We are in De Mazang, and half way up TV Mountain. The road was paved for the first section; now we are walking in a narrow alley, strewn with the litter of the households, and down the the middle of which runs an uneven channel of raw waste and sewerage. People are gathered around a tap stand, filling 20L yellow canisters, and then struggling on up the hill.
Higher up we stop, and Julie goes into a room to talk with the women. I stay in the yard and the husband comes over. In the small yard, three children bat a plastic ball around with a large walking stick.
We talk about the Self Help Group which his wife is part of. He only knows it by the name, ‘the group’. ‘It is good for her, she saves 10 Afs, 20 Afs every week. They put it all together, take loans. Why shouldn’t she do it?’ He tells how he has taken three loans from the group via his wife over the years.
‘And what have you used the money for?’
‘I sell waistcoats. I buy them in Mandaie, from the big underground market there. I carry them all the way up to Karte Se, walk down the bazaar selling them. If I have sold them all by the time I reach here, good. If not, I go on, past the zoo, and then turn around and walk home, selling as I go. That is what I do.’
I cannot capture the simple resignation with which he speaks. It was as though he was saying, ‘This is my life. That is all there is.’ I ask what he might do if he could take a larger loan, say 10,000 Afs ($200USD). He shrugs. ‘I would buy more waistcoats.’
‘Do you have any other skill, or work, or profession, or income?’
‘This is my qisb, my income.’
‘What do you want for your children?’
‘They they do not walk in the dust.’
These groups are doing valuable work. The houses and the alleys here are like the slums we lived in, in Delhi. People here are poor; in another group, a man and a woman, old, both blind, sit motionless, as another woman tells of how two of their children have died in the last years. The man next to me sells plastic tubs, in much the same way as the waistcoat seller. The return on such sales is microscopic.
It does take time for these groups to start working, but over 5-6 years the changes are evident; further down the mountain, people are working together, men and women, running small businesses, cooperating. Higher up, though, that process is just beginning.