Weave a liveli­hood

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Afghans, Pak­ista­nis ex­pertly make fish­ing cages in UAE

KALBA, United Arab Emi­rates — Far from his home in Afghanistan, Nour rises each morn­ing be­fore the sun’s rays touch the coastal Emi­rati town of Kalba for a new day weav­ing fish­ing cages.

The 50-year-old takes his place along­side fel­low la­bor­ers, pray­ing to­ward the holy city of Mecca. Then he sips on his first cup of tea, a mo­ment of seren­ity be­fore work be­gins.

Kalba is lo­cated on the east­ern coast of the United Arab Emi­rates. Un­like the cap­i­tal Abu Dhabi, which faces the Arab Gulf states, Kalba is perched on the Gulf of Oman, look­ing out to­ward Pak­istan and In­dia be­yond.

The town has be­come a hub for the craft of weav­ing fish­ing cages, at­tract­ing dozens of Afghans and Pak­ista­nis seek­ing to earn a liv­ing.

The fish­ing cage, or wire net, used in the Gulf of Oman is shaped like an igloo, with an oval-shaped in­let.

The pop­u­lar Shaeeri and Zoubedi fish can swim in through the nar­row­ing pas­sage, but can­not find their way out. “Each cage takes about seven or eight hours of non­stop work,” Nour said.

The Afghan fa­ther of three is a long way from his fam­ily and his land­locked home­town of Khost, lo­cated near the Pak­istan bor­der.

“I’ve been work­ing here for nine years,” he said.

Nour said he earns 25 dirhams (about $7) per fish­ing net, of which he makes one or two each day.

De­spite the long te­dious hours, some­times op­pres­sive heat, and rel­a­tively low fi­nan­cial re­turns, Nour stays.

“I’m happy be­cause I can make money to send to my fam­ily at the end of each month,” he said.

He is not alone.

No days off

For decades, the UAE has at­tracted hun­dreds of thou­sands of Asian peo­ple will­ing to do man­ual la­bor that the wealthy lo­cal pop­u­la­tion is not.

The in­dus­trial zone in Kalba is home to about 50 small en­ter­prises, Emi­rati-owned and em­ploy­ing about a dozen weavers each.

The em­ploy­ers pro­vide shared liv­ing quar­ters for the men, food — and tea.

The weavers, aged 18 to 60, work in their own open spa­ces with thatched roofs to shield them from the sun.

There are no days off. In­stead, ev­ery two years, work­ers are given a ticket home for a six-month un­paid break.

Ak­bar, a 55-year-old fa­ther, said he ar­rived in Kalba three decades ago from his na­tive city of Peshawar in Pak­istan.

As he nears com­ple­tion of his trap, Ak­bar said he plans to stay a few more years be­fore re­turn­ing to his coun­try.

“It is true that my hair is go­ing gray, but I still feel like a young man,” he said.

Sud­denly, Ak­bar stood up, grab­bing a blue rope tied to the ceil­ing. He took two steps back and leapt over the me­ter­high cage — mak­ing a per­fect land­ing in the un­fin­ished trap.

“It’s been 30 years and I still do this jump ev­ery day,” he grinned, to the ap­plause of nearby work­ers.

KARIM SAHIB / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

An Afghani fish­er­man weaves a fish­ing net in the town of Kalba in the east­ern United Arab Emi­rates on May 8.

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