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The Killid Group

Of hope and despair

Written by Mahbooba Fareed Karimi and Maryam Akbari
Saturday, 21 January 2012 11:25

Of hope and despair Meet Mohammad Bilal, a 10-year-old child worker who wants to be a doctor when he grows up, and Nadeeya, one of Kabul's women bakers, who has been working non-stop for 20 years and still barely survives.
I heard Bilal before I saw him.
It was biting cold weather when I heard a child's high-pitched voice above the sounds of traffic in Kotesangae, Kabul. "Buy paper and cloth hankies". The boy held a plate piled with paper tissues and cloth handkerchiefs in his bare hands. I walked up to him.
"What is your name?" I asked. The boy smiled. "What do you want to do with my name?" he shot back. "I want to write about you," I said.
"My  name is Mohammad Bilal. I am in class 5 at Kalae Wahed school. I stood second in my class."
He said his father is a teacher in the school.  After school hours the father and son sell mobile phone cards and hankies respectively. "We are 10 people at home," Bilal explains. "It is a very difficult life. I have to find money for food together with my father."
He says they leave the house at 8am, and are in the bazaars up to the evening prayers.
How much do they earn a day?
"Our profit is 80-100 Afghanis (roughly 2 USD). I give the money to my mother, so she can buy flour, potatoes and other food."
The conversation veers around to why he doesn't have a fixed place in the market? He lets out a deep sigh. "I had a fixed place at the corner of the street, where my father could keep an eye on me. I was happy there. But the police chased me off. They said I was a vagrant. They had an order, they said. I was scared."
Do you watch TV after dinner, I asked him. "We don't have a TV or radio. After dinner my father teaches me. I don't have any amusement. To be honest I am so tired that all I want to do is read my lessons and then sleep."
Will he become a teacher like his father?
"No my father is a teacher and our life has never got better," he says. "I study well in order to become a doctor and to have a clinic,  so I can get a salary and charge a fee, to improve my life."

Widows bake bread
There are many bakeries in Kabul. Most bakeries run by men use gas to cook the bread. Most women who bake breads are widows, and not able to afford the cost of cooking gas. Instead, like Nadeeya, who has been a baker for 20 years, they bake in a wooden oven that spews out smoke in the room.
"I am working since the Taleban government," she says. "I get up every day at 5 in the morning and heat up the oven. Then I wait for people in the neighbourhood to bring the dough (to bake bread). If there is lots of dough I could earn 200 Afghanis (4 USD). If the dough is less, I cannot find money to buy wood for the next day," she adds.
Nadeeya uses roughly 70 kgs of wood every day. Her two daughters help her in the bakery. While one of them breaks the wood with an axe, the other prepares the dough for the oven.
It is difficult to breathe because of the smoke.
"Whenever I put my head inside the oven I feel that my breath will stop. The smoke makes my eyes water. Everyday my body and cloths are smoky and dirty, but I don't have a choice," she says.

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