Sitting for hours on the hot pavement under the scorching sun is routine for the 11 men who wait for a day’s work every day at F-10 Markaz’s intersection. Mostly, they are only successful half the month.
Hailing from Peshawar, these workers are finding it harder and harder each day to send money back to their families.
“I don’t care about myself, all I need is food to sustain myself. I just want a sizable amount to send to my family every month,” said Raheel Khan, 30.
Unlike Raheel who has youth and vigour on his side, Bakhtiar Khan, 55, stated he is now tired of physical labour but given his family’s circumstances, retirement seems like an impossible dream.
An average day of labour nets them Rs500.
“My back always hurts, to the extent that sometimes I don’t even notice the pain. This is my life; that’s just the way it is,” he said with resigned melancholy. The labourers are all from the same area and know each other well.
They know even better that this profession is a hard one with low returns, but they continue with it and bring their children into it.
Bakhtiar’s nephew, Niazuddin, 19, who is a matriculate, said, “Even though I dream of a different profession, this has been my family’s bread and butter for generations and I take pride in being part of it.”
However, another matriculate Aslam Khan said, “I have tried other jobs that are more suitable for a matriculate but the pay is the same if not less, and I feel a greater sense of accomplishment helping build houses.”
We have nothing, but when we are part of a building project and it is completed, you smile and imagine what your life in that house would be like, Aslam added.
These labourers are having an even tougher time due to Ramazan but as Bakhtiar said, “Fasting is our duty, we can’t complain about any hardships due to that.”
“But on the other hand, I can’t help but think, when I see people in these air-conditioned cars whizzing by, what it must be like living that lifestyle,” Bakhtiar said. “I wonder what their fasts feel like, they must be easier.
They must have plenty for sehris, iftars and Eids,” he added wistfully.
Waiting for hours gives these men with too much time to think and invariably their minds are occupied by thoughts of a better life. When they are confronted with the realisation of an inescapable and harsh reality, it fosters bitterness. “You have wasted our time. Your camera looks very expensive; don’t you even have Rs50 to spare?” scoffed one of the labourers.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.