If you ever asked to meet the proprietress of this tiny shop six kilometres from Kot Mithan in Basti Khuda Baksh, you would be astounded by the massive difficulties she has overcome to make it to where she is today.
Standing just 2.5 feet tall, Zuhara Bibi has managed to add to her village’s economy and well-being by relying on her will – and a little help from her equally persistent grandmother.
Born with a defect that meant her growth was stunted, from a distance anyone could mistake her for a child, despite her 26 years. Regardless of this, she has been running a shop for many years in her village, which was recently devastated by floods.
“She works very hard. She opens the shop up very early and sits until dusk,” reveals 80-year-old Abdul Ghafoor, a resident of Basti Khuda Baksh. She sells sweets, candies and biscuits in her shop, which youngsters love. She also sells some basic food items like ghee, tea, salt and sugar, beads and washing powder.
While millions across the country have struggled to grapple with the reality of the floods that hit in July last year, Zuhara Bibi is poised and perfectly sure of herself. She never wants to become a liability, and never wants to be dependent on anyone. She loves being part of solutions, rather than problems.
Because of the small size of the village, Zuhara Bibi doesn’t have to deal with a steady flow of customers – and in the lull between tending to one buyer and the next, she has enough time to devote herself to her other interest – knitting. She knits sweaters, cushions, and woolen tea-cosies used to cover pots.
“I can knit that in four to five days,” she says shyly, pointing to a finished wool-top. “I can sell this for about Rs250 a piece.”
When asked how she learnt to knit, Zuhara Bibi says that it is natural for all the women in the area to know how to knit and weave. ““In my case, no one was willing to teach me how to knit or weave … they thought that because of my disability, it would be pointless. However, my grandmother disagreed with that line of thinking. She was very adamant that I learn how to knit. She now lives in a nearby city, in Dera Ghazi Khan.
Zuhara Bibi’s father also helped her become independent, by investing around Rs40,000 into her business.
Even though she is a businesswoman, Zuhara Bibi understands the difficulties of local residents. She regularly extends products to her customers on credit, saying “You cannot ignore borrowers. It is part of business. But I can differentiate between people who are chronic borrowers, habitual borrowers, and the people who take things from me on credit out of sheer need. I avoid habitual borrowers though, because they never pay you back.”
Zuhara Bibi says the floods wreaked havoc on the lives of her friends and family, and also affected her business.
“The floods were terrible. The water, when it collected, was twice my height ... The losses it caused to our livelihood and property were unthinkable. Still I feel, life during the floods was difficult, but it is more difficult now even though the waters have receded.”
This is because the losses caused by the floods have reduced her customers’ buying power. “Also, after the floods an NGO began to distribute dry food in my village. This meant that people no longer came to me for food … it snatched away my routine customers for a while.”
Zuhara Bibi would love to travel more, especially to visit her grandmother, but finds herself unable to do so. “It has been two years now since I last saw my grandmother. I really want to see her again, but there is no one here to take me there. Although I can afford the bus fare, you know I cannot travel on my own. There needs to be someone to escort me to Dera Ghazi Khan but everybody is always busy … I wish I could fly!” she says.
Zuhara Bibi has a broad face and a wide forehead, but tiny hands. It is remarkable that she has been able to sustain herself, supplement her family’s income and add to the village’s economy, with all the hardship she faces.
She was never a helpless victim to life’s circumstances, or the floods in 2010 — and people in the village continue to appreciate her determination.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 5th, 2011.
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