Mohammed Abdou gets paid.
It’s a bright September afternoon, and the sun shines through Mohammed Abdou’s aviators as he sits outside a Harlem barbershop, where the West African regulars smoke and talk smack, and allows himself a rare indulgence: he just chills.
Abdou, a 28-year-old Malian immigrant from Timbuktu, is always hustling. Where he’ll be on any given day depends on where there is money to be earned. He holds down no fewer than four jobs—He imports jewelry and sells it to storefronts on West 47th Street, near Rockefeller Center. At out-of-state auctions, he buys damaged cars, fixes them and sells them in New York, or if there is an order from Africa, ships them to his brother to be sold in his home country. All of this on top of the bike and pedicab gig. Abdou speaks seven languages—including English, French, Arabic, Songhai and Mandinka—and he is trying to learn an eighth, Spanish. He works in Harlem and in Midtown, in Pennsylvania and in Port Elizabeth, N.J. He has a tendency to scan his surroundings as he talks, as though he’s on the lookout for opportunity.