Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Ambition: to work under shade

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Darya Khatoon of village Leemon Solangi was born in a poor farmer’s home. That has been her lot all her life as she grew up picking cotton or weeding the wheat fields under a blistering summer sun. In her mid-twenties, she is married to a college graduate who for want of other work continues to be a farm labourer. By her own account, even as she and her husband sweated under the open skies to bring home the daily bread, they dreamed of a better life. But neither knew when or how their big break would come.
 
Darya Khatoon and her Goats
 
In 2008, after the birth of her first child, she became a goat-keeper on adhiyari. Now, goats being as prolific as they are, Darya Khatoon did well. In three years, despite having given her goat-owner his share of the kids, she had disposed of a number of kids of her own, put together the proceeds and purchased a milch cow for herself. In the beginning of the year 2011, things looked rosy for Darya Khatoon’s two children who got a regular supply of unadulterated milk from the cow in their yard. She also had four healthy yearling goats to be sold for the sacrifice of Eid al Azha due in November.

In August that year, calamity struck. As the rain began one warm and sultry afternoon, Darya Khatoon, like everyone else, thought this was another one of those monsoon showers. By next morning, it was a nightmare with the rain persisting. Water began to rise around the village and soon it was clear the community would have to evacuate. Salvaging whatever they could, the people moved out leading their livestock.

Outside the village it was as if they were in a surging river. As they waded through the waist-deep brown water to a nearby high spot, people jettisoned items of household use in order to save their own and their children’s lives. As they watched bloated corpses of once healthy dairy animals float past their island, Darya Khatoon and her husband Abdul Hakeem sent up many a prayer for the preservation of their own livestock. After a terrible period of living in the open without any aid from either the government or NGOs, the community returned to find village Leemon Solangi a large heap of sodden clay.

What had been home to Darya and Hakeem was gone. Going by lack of support from the government and other agencies, the couple quickly set to rebuilding their home. The cow was sold for Rs 33,000 and the four yearling goats fetched a total of Rs 60,000 to make for a good head start to raise the new edifice. There was also some saving from their work as labourers and soon a brick house was ready which, Hakeem says with visible pride, give people the impression that he and Darya Khatoon are rich people.

Though they now had a roof over their heads, things continued to look extremely bleak. With the country water-logged there was no farm work and with the livestock gone, no milk for the family. In January 2013, financed by SANA, SAFWCO, the first NGO ever to visit Leemon Solangi, came to the village with a scheme that the community found hard to believe. But it was for real and Darya Khatoon became one of several women to get two goats for free.

Each goat delivered about a litter of milk a day which took care of the children’s need for milk. In June 2013, there was excitement in Darya Khatoon’s family as both her goats were ready to deliver. If the floods of 2011 had not set her back several notches she would now have been running a small general supplies store out of her home as she had dreamed for years. Unfazed, and with the promise of her growing stock of goats, she again talks of her store. As well as that a motorcycle for her husband! ‘It should not be our lot to forever struggle under the merciless sun. We too deserve cool shade to work in,’ says Darya Khatoon.

All that is very well, but Darya Khatoon and Hakeem have a fascinating side story to tell. With the formation of the village organization, an essential of all SAFWCO initiatives, Darya Khatoon became the president. In the periodic meetings under her stewardship, the question of education, or lack thereof, in the village repeatedly came up. Graduate Hakeem came forward to offer his services gratis to the community if they would spare their children the daily routine of helping in farm labour.

And so, on the thirteenth day of January 2013, a bunch of children sat under the warm winter sun to begin to unravel the secrets of the written word. In just six months many of them have raced far ahead of what others would attain in a normal school. The school routine is now set: five hours in the morning; winters in the open, summers in the veranda of Darya Khatoon’s home an there are children who can read and write.

And the future? The first thing to do will be to regain a cow. Then the shop in the shade out of the sun and finally there will be a motorcycle for her husband.

Darya Khatoon and Abdul Hakeem outside the home they built
 
Just fifteen minutes with this remarkably feisty woman and one knows that this is no vain pipe dream.

Related: By donkey cart to high school

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

6 Comments:

At July 4, 2013 at 12:03 PM, Anonymous Raza said...

So moving and touching. How conveniently our 'have' class forgets about 'have not' class?

 
At July 4, 2013 at 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved this deeply human story. I read the following somewhere.

("An old lady named Suban, in her late 70s may be (she did not know her age, lives alone with no male member to look her after). Having lived all her life in the remote village in the backwaters of Punjab, her total possession is three goats. She takes them out for grazing every day and also performs other domestic chores single-handed. She is healthy, active and happy with life. I asked her about how she manages her expanses and what are her dreams? On lot of coaxing she said, "I will be happier if my goat delivers three lambs this time." Surprised, I asked her to explain. She said, "I don’t have very many requirements. I will sell the lambs and put a new roof on my home and will sell all the milk to live comfortably!")

Life certainly is tough.

 
At July 4, 2013 at 3:31 PM, Blogger Kausar Bilal said...

Extremely toucing and inspiring story. Given chances, Pakistanis can prove themselves to be among the best of nations. Wondering why any NGO or governement approached them earlier?

 
At July 4, 2013 at 3:41 PM, Anonymous M Behzad Jhatial said...

touchy...

 
At July 4, 2013 at 8:05 PM, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

That is like a writer:) I enjoyed the truth of life

 
At July 6, 2013 at 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off the point but if all men help and encourage their women to grow and develop, they can change the world to a better one.

This was a good read.

Rahila

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days