Note: The article was once published headlined, “OUT LITTLE MISS”.
Edited By Kara Lozier
Gul Bibi is a child of 12 years old. She has spent the last four years working in a dusty graveyard. She wakes up with the pre-dawn call to prayer while the moon is still shining on her small yard. Although she is still tired, Gul Bibi washes her face and offers her prayers to start another day.
She wears a loose, dirty dress, a scarf, and boyish cap to protect her beauty from the sun. Each morning, she squeezes her feet into old shoes that no longer fit and leaves her house in Mahdia Town where she has lived since she moved from Bamyan Province when she was six years old.
As the sun rises from behind the mountains in the east of Kabul, Gul Bibi walks for thirty minutes to the graveyard. “I’m at the graveyard every day at 6am and I’m not afraid to be here in the early morning,” Gul Bibi proudly said. When I first met her, she told me she couldn’t tell me her name. She said, “If I tell you, my mother will beat me because she said that you have to be anonymous in the graveyard.”
As she arrives, several other girls between eight and fourteen years old arrive to make a team of girls in the graveyard. The graveyard is a dusty hill and home to the dead loved ones of West Kabul residents. But for Gul Bibi and the other girls, it’s where they come to make money.
Gul Bibi arrives at the graveyard with an empty stomach. “I’m very hungry. But when people come here and have some prayers over their deceased family members, I can have some food.” Her job is not a nice one. “For four years, I’ve been a water seller, Quran reader and accepting the offerings of grave visitors. I don’t like to do this job, but I must do it because of the money.”
She sells pitchers of water to visitors who want to wash their loved ones’ graves and earns 5 afghanis (around 7 cents) for each pitcher. She reads the Quran for whatever amount people are willing to pay. And she accepts pieces of bread or small amounts of money that visitors distribute as offerings to honor the deceased.
The atmosphere of the graveyard affects the children working there. Gul Bibi said, “When I arrive here and see dead people in the graves, I become sad.” At twelve years old, she is too young to be afraid of dying, but surrounded by death and people mourning has given her this fear. Although she earns more money when more people visit the graves, the people do not come with happiness. “When people cry for their loved ones, I sometimes cry, too.”
The graveyard is quiet but the horrible silence has domination over Gul Bibi. “I suffer to work here and don’t have many things in my poor life.” At the end of the day, she counts the money in her pocket. “Sometimes, I earn money up to 200 afghanis ($3) in one day, but some days I can’t even make 5 afghanis.”
At lunchtime Gul Bibi leaves the graveyard and goes to school. “I’m in grade six and hold the 13th position in a class of thirty students. I buy my notebook, books, and pens with my own money. Hopefully I can continue school and earn a high school diploma. Not only do I want it, but my family also wants me to graduate from high school.”
The house where Gul Bibi lives cost 4000 afghanis ($60) per month. “My money is all my family has and we pay for the rent of the house, meals and whatever we need. I don’t how we live, but as far as I know, we don’t have another income.” When Gul Bibi is home, she is also responsible to wash dishes, clean the house and clean the yard.
In the evening, Gul Bibi joins her siblings, father, and mother. “At home, I’m relaxed when everybody in the family is together. We are nine people at home and I’m the main one who supports the family. My father is old. He retired from the Afghan National Police and is nearly blind. My mother doesn’t work. My older sister works in the home and goes to school and my nine-year-old brother works in street.”
Gul Bibi’s family gathers at home as the sun goes behind of the hill of the graveyard. The darkness of the night is just a break between one horrible day and another for Gul Bibi. She goes to sleep holding tightly to her dream which reassures her of a good future. “I dream to become policewoman and serve the country like my father did.