“Instead of getting buried, in the ground the rubbish gets reused and new things are made.
My name is Gul Khan
My job is to collect rubbish for recycling. I moved from Baghlan to Kabul to do this a year and a half ago.
There are many poor people in Afghanistan doing this. I was jobless when I was in Baghlan, but I have a better life now I am in Kabul. I came here to join some relatives who have been collecting rubbish for five years.
We have rented some land to live on. There are 30 of us living and working together. We are all from the same tribe. We share the rent of 25,000 Afs every month. We live here in tents – they are not very good but it is okay for us. Four or five people sleep in each tent. This is what life is like if you are poor. We make just enough money to feed ourselves. In winter it is really hard. We sleep with just a simple blanket. There is no wood or anything like that to throw in a heater. We cannot afford it. To make a fire we burn shoes that we collect and the rubber around power cables – we sell the metal inside.
There is an alleyway where we live. We have put up curtains so that women and children passing by will not see the dirt we have here. We don’t want people to be uncomfortable.
We leave home at 5am and go to the rubbish tip. We get home around 7pm. At night we separate the different types of rubbish into plastic, aluminium, metal. We collect it for three or four weeks until we have a lot and then we sell it to another relative. He will crush the rubbish and then sell it in Pakistan where the big money is. He buys it separately per kilo – for example plastic is 2 Afs per kg, metal 5 Afs, aluminium 12 Afs and shoes 1 Af. Everyday we make around 150-200 Afs each. We make less in the winter when it is snowing and raining – it is very hard to work then, but we are forced to.
My family is still in Baghlan. I have one brother and five or six sisters who are all smaller than me. About 14 years ago my father left to go to Saudi Arabia – it has been four years since we heard from him. We don’t know if he is alive or dead, but we heard he was in prison over there.
I always hoped God would help me become someone good, but I didn’t have time to study and become a teacher or an engineer. My brother and sisters relied on me to bring home money for them to live on. I still hope that one day I will be able to study, but that’s up to destiny. Anyway for now, I can work and support my family. Every month or so, when we have sold all the rubbish I have around 5,000 Afs to take home to the family and they can buy oil and flour and things to feed themselves.
Obviously there are diseases connected with this work. We try and stay clean – we wear different clothes to collect the rubbish and wash when we come home. We are used to it, but there are some who get sick and have lots of problems. I am ill right now. It is a dirty job but we can’t find any other work. I don’t think anyone would enjoy this job. I thank God that my hands and eyes and feet are healthy and I can still work.
Our work is good for our country. We keep it clean. Instead of getting buried, in the ground the rubbish gets reused and new things are made. But there are a lot of people who look down on what we do.
Everyone has big dreams and my dream is that God will help me make enough money not to be dependent on others. I hope to have a better life so that when I have children they can have one too.