Meet Kabul’s fleet of first all-women fast food-sellers

Meet Kabul’s fleet of first all-women fast food-sellers
Two men wait for their food order from Banu’s Kitchen rickshaw on a street in Kabul on Saturday. (AN photo)
Short Url
Updated 19 March 2020

Meet Kabul’s fleet of first all-women fast food-sellers

Meet Kabul’s fleet of first all-women fast food-sellers
  • Banu’s Kitchen employs 60 women who drive rickshaw carts around Kabul and sell burgers, noodles and spicy rice

KABUL: Wearing a long flowing chador through which only her eyes are visible, 36-year-old Freshta Rasooli drives her solar-powered rickshaw cart around Kabul, selling noodles, beef burgers and traditional spicy rice outside offices and university campuses.

Rasooli’s presence on the streets, behind the handlebar of a rickshaw cart and partaking in a traditionally male-dominated profession, is a rare sight in Afghanistan. It’s not an easy country to be a woman, with forced marriages, domestic violence and high maternal mortality rates.

But access to public life has improved, especially in cities such as the capital Kabul, where many women like Rasooli now work outside the home and more than a quarter of the parliament is female.

So far, Rasooli and the other 55 women drivers at Banu’s Kitchen have not faced any attacks from militants or opposition from conservatives, who in the past have harshly deplored women drivers.

“People appreciate and have good words for me for working to earn an income for my survival, rather being a burden,” Rasooli told Arab News outside Kabul University as she packed burgers for two female students. “I enjoy the work and it has given me courage and self-confidence.”

The business is owned by 27-year-old Farhad Wajdi, who was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan in 2017. The following year, wanting to help Afghan women, he set up Banu’s Kitchen, starting with hand-pushed carts that he soon realized were too cumbersome to push during Kabul’s hot summers and blistering winters.

Wajdi then came up with the idea of using solar-powered rickshaw carts. His business now employs 60 women, of whom 55 are drivers while five cook the food at a rented compound.

“Our experiment worked,” Wajdi told Arab News.

The women drivers earn around $4 a day and work six days a week. Rasooli described the meagre salary as a blessing in a country where, according to the Ministry of Economy, 34 percent of the population is unemployed.

“I see Afghan women as a big human resource that deserves to be equipped with knowledge and other skills to have equal contribution in the economic development of Afghanistan,” Wajdi said.

A customer, Dawlat Shah, said he supported women entering male-dominated professions.

“I’m glad women are getting involved in such work and businesses, just like men,” Shah said, as he stood next to a cart and paid the equivalent of 80 cents for a plate of macaroni noodles.

Wajdi hopes that he can expand his fleet of 25 carts to 80 carts by the end of the year, and said he was overjoyed to be invited to meet Afghanistan’s first lady, Ruhla Ghani, this January.  

He is hopeful, he said, that the government would allot him land free of cost so he could move out of the expensive rented compound from where his business currently operates. “The first lady invited us for a meeting and we met her and discussed how we can involve the government to help us expand this initiative across Afghanistan,” Wajdi said. “She wanted to know what help she could offer to help our organization expand.”


Olympic fans from aboard may have health tracked by app

Updated 02 December 2020

Olympic fans from aboard may have health tracked by app

Olympic fans from aboard may have health tracked by app
  • Japan has controlled the virus better than most countries with just over 2,100 deaths attributed to COVID-19
  • But Tokyo has seen record numbers of infections in recent weeks

TOKYO: A mobile app could be among the measures used to track the health of fans from abroad if they are permitted to attend next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
An interim report on contingencies for holding the Tokyo Games was released on Wednesday. It was compiled by the Japanese government, the Tokyo city government and local organizers.
The portion concerning the app was leaked earlier in the day by Japanese newspaper Nikkei. It was met on social media by unhappy replies from Japanese citizens who fear the Olympics could put their health in jeopardy.
Japan, with a population of 125 million, has controlled the virus better than most countries with just over 2,100 deaths attributed to COVID-19. But Tokyo has seen record numbers of infections in recent weeks.
Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the local organizing committee, explained some findings of the report. But he was short on specifics in the online briefing. Some proposals might be discarded as conditions change, and almost everything is subject to revision.
“In general, I think we would like to be able to work out the details by next spring,” he said, suggesting the groundwork had been prepared for many contingencies with the possibility of vaccines and rapid testing on the horizon.
It was in the spring eight months ago when organizers and the International Olympic Committee finally decided to postpone the Olympics after repeatedly saying they would go ahead this year.
Muto hinted again that the Tokyo Olympics may not be much fun. Athletes will compete and then be expected to to go home.
“The basic principle is that the accommodation period in the Athletes Village is supposed to be minimized as much as possible,” Muto said. “We want to be sure that the Athletes Village doesn’t get too dense. And after the games we would like them (athletes) to go back (home) as early as possible.”
He was asked point-blank if the Olympics would have a “celebratory atmosphere.”
“If the games are to be held under the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t think the Olympics will be as festive as they have been in the past,” he said. “We decided to hold a simplified Olympics. Therefore, as you can see in the planning for the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Olympics will be simplified rather than celebratory.”
Muto was also asked about the cost of the one-year postponement, but said he didn’t know yet. Some Japanese newspapers reported several days ago, citing unnamed sources close to the organizing committee, that the cost of the delay will be about $3 billion.
“We are in the process of the calculation of how much the cost is,” Muto said. “We would like to reach a decision as soon as possible but when it will come — I can’t give you a specific date. But by the end of the year we’d like to make an effort to come up with an answer.”
He was also asked if fans from abroad would be required to be vaccinated.
“This is a scenario we will start to examine once the vaccine is actually available,” he said.