Islamabad, May 18th, 2013
Radio story online : Autour d’un tandur, dans les rues de la capitale pakistanise.
To help these women, click here : the widows of the tandur
They sit cross-legged on plastic mats laid on the dust of the sidewalk, right in front of a « tandur » (nan oven, the nans are the common round shaped breads in Central Asia and Pakistan). Most of them are widows, or have a disabled husband. They are issued from those Afghan refugees families that have been displaced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979 – 1989) and have never managed to overcome misery since then.
Every day, the women invariably arrive between 16:00 and 17:00 and take place on the ground. They bring with them their children and stay there up to 23 hours or midnight. About ten o’clock in the night the younger children, exhausted, fall asleep, lying on the floor. They have to wait for the time of departure, half past eleven, before traveling the long return journey that awaits them.
Why? To receive a few nans, and possibly on Friday, the half of a chapal kebab inside their nan (chapal kebab is a round shaped piece of minced meat mixed with bread, a specialty of Peshawar). It depends on the generosity of the benefactors and on their means. Next to the tandur moved the chapal kebabs seller. It is a profitable business, as the owner of the tandur sells 500 to 1000 nans per day (13 rupees per nan, it makes 6500 to 13 000 rupees each day). The chapal kebabs seller told us that its turnover averaged 10 000 rupees per day, it means 80 euros per day or 2400 euros per month.
Four to five such tandur in Islamabad Afghan district operate on the same system of charity and are doing good business: The owner of the tandur cooks 500 nans in advance. Then the benefactors come and buy 30 nans, 50 nans or even more. The owner then distributes equally to each woman. Some benefactors include rice or something else. But this is rare. Women are not allowed to leave before eleven o’clock in the night as the owner wishes to sell all his prepared nans and if the benefactors are not enough, it is he who provides the remaining nans. « But he makes up for it the next day and we get less nans, » shares one of the women.
The boss of Tandur is angry: « I started a decade ago to give nans to the poor, then people wanted also to give them. This is how it started. Where are the millions of the UNHCR, of the UN? Here we do not see the sign of it. So we do it ourselves. Look! it does not require much! »
These poor women are condemned with their children to spend half the time on a sidewalk at odd hours, about fifteen miles from home, just to receive ten nans.
They are indeed very far from their mudhouses slum, kachi abadi, without any transportation mean. Sometimes they « hitchhike », sometimes they share the fare of a van or a « Suzuki », these small richly decorated taxis typical in Pakistan.
A little further, another tandur in Peshawar More, the Afghan shopping street. The Afghan boss seems delighted: « This is a very good business! I did that in Afghanistan, in the United States, in Pakistan! » Opposite side, the women and their young children, with their little bundles arranged around them, a semblance of reconstruction of their homes, since this is here they have to live part of their life.
A tough-faced kid appears, fascinated, and smiles to me. Everybody here calls him Baloo. Amangul is 12 years old and looks already a small adult. Despite his face damaged by hunger, work, lack of sleep and perhaps the punches he receives, his look is still full of the innocence of children. Amangul is from Afghanistan. Where is your mother? « She is not there. » In fact, Amangul comes to the tandur every night, alone, with a large plastic bag to bring back the sustenance of the family. Do you go to school? « No. » Besides the long hours spent at the tandur at night time, Amangul also works during the day: he unloads crates of poultry. I did not ask him when he slept…
Sitting among his companions in misfortune – that became friends since then – Roshangul, about 35 years, is a native of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Seven children, including five daughters, she comes here every night with her two sons since many years. Her husband, too old and blind, cannot work anymore. « My family left Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. I do not remember, I was too small. We lived in an extreme poverty in Peshawar. Then I was married, he was already very old, I was twelve. Since then we live in different kachi abadi. »
Today she lives in the slum that lies between Rawalpindi and Islamabad, in front of the Metro hypermarket, fifteen kilometers away from the tandur. Watch and listen: In the mud houses of kachi abadi, Islamabad.
Last night, Roshangul agreed to drive us at her home. The kachi abadi, a sea of flat roofs barely distinguishable, is plunged into darkness. Here there is no electricity.
We plunge into the dark and narrow streets. Not even one meter between the two walls. A ditch dug for drainage goes along the streets. Hastily and in silence, we cross a wasteland, then a “bridge” made of scattered wood planks. « Is it still far? » Whispering, Roshangul shows us the way; her house is located at the edge of a cliff at the top of a hill, overlooking a stream. « Every night at midnight, I go there, » tells us Roshangul. The house is carved into the cliff. A mud wall surrounds a quadrangle yard; at each end two separate rooms, closed by a curtain. No window, no furniture. Some hangings on the wall, that’s all. Two families share this place, one room each.
In the left room, the family of another woman of the tandur, whose husband is a drug addict. In the right one, Roshangul’s family. In the courtyard, cooking utensils placed on a mudmade shelf. Near the entrance, a tiny room : the « bathroom ». No running water, no electricity here.
The rent? 5000 rupees per month (about 40 euros), an exorbitant price for a kachi abadi. The primary occupants, some Mohmand Agency natives, had built these houses after they fled the fightings happening in their tribal area. Today, they rent the houses to poorer than them. How can u pay the rent? « My son works at the fruit market, he gets 5000 to 6000 rupees per month. Previously, I did housework at an Afghan woman’s house in Islamabad, I earned 4000 rupees a month, but she’s gone. »
Why not to install a tandur close to the kachi abadi, operating according to the same system? « This is a business, explains Roshangul. Here there are not enough rich people, it would not work. »
Roshangul’s only hope: that her children, who go to school, can support her later.
To help these women, click here : the widows of the tandur