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The Killid Group

Alone in the city

Written by Sohaila Wedaa Khamosh
Saturday, 12 November 2011 12:25

Alone in the city Housain Jan is a cobbler by day and a street cleaner by night, scraping together just enough to be able to pay the rent for a small room in Dehmazang.
On the day I go to meet him 70-year-old Housain Jan is hard at work. His work worn hands pull a shoe over the cast iron anvil called droosh. He drives a couple of nails into the heel, which was threatening to fall off. Then he flips the shoe over and expertly applies polish from a tin that seems as old as Housain Jan. He picks up a brush, and shines the shoe like it were new before handing it back to a customer who has been waiting, his bare foot resting on a mat.
"I have been working for 40 years," he says. "I am hard up for money. I have to find 2,500 Afs (52 USD) every month for the rent of the house."
How much does he earn? Housain Jan who everyone calls Kaka Housain says he earns roughly 100 Afs (2 USD) a day as a cobber. As a sweeper with the municipal department he gets paid about 4000 Afs (82 USD) a month. But that is if he was to work every night.

No respite from work
Cleaning the street is risky work, he confides. Drivers drive dangerously at night. Sometimes they are drunk, he adds. "Purposely they steer their vehicles towards me. Once the handle of my broom got caught in a vehicle and broke. I was very upset. My boss was very angry. I had to stop working. I could not afford to buy a new broom."
Housain jan says he has even been injured once or twice.
Working at night means he gets very little sleep. Probably for about four hours, he thinks. He says he sleeps after the last prayer and wakes up at 12.30 when he goes out to sweep the streets till 4 or 5am. Does he get to doze during the day? He does not, he says, because officials from the municipality are out patrolling the streets, trying to get vendors and others to clear out. "You have to be watchful all the time," he says.
When did he become a cobbler?
During the Taleban years, he replies. "Conditions were very hard. There was a lot of hunger. I had no work," he says. "I had a droosh and thread. One day, I started sewing a shoe and finished in the evening. I think I learnt shoemaking in a day! Now I am satisfied with my work."

Does he have children?
He talks about his son who was 18 when he was killed in the 'jihad' against the Soviets. "Then I adopted a son. He had two sons and was working in a security company. He was also killed in fighting. Now I am living alone without a son. My heart is so heavy with sorrow. I don't know who will help me when I lose my strength and become feeble."
His worst memory is from the years of the Taleban. "They would come and taunt me, call me Panjsheri. They would torment me," he says. The Taleban who were Pashtuns were opposed by the Northern Alliance - from the Panjsher Valley.
Poor as he is he knows there are people who are even poorer. "When someone brings me shoes that are beyond repair, I know there are people poorer than me," he says. Housain Jan has a big heart.

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