ISLAMABAD - Since last seven years, Bibi comes at a food outlet in
G-9 neighbourhood of the capital for free food gathering. Everyday, in front of an array of shops, she sits in a cluttering crowd on the edge of the road, intruding the passage owed to pedestrians. Bikers stream around the crowd, making their way to disappear into the adjacent street. Attended by her two children, she stays there until an utter darkness prevails.
Amidst the cacophony at the outlet, teeming with customers, seemingly impassive to sputtering vehicles nearby, Bibi is not the sole woman struggling to satisfy this instinctive yen. Eying for some flatbreads from the outlets or charities from by passers, she is trailed by dozens of women, hapless and woebegone, like her in the queue.
With slight variation in timing - rather early in winters and with receding intensity of heat late afternoon in summers - their congregations pleat around a number of food outlets along the same road.
Kids, primarily absorbed in their games, would rush to the outlet as soon as there is a call for the charity distribution. Soon after, they would resume their playoffs, depositing their gains to their mothers with a winning smirk.
They are Afghan refugees. Coalesced together. Some Pashtuns. Some Tajiks. And a few Pakistanis, even. Apparently, many of them are war affectees. But not all. Bibi and her two children (a Pashtun family) are among the numerous who had crossed the border due to family feuds or poverty, envisioning a safe and better life here.
Some ten years back Bibi's family moved to Pakistan as refugees. After getting shelter in a slum, her husband started working. Initially he would sell plastic shopping bags. The only trade he could do to feed his family. After a short stretch of time, before they could sight fancied shades of life on a new land, another woe hassled them.
Her husband, the lone meal ticket, became paralysed. And some later, they were repatriated. But, after finding it even harder to live in their native country, she, again, with her crippled husband and children moved to Pakistan. Now, the rules changed. She was the frontrunner. This time.
On asking, "Was it war that compelled you to leave your motherland again?" she firmly replied, "We have nothing to do with Taliban and foreign forces. It's hard to live there." For she and many other refugees the only solution to end all their travails is their identity as Pakistani nationals. "We don't want to go back again, we had nothing to earn and eat there," she sobbed, insisting on the provision of Pakistani identity card.
Eight years old Abdul Haq, fairly energetic and astute, was born to Bibi in Pakistan. While sustaining his studies, he is resolute to get something for his family employing a lawful lane. But for him it's not that simple as it could be to any other. Surely, for a Pakistani. "We are manacled," says Haq. "They (police) don't let us sell anything be it balloons or handmade fans," he complained with a frustrated mien.
With a stern verve in his tone, he further went on saying, "We are nettled by police, they suddenly disband on road to take us away. Once they caught me but I managed to break away after leaving a teeth bite on the wrist of that policeman holding my arm." His friends encircled him.
At such tender age, he and his friends swank of learning the flairs of tricking police and running away safely. With fewer alternatives available to opt for, such restraints, in gratifying their needs, can impel them go amiss simply. Or, sometimes, it could be more harrowing.
Nori, her two brothers and their mother, a Tajik family from Laghman province of Afghanistan, are residing in G-8 suburbs. Her brothers are studying as well as learning at a shop as on job trainees in masonry.
The young girl shared that how her mother, some 13 years back from now, managed to move her family to Pakistan. Taliban had killed her father as he belonged to an opposite ethnic group. "We are scared of being repatriated," said Nori. Their lives are still at risk in a land where their own relatives sold their house after they escaped to Pakistan. They too were afraid of being killed by the opposites, after father.
Sitting at the periphery of crowd, her mother vigorously uttered a few words in Dari language. Student of grade IV at a government school, Nori could speak in Urdu pretty fluently as if it were her mother tongue. Soon she took the role of interpreter. "Mother says, we live here, it's our country and we want Pakistani identity card." Nori translated while peeping into eyes of her mother.
"It never happened we went home without food. There are always some people who give charity, either money or food," said Nori. "Or sometimes both." she merrily nodded.
Meanwhile, there was a call. Finally. The moment they all were waiting for. A worker from the outlet started distributing flatbreads. Any generous customer had donated money for some food to be arranged for the hopefuls. The crowd enthused. Hands erected. Abdul Haq. Nori. Sana. And many other names echoed. "Get a flatbread." Mothers yelled. Kids rushed. Nobody wanted to be left unrewarded.