What is the deal with the poorest of poor in developing countries selling Chiclets of all things?
Back when I was a college student in San Diego, my friends and I would often cross the border to drink in Tia Juana. Street children never failed to surround the gringos and try to unload whole boxes of the chewing gum on us. In Thailand, it was little different: one afternoon as I was sleeping on the beach, someone nudged me awake. Looking up to see who it was, I found a toothless old woman holding a box of mint Chiclets in front of my nose.
“Uh, no tha . . . Oh, what the hell, give me two packs. No, no, only two. I don’t need so many. I, uh . . . Okay, okay. Give me the whole box. No! I don’t want two boxes . . .”
This has happened to me so many times and in so many countries that I’m beginning to think that it might be the deliberate marketing strategy of Cadbury Adams.
At the Roman ruins of Baalbek in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, I was approached by a number of street vendors selling everything from camel rides to panama hats. There was even a dejected old man in filthy clothes trying half-heartedly to peddle, yes, you guessed it, Chiclets.
It made me wonder if there was some kind of hierarchy among these miserable salesmen. At, or very near to, the bottom of it surely had to be the poor sap with the Chiclets.
“Good morning everyone! We’ve got a busy day ahead of us. There’s a busload of Koreans coming in at ten, another busload of Japanese at eleven. Some Germans at a little after one in the afternoon. Ibrahim, you’re selling Chiclets today. Sammi, you’re in charge of the Panama hats. Hey, Yusuf! Get that camel away from the water coolers . . . Look, I don't give a flying fuck if it is thirsty, just keep the stupid beast away, hear? Any of the tourists catch sight of a camel drinking water from the cooler, and you can kiss your commission good-bye. Hasan, you’ll be selling . . . What's that, Ibrahim? Don't want to sell Chiclets again? I'm sorry to hear that, really sorry. But hey, if you’re not up to it, I suppose you can always sit on the sidewalk and panhandle with the rest of those sorry losers over there. Oh? What’s that, Ibrahim? You’re not crazy about that idea, either? Selling Chiclets will be fine by you, you say? Great! Now, stop wasting my fucking time and start selling some of that goddamn gum . . . Oh, for crying out loud, Yusuf. Yusuf! YUSUF! For Chrissake, what did I say about the camel and the water cooler? You what? That does it! Yusuf, you’ve got Chiclets duty today! Ibrahim, get back here! You've been promoted to camel. Yeah, yeah, don't mention it. Just keep it away from the cooler there."