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)
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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.”

Pakistani baby born in Makkah reaches home, meets parents after yearlong wait

Pakistani baby born in Makkah reaches home, meets parents after yearlong wait
Updated 16 January 2021

Pakistani baby born in Makkah reaches home, meets parents after yearlong wait

Pakistani baby born in Makkah reaches home, meets parents after yearlong wait
  • Abdullah was born prematurely Jan. 9 last year to Pakistani Umrah pilgrims
  • Parents say medical treatment was paid for entirely by Saudi government

ISLAMABAD: A baby born prematurely to Pakistani Umrah pilgrims in Makkah last year was returned on Friday evening to his parents in Quetta, Pakistan — a full year after his birth and successful treatment in Saudi Arabia.

Bibi Hajra and her husband Ghulam Haider were forced to leave their baby behind after their Umrah visas expired following the birth of their son on Jan. 9 last year — a premature birth, with the baby weighing only 1 kg and suffering from severe medical complications at the Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Makkah.

The baby, named Abdullah, was placed on a ventilator and stayed on in the hospital for a period of 46 days under the observation of doctors and consultants specialized in neonatal intensive care.

After this, the child was transferred to special care under the supervision of the Social Service Department.

“We had to return to Pakistan and leave our baby in the hospital as our visas expired, and then could not go back due to coronavirus,” a tearful Hajra told Arab News on Saturday from Pakistan’s southwestern Quetta city.

“Initially, I was very worried about my baby, but the hospital administration remained in touch with us. They used to show me Abdullah on video and also send us his pictures,” she said.

“We are thankful to the Saudi government, hospital authorities, doctors, nurses and Pakistani consulate in Jeddah for their cooperation,” she added.

On Thursday, the Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Makkah handed Abdullah over to a delegation from the Pakistani Consulate after taking care of him for a full year.

Abdullah’s father, Haider, who is a dispenser at a small clinic in Quetta, also expressed his gratitude to the Saudi government and the Pakistani mission for their support.

“Our child remained under treatment for one year but we have not even been charged a single penny,” Haider told Arab News.

“All the expenses were taken care of by the Saudi government,” he said.

The return of Abdullah to Quetta, he continued, had been arranged by the Pakistani Consulate in Jeddah free of charge.

“The Pakistani Consulate was in contact with the hospital as well as with the parents of the child. They provided all the medical facilities and kept Abdullah in complete care. Now he is absolutely fine and one year old,” the community welfare attache of the Pakistani Consulate, Saqib Ali Khan, who received the boy from the hospital on Thursday, told Arab News.

“When the hospital administration assured us that the child is completely fine, we sent him back to Quetta through a delegation and he was received by the parents,” he said.

Khan thanked the Saudi government, the Saudi Ministry of Health and the medical team at the hospital for providing the child with special care, and for keeping in touch with the family in order to reassure them over the entire year of their separation.