshi gambler. There were also several incidents of group fights inside labour accommodations over gambling and other issues.

On May 15, a vendor got injured in the commotion that took place during a police and municipality raid. He was hospitalised and died after two days of burn injuries.

“There was a sudden inspection raid in the market and people were running all over to avoid arrest. One man, I believe was a vendor, crashed into a huge jelebi-making pot filled with boiling oil. He got burnt badly and was rushed to hospital. Today we were told he died of the burn wounds. Almost every Friday, here we see the hide-and-seek game when raids are conducted,” said Mohammed, a Keralite worker living in a nearby labour camp.

The market is well organised with informers spread around all the four corner entrances to the enclave watching for police and Abu Dhabi Municipality inspectors approaching; and when they see them they alert the vendors who disappear within minutes leaving behind their goods to avoid arrest.

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“I charge from Dh1 to Dh5 for cloth repairing, depending on the work,” said Mohammed Kamal, a tailor with a Singer sewing machine on a table. There were six tailors in a row in a corner of the market.

Just opposite them were several barbers giving people haircuts, while some were standing with scissors and other tools in their hands and pockets waiting for customers.

Extra bucks required as salaries low

“I charge Dh5 for haircut. Now I’m giving a military haircut to this man,” said Shamsuddin, a barber from Bangladesh.

He said he gets a minimum of 20 customers for haircut in the market every Friday. “I also do haircut for workers in labour accommodation. We have to do this job to earn more money for our families back home because our salaries are too low to make our ends meet,” he explained.

A vendor from Bangladesh, Mohammed Akfhar, was seen selling paan (beetel leaf). He said he makes about Dh200 every Friday in the market. “I have a stock of paan tobaccos and other ingredients to help run my business for two months in this market. I come here every Friday to make some more money. I have to do this because my salary is too low. When inspectors from police and municipality arrive I just leave behind my goods and run to the camp to avoid arrest and deportation. I had to sell my properties back home for a visa and the job here but my salary is very low,” he said.

“I make good amount of money with niswar sale here that helps me earn more money every week. This earning is my pocket money and the salary I get, I send it home to my family,” said Shaban Khan from Pakistan.

Another Pakistani selling both old and new blankets has a licensed shop in the capital city and said he comes to this market to only make more money.

“I have a textile and blanket shop near Hamdan Street, but I come here every Friday because I make more money here in a single day as compared to my shop. People are more attracted to this market due to cheaper products, and I bring here the old products that people don’t buy in my shop,” said A. Rahim, a textile trader from Pakistan.

According to the KT team that surveyed the market, most of the vendors at the market earn a monthly salary ranging from Dh500 to Dh800 and are, therefore, forced to work on their weekends to make some extra income as they have lots of liabilities back home. They also take a huge risk by being part of the illegal market.

“We have paid a lot back home to agents to come here but we find things are different here,” said Mujib Ur Rhaman, a vegetable vendor selling onion and other vegetables on the roadside ground.




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