A Homeless Story:
How to Survive on the Street?
When a person finds himself in a difficult circumstances, loses a house, when there is no money to rent an apartment, many other problems arise. Later, it is very difficult to return to normal life.
Even 30 years ago, people in Dushanbe did not know such a word as 'bomzh' [homeless person living on the streets – Tr.]. Either there were none at all, or they were hiding, but the fact remains. Although, people say that the word 'bomzh' came from the USSR: it meant a person of no fixed abode. Then, after the 1992-1997 civil war, they suddenly appeared. These were mostly drunken men, not Tajiks who were left on the street. Some of them were tricked out of the apartments – they were forced to re-register their housing and received insignificant money for that. Others chose the slippery slope and ended up at the very bottom. Nobody noticed how everyone got used to this word.

Later, women appeared among the homeless. However, it is still difficult to get used to the fact that there are Tajik women among them, because the Tajiks did not usually leave their sisters on the street. It was a shame. Unfortunately, people no longer think so. They simply do not notice, or pretend not to notice…
A Story of a Tajik Woman Who Spent More Than Half of Her Life on the Streets .
Sharifgul is 53
She grew up in a good family, was the sixth of ten children.
- We had a good life and normal living conditions. When I turned 20, I got married by my parents' decision. I got pregnant three months after the wedding. When I was two months pregnant, my husband disappeared. We lived together only for five months. He drove carts in the market; I found out that he was a drug addict. Since then, I never heard anything about him.

The Beginning of a Bitter Life
- After my husband disappeared, I returned to my mother's house, where my brothers and their wives lived
In Tajikistan, when a woman returns to her parents' house after a divorce, she expects nothing good. Families are large, they all live together. As a rule, sons with their wives and children live with the parents. Nobody needs another resident. There are unwritten rules in Tajik families, according to which a divorced woman plays a role of a silent servant. The parental home is the sons' property.
- I was tired of screaming and accusations and tried to find a job. In that house, I was unwanted, constantly accused, bullied, and tortured in general.

I was pregnant, when I went to spend the night in the Vahdat city hospital. There was a boiler room inside and two small rooms. There were two more women there. They let me in and I came to spend the night there.

After the birth of my daughter, I got a job as a security guard in the boiler room where I lived, next to the water pipes.
During the day, I would wrap my daughter in some kind of cloth and go out to find food for myself. I raised her on the street, in the snow and rain, slept under the balconies.
At the place where I lived, an old man replaced me during shifts. We got married according to the Muslim tradition, in the presence of witnesses. We even arranged a small meal for everyone. I told myself that I would take care of this old man for the rest of his life.

He already had a family: a wife, children and a house, but he lived with me. His wife came and fought me. Once, she came and stayed there with him, and I found myself on the street again. Then I swore to myself that I would find a job. However, we lived in this boiler room with him for almost seven years, and later he died of diabetes.
Later, I started working at a public toilet. I collected money for the entrance, and laid the child on the ground next to the toilet. Every time she got wet, I washed the diapers, and wrapped her in another cloth, right there on the ground. Everyone said that my child would die, but if God gives a life, then nothing will kill her. Then, I turned to the department of social protection of the population, and my daughter was sent to a kindergarten. She went there until starting school.

Since then, I was spending the nights at any random place.
The most frustrating thing was that friends and family began to avoid me. If a person is having difficult times or becomes poor, no one needs him anymore.

Especially, when parents die, brothers and sisters become strangers to each other. Everyone is busy with his or her own lives. I have brothers. Sometimes I think about them. Why does not any of them call me?
I Work to Survive or to Keep Myself Busy
- When my daughter grew up, she began to help me. We spent all our time on the streets, both in the heat and in the cold. For some time, my daughter and I washed refrigerators in the market of Vahdat city. We spent the nights there for many years. The electricity was cut off in winter, so we did not even have the opportunity to drink hot tea, and drank cold water. Now, sometimes I go to sleep at my sister's house.
My daughter got married. I was left alone, and if I went to my father's house, no one would like it. It is better to work on the streets so as not to hear their abuse and criticism. A stranger will feel sorry and help, but not the relatives. I have to work to survive…
For the past few years, I make my living by collecting empty plastic bottles. To do this, you need to go out early, otherwise the street cleaners will collect everything themselves. At 5AM, several other women and I leave Vahdat for Dushanbe, more precisely, for the Sadbarg shopping center. We search for the bottles near the shops, pay 5 somoni ($0.5) for a taxi in the evening, bring our bags with bottles back and sell them to the oil sellers in Vahdat market. They pay 4-5 somoni (about $0.5) for one bag.
One late evening, my two friends and I could not go home, and stayed to sleep at the bus stop, near Sadbarg shopping center, on the bags with bottles. Police officers approached us, and we pretended to be asleep. They know us; know that we collect bottles. They said, "These ones are tired" and went away. (Sharifgul sadly smiles).

In general, the police officers in Dushanbe let us work; they even help us sometimes, but the Vahdat police officers do not. We get up at night and collect bottles in the dark. Sometimes, they are surprised how we manage to arrive so early and fill our bags.

Sometimes, I feel so sad, I do not know what to do. Sometimes, I take money I earn and go to visit my sister in Norak city. People tell me not to work, they offer their help, but I do it to keep myself busy. If I do not, I can die of grief…

However, I would like to emphasize that there are many good people in Vahdat. Everyone in the city knows that I have no home; they see me on the streets, recognize me and help me.
Coronavirus and Work
We did not stay at home a single day,
because we do not have this very home…
- Such scary things are happening around, people are sick with coronavirus, but we continue to travel for our bottles. People were scared, they stayed in their homes, and we still collected our bottles. We did not even wear the masks in the midst of the epidemic. We did not stay at home a single day, because we do not have this very home…
Believe it or not, we did not get sick. I carry a mask in my purse, but I do not wear it, it is hard for me to breathe in it. If I ever use it, I wash it once, and if not, then it just lies in my bag. I did not even take any medications to prevent the infection. However, I am very sick; I feel that I have some kind of stomach problem. I know that my illness is caused by the grief. I went to the doctors, they said that a surgery is needed, but I have no money…
The Broken Happiness of Sharifgul's daughter
My daughter got married for the second time in the Rudaki district, and her life is getting better.
- My daughter also got married and had a daughter, but her husband left her, and she returned to me. Since we did not have our own home, her child was always with us on the street, received a sunstroke, and was exhausted. Seeing our suffering, several compassionate Vahdat residents offered to buy a child, but I refused. I know that we can be brought to justice under the law for this.

I was very scared that the child would die on the street. So that she does not suffer as we do, I collected 13 certificates and documents with the help of my sister, and when the child was five months old, I brought her to the orphanage.

My granddaughter was born in the Istiqlol hospital. Now she is raised by a woman in one of the Vahdat villages in accordance with the official documents for adoption. My daughter got married for the second time in the Rudaki district, and her life is getting better.
The Importance of Clean Clothes
Our biggest problem is clothing. We are used to judging a person by the appearance. Therefore, if we get dirty or smell bad, people will not even let us in a car. I try to keep my clothes clean, but since I do not have a permanent home, washing is a big problem for me. We hide our clothes in different places and wear a change in the bag. If our clothes get dirty, we go and change them.

It is easier to wash clothes in summer, because it is hot and the clothes dry quickly. However, in winter, it is very difficult to do it; the only way is to ask someone. I have a friend in Dushanbe, in winter, when there is nowhere to wash, I ask her. She lets wash our clothes and ourselves. However, I am not overusing it. I go there just once in a while.

In summer, sometimes we walk along the banks of the river: there are many bottles there. When the weather is hot, we go into the river in our clothes, and it dries quickly. However, you cannot do that in winter. There are many of us here. There is another woman with her daughter, and wherever we go, we stick together.
Of course, I cannot say that my life is comfortable, but I provide myself with everything I need. Today we had kurutob for lunch (Tajik national dish – Ed.) for 10 somoni ($1). Earlier, I bought a watermelon, and we ate it with two friends.
Wishing to Get Enough Sleep
Of course, we must do our best to survive. I am wishing to get enough sleep. We get up early, long before the dawn, when most people are still asleep. There is nowhere to sleep during the day, and I get very tired. In the morning, I slept a little under the trees, but all sorts of young people go by here, they are drunk. I am afraid of them, so I could not fall asleep.

Even during the Ramadan month, we fasted, but we did not have a place to sleep. Once, the police officers almost arrested us when we were sleeping on the street. We filled the bags with bottles and went to Dushanbe being very tired. We left them in the shade and slept, when suddenly police officers arrived and wanted to take us to a homeless shelter. One friend of mine was awake and told them, "they are fasting and tired, so they sleep here, but they have their own homes". Therefore, we were not detained.
Sharifgul's biggest dream is to own a home.
Once, before the Ramadan holiday, we were invited to the hukumat (local authority) of Vahdat and were given 80 somoni (about $8) each.

I once contacted the local newspaper "Kommuna" and asked for a plot of land. Then, they said they directed the address to the jamoat (village council), but when I went there and asked, they answered that there was nothing like that. It is clear that this also requires money…

The Statistical Agency under President of Tajikistan told that they do not yet have accurate data on the number of homeless citizens. During the last population census, in 2010, only 19 such people were registered.
Khukmiddin Nasriddinov, deputy head of the Demography Department of the Statistical Agency, told that they could provide updated data after the general population census, scheduled for early October this year.

Khukmiddin Nasriddinov
District police officers are controlling this, and when they detain a person on the street, they take him to local offices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in cities and regions. If it is determined that a person has nowhere to live, he is registered as homeless
Khukmiddin Nasriddinov.
According to him, the Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment of Population employs the homeless citizens

The Dushanbe police department reported that all those detained during the raids, including the homeless, vagrants and beggars, are taken to a special reception center. After identification, most of them are released if they have somewhere to go.

"Those who have nowhere to live, are placed in a special reception center for the poor and homeless in Dushanbe, where they are provided with hot meals and a place to sleep," the capital's police department reported.
Our source did not state the exact number of homeless people, but said that the Dushanbe Department of Internal Affairs provides homeless citizens with jobs within the framework of the "Program on Advocacy for the Promotion of Urban Ethics and Improvement, and Legal Awareness of the Capital Residents". These people are employed and provided with work, for example, to clean 'aryks' (irrigation drains and water canals – Ed.), gardens and parks.