| This is the 586th story of Our Life Logs® |
Each time we fall, we must rise a little higher.
In 1986, I was born in the slums of Kasur, Pakistan, a toxic place known for heinous crimes and activities. Truly, it’s a village drenched in ugliness. My childhood, unfortunately, matched. To understand more about my upbringing, I must tell a bit about my parents’ background.
Just two days after their marriage, my mother learned the true face of my father and tried to escape the life that was forced onto her by her parents. Upon realizing my mother’s plan to leave him, my father raped her. When she found out that she was pregnant with me, she had no choice but to stay and suffer.
There was a bit of hope within her as her belly grew. She thought that the birth of the child would change him, but he was never human enough to understand what being a parent meant.
My father resented my mother even more for birthing a girl. Even so, my mother loved me dearly and worked hard to provide for me. She’d go from house to house to do chores and such, making enough money to get by. My father would take more than half of that money for his drugs, so the rest was hardly enough to feed us both. When I got older, I began to help her with chores and earn money. Still, she couldn’t afford to send me to school. It was out of the question.
I could tell my mom wanted to hide her grief from me, but I always saw the pain held captive in my mother’s eyes. As a child, my only happiness was the lap of my mother. She would save me from my father’s wrath, and I felt safe with her.
When I was 11 years old, my mother fell ill. My father never even arranged a doctor for her. He was probably happy to be rid of her. It was the neighbors who got the village doctor to come out to check on her.
After examining her, the doctor broke the news to me. My mother had very little time to live. She was suffering from a disease that had no cure. After many years, I realized that it was AIDs. Within days after the prediction, she died. I had lost the only person I could ever rely on. If we had money for medicine and hospitals, perhaps she could have been saved. But our situation kept all of that out of reach.
I cried for days, starved, fell sick, but I had no rescue. I thought my mother’s death would melt my father’s heart a bit and that he would take me in his arms and cuddle me to sleep. Instead, he took me by the arm and sold me to a man for a few thousand rupees. I was too young to know what was happening. I thought my father was sending me off to the city with my uncle to study. I didn’t fully grasp that I was sold until I was about 15 years old. Before then, I was lost and confused.
When I was brought to the city, I was beaten and starved. I wanted to die so that I could see my mother. I was kept in a cellar type with some other kids of my age. When the other kids heard me cry, they said, “Get used to it.” During the day, the men sent us to beg for money in the streets of Lahore. I remember how weak my hands were when I stretched them out for a few rupees. Still, I stretched them out anyway. I had to. The men would hit us even more when we brought nothing home.
If you’re wondering why we had never gone to the police, it was because we didn’t know who the police were or how to approach them. The oldest kid in our group was 13 after all. We were naïve and threatened. We never thought of going to the police.
In time, their brutal beatings made me strong. I endured the hunger pangs, slaps to the face, and horrid nightmares with patience because I wanted time to plot my escape. I had decided that my father was enough to ruin my life; I wouldn’t let them do the same.
Three years. It took three years before I escaped.
I got help from the owner of a small general store that sat right in front of the spot where I was dropped every day to beg. The owner’s name was Brother Mushtaq. I told him the whole story and while he wanted to help, he kept the police out of it, knowing that the people responsible were powerful and dangerous. He was scared for his life as well as mine. He honestly didn’t have much hope in the police.
One day, he found a place to help me. He gave me two thousand rupees and a chit which had an address on it. I couldn’t read the address, of course, I was illiterate, but I heard him read the address to my taxi driver as I got in. It was an address to an orphanage that would take me in.
I will always be grateful and indebted to Brother Mushtaq. He was the miracle God blessed me with.
When I arrived at the orphanage, I presented my case to the caretakers and asked for refuge. I tried to get them to help the others who didn’t get out like me, but it seems that when I ran away, the captors became cautious and changed their spot. My beggar friends were sadly lost forever. I think about them every day.
I grew up in that orphanage with people who loved me and empathized with me. I was given domestic education where I learned how to stitch, cook, and all other things expected of women in Pakistan (in fact, I became one of the best cooks in the entire orphanage!). I absorbed all they taught and even made some good friends. Despite the fear and guilt I carried, I was no longer afraid to live.
I lived there until I was 20, and by then, my caretakers considered it their duty to wed me off. I didn’t have the slightest desire to get married, but I thought that I owed my caretakers my life. I thought to myself, if they wanted me to get married, I should say yes.
So, at 23, in a small intimate ceremony, I married a man I didn’t know. I was wedded to Shakil, who was 28 at that time and worked as a driver. Yes, I resented men after my father and after my antagonists, but my mother always told me to gather the positives out of every negative. I told myself that I would give this marriage my all.
The first two years of our marriage were fine. We even had a son together. But after that, Shakil decided to go off and marry another girl and he would not show up for days. He never gave us money for food or medicine. The one time I asked, he broke my arm.
Eventually, my husband threw me and my son out of the house, calling our son illegitimate and accusing me of betrayal. He wanted to get rid of me, so I gave him what he wanted. After all, my life thus far had made me strong. And now with a son of my own, I had to be stronger.
Marriage put me back to square one. No money, no education, no support, and no home. I went back to the orphanage, hoping that maybe from there I could start a whole new life. I knew that any long-term stay was impossible, but at least my son and I could have a roof over my head for a few days until I found work. Cooking and domestic chores were the only things I was good at, but working as a maid at some house was not what I wanted. I wanted a solid job, a job that could give my son a stable future.
It took me days to find a good job until one day one of the orphanage supervisors came to me and asked me to cook biryani (an Asian delicacy mostly spicy, made of rice and chicken). There was a feast organized for more than 100 children and adults, but the chef had fallen sick. Knowing that I was good at cooking, they offered me the job.
Oh my, the spices that flowed from the kitchen that day were enough to take hold of all my senses. Their warmth consumed the air and it breathed life back into me. Needless to say, the dinner was a success. And after the dinner, I was paid a good amount for my work.
I praise God every single day for that opportunity.
Word got out and I slowly started to get orders like that, however, that wasn’t really enough, so I never stopped looking for other opportunities. I needed a place of my own and a good amount of money to build a promising future for my son. With the help of the orphanage supervisors who referred me, I was able to get a really good job at a catering company. Along with the job came an offer for a room to stay in. I’d never felt so blessed.
It’s been now almost 10 years since I started working for the catering company, and my position in life has greatly improved. I can now afford to rent a house and send my son to a good school. Things are better now, but I don’t forget where I came from. Those bad experiences taught me to be strong, independent, and so incredibly empathetic to all I meet. And, with my experience and opportunity now, I will give my son the future I could never have. I know in my heart that my mother would be proud.
This is the story of Gul Bahar
Gul is a strong woman who has been through so much yet still in high spirits. Gul was 11 when her mother died, which led to her father selling her off. When she was able to get free, Gul was met with a horrible marriage years later. Still, Gul did not give up hope. She looked for opportunity and created a happy life for her and her son.
She wants to open her own catering company one day. For now, she wants her son (now 11) to get the education she couldn’t so that her son could he can dream. As an adult, Gul never really thought of finding out about her father. As far as she knows, he might have also died from AIDS, like her mother. She feels better off not knowing. Her childhood is a chapter she never wants to read again. She is content with the life she has built with her son.
This story first touched our hearts on April 21, 20201.
Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Colleen Walker