Abadan is a city of contrasts. The nicely built and affluent “Braim” and “Bavarda” is contrasted with the shanty poor neighborhoods of “Dogheh” and “Ahmad-Abad.”
In this town there are beautiful and large buildings, but there are also dungeon houses that need lamps for visibility in broad daylight. There are a group of people that have neither a big beautiful house, nor a small dark den. These are the refugees, beggars, and the orphaned children of Abadan. Fati, the heroine of this story is one of them. I met Fati in my recent trip to Khozestan, and this is a report of my visit with this adventurous girl. — F. Saba
A Girl Who at 14 Has 35 Children Fati the Principal of Abadan Beggars Organization!
Fati is the mother of orphaned beggars of Abadan, and unfortunately Abadan has lots of beggars many of whom are orphans. Passing through any street and back alley you will see hands that are extended towards you and mouths that are glued to your hands. “Fati” the 14-year old girl, who herself has two needy hands, has gathered many of the needy, abandoned, and homeless kids around herself and in effect has formed a small organization of beggars. This organization does not train beggars but rather helps the homeless children, and at times with a bite of food and a pair of shoes saves a life.
Fati takes care of twenty to thirty little Abadani beggars. At times her army is even bigger. The beggars who surround Fati are eight to twelve years old, and surprisingly there is not even a single girl among them, which makes Fati the only girl in the group who also has the role of leader, commander, and mother of these little beggars. Among this group, there is a kid from every city and village, and at times children from far cities of Iran who gather together as brothers and beg. They all respect Fati and they have never disobeyed her commands.
Every day at eight in the morning, they all gather in front of the Oil Company Personnel Office and greet each other until Fati shows up. When Fati gets out of her house all chatters stop and the young beggars wait her orders. Fati has allocated a specific working neighborhood for each beggar and no one is allowed to trespass into other person’s territory. When all the group members are present Fati greets each boy and asks him how he is doing. She asks each kid if he has had breakfast, or if he has slept well last night.
Anyone who has not had breakfast is treated to a breakfast by Fati who gets him something from the local vendors, bread shops, and oil company workers. Three or four years ago Fati would line up the kids, call the roll, and with one two command review the troops. Of course this was a childish play since three to four years ago Fati was a mere child herself. But, nowadays Fati does not have any stomach for that, since three or four years of caring and supervising twenty to thirty orphaned beggars has been hard on a young girl like Fati. A responsibility that as Fati puts it “makes one old!” In Fati’s face there is not the slightest sign of joy and excitement of a 14-year old girl. She weighs her words before speaking and she talks in a manner that the listener automatically pays attention and does not dare to interrupt.
Fati says, “I have become a mother without getting married, and at fourteen I have thirty six boys. They know me as their mother, and my only wish is to increase my children to one hundred.”
When Fati is done with the roll call she sends each boy to his work area. The beggar kids are scattered in the city and start their work.
From eight to noon Fati’s schedule is as follows:
First she stops at cafés, restaurants, and tea houses (coffee shops) to collect her daily dues. Don’t be alarmed by the word “dues.” All the shop owners and vendors know Fati and help her willingly. Fati is not a beggar. She is a young girl who as a lonely refugee is not ready to die and for this reason employs any means that is useful to continue the life.
When Fati enters a shop, she never asks for anything, but the owner voluntarily gives her daily ration.
What Fati receives from her supporters is generally food. One person gives her few pieces of bread, another some food, and the third few rials of money. Fati carries and stores these supplies in her house, and then tends to her second agenda item.
This part is comprised of inspecting the streets and looking after the boys. To get to all the work areas she often borrows a bicycle or even at times rides a motor cycle.
Of course seeing a 14-year old girl who skillfully rides a motor cycle was amazing to Abadani people at first, but now they have gradually gotten used to it and know this girl well.
When twelve noon comes, Fati returns to her house and gets ready to serve her little orphaned beggars.
The children arrive one after the other and once more the intimate gathering of the beggars is convened.
Each boy hands over whatever he has received in begging to Fati. Fati brings out her food supply and the kids eat their lunch in an atmosphere full of laughter and kinship.
Then every one depending on his daily earnings gives some money, not exceeding ten rials, to Fati, who spends it in buying tea, sugar cubes, and sometimes fruits. She brews tea in a smoke blackened teapot and serves it to the kids.
After lunch the kids lie in the sun in the alley, kid each other, tell stories of funny incidents of the day, and at times get into arguments and fights with each other.
One of Fati’s difficult tasks is to resolve the conflicts between the kids and adjudicate the guilty ones.
She is well familiar with the temperaments and personalities of her kids, knows very well each person’s naughty and mean streaks, and uses all this information in her judgment which is obeyed by everyone as a decree and an order.
Fati, the leader of Abadan beggars organization starts the day with a glass of milk.
Fati’s house is shown by the arrow to the left. Fati climbs up to the roof of the house from the tower, and then jumps in through a hole on the roof.
One of Fati’s boys called Hamzeh told me, “We often used to gather adjacent to national garden and play cards. We had an excellent new deck of cards. Two days ago Fati gathered us all and said no more gambling starting today. She gave each of us two or three cards and told us to tear them up. We tore the cards, burned them, and have not gambled since then.” This same Hamzeh recounts Fati’s kindness and sincerity, “She is our mother. On Fridays we all follow her to the movies. Whoever has money pays six or seven rials for his own ticket and whoever does not have any money mother pays for him. But mother gets in free. Any movie house that she goes, they let her in free.”
Fati’s boys rest two hours after lunch and then are back on the streets begging until evening when they go to their sleeping quarters.
One sleeps on some vendor’s carry cart, another under some café’s doorway, and the third in a cavern. But Fati herself has a house, which is as amazing as Fati.
One of the oil company workers says, “Fati has a younger brother named Hassan. Seven or eight years ago they were both children and would sleep in our back alley during summers and winters. At nights when I went home I would find a torn sack or an old quilt and cover them. This brother and sister grew up like that, and had no place until a few months ago. The head of the oil company fire department, who is an Englishman, gave the small room shown above to Fati and her brother.”
But what is this small room? This room was originally built to house a transformer, but was left unused later on. There is a steel tower, like a communication tower, surrounding the house.
Swift as a cat Fati climbs the tower to the roof of the little room and enters it through an existing hole. She has discovered this means of entry herself, since the room has no door, and could only be accessed through the hole on the roof. But Fati and her brother are not the only residents of this room. In the evenings there are three to four other guests too. Any of the beggars who cannot find a sleeping quarter, naturally comes and sleeps in Fati’s room.
At six in the morning Fati wakes up before everybody else, climbs down the tower, and gets to the refinery entrance which is ten steps from her home. At this early morning hour before the sun has woken up, there is pandemonium in front of this refinery gate. One vendor sells tobacco, another fresh bread and jam, and a third has a tray full of hot potatoes and shouts, “Hot potato, baked potato…” The workers in groups and flocks, on bicycles or on foot, enter the refinery. Fati joins this group of early risers, greets them, and at times, with their insistence and invitation, shares their breakfast. Fati, who is taciturn and distant with strangers, is quite close, pleasant, smiley faced, and talkative with these workers. In effect they all are her protectors and swear to her innocence and purity.
Fati is quite selective and obsessive with the selection of her boys. Often the boys, in the morning or at noon, bring a young beggar from the city, and tell Fati, “He wants to join us!”
But Fati does not accept a new member that easily, and has to investigate the kid for two or three days. Fati’s life is full of devotion and sacrifice. One of her boys says, “Fati did not have decent clothes until two months ago. The clothes you see on her now were given to her by an English person. Two months ago, Fati did not even have shoes. One day we all gathered and one kid as our spokesman said, ‘Fati, the boys say you must buy shoes for yourself!’ ” But, Fati said, “Where do I bring the money from?”
We all said, “Buy in installments, we will pay for it!” That day we went to the bazaar and bought Fati a pair of shoes on credit.
The kids who gather around Fati, at times get into arguments with each other, but when an outsider tries to bother or hurt them display a strong unity and alliance. Karim, one of these refugee children said,
“Few months ago, the city officers threw Fati out of her house. The next day, we all gathered and went to police station number six. The night of that day we all slept along the outside walls of the police station and continued to be a nuisance at the station. They finally allowed Fati to go back and live in that little room!”
Such is the life of Fati and her refugee and orphaned friends. Most of these kids don’t even know who their parents are. Just like mushrooms after a rain they raise their heads above the ground, and like forest mushrooms that live near the roots and trunk of a sturdy tree, these orphaned refugee children live under the shelter of love and kindness of Fati, the beggar on a motor cycle. When I think about Fati’s life, this meaningful sentence from a writer comes to my mind, “There are two kinds of heroes, those whose names are written in history books, and those who no one knows their names even at their death beds.” Fati is from this latter group. She has established an orphanage without a penny to her name and takes care of these orphans by means of begging. In truth one must say, Fati is an unknown heroine!�