for National Geographic News
Part 13 of a special series that explores the local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.
On a good day, Khaled Gomaa, a waiter at the Cafeteria Andalucia in downtown Cairo, said he makes 50 Egyptian pounds (about U.S. $9.28)—and on a bad one, 10 pounds ($1.86).
Gomaa, like millions of Egyptians, is struggling to make ends meet as prices of essential items like food and fuel spiral upward in Egypt—making them reliant more than ever on government assistance.
But even heavily subsidized bread, controlled utility and gasoline prices, and strict export bans—funded by the largest budget in the country's history—are failing to calm the stressed Egyptian masses, who in recent months have protested the government, sometimes violently.
"The income leaves as soon as I get it," said Gomaa, who supports his wife and four children on his meager wages and tips.
"There is no way to save. Everything comes and goes, comes and goes. I am hardly able to survive like I did [when I was younger]."
In the 12-month period ending in March, the average prices of food and beverages in Egypt rose by nearly a quarter.
In particular, bread and cereal prices increased by 48.1 percent from March 2007 to March 2008, while cooking oils and fats rose by 45.2 percent, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the official government authority for statistics.
(Related video: "World Food in Crisis.")
"There is no increase for my salary to match the prices going up," said Ahmed Sultan Ammar, 21, a student who works the night shift at the Andalucia. "Even the money I pay for studies has gone up."
But with jobs still scarce and unemployment on the rise, he doesn't have very many options.
"Where I am going to search?" Ammar asked. The café "is the only thing I found. It's the only thing."
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