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  • She was shy of having her picture taken. It may have been the first time someone wanted to do so, though I doubt it because she was such a pretty child.
    “No baji ,” she smiled. “I feel shy.”
    She must have been around seven or eight, running around here and there on the sand.
    It was a nice sunny day in November when we decided to visit Khanpur Lake . There wasn’t much to do at home because it was Sunday and electricity load-shedding had been quite frequent that day.
    I spotted her running around with her brother, trying hard to sell the cheap snacks that both carried in little baskets.
    Barefoot on the burning sand, she stood and stared at children riding the camel. What was she thinking, I wondered.
    I watched her walk by a family of picnickers who sat with a feast spread out before them.
    I watched while she stopped at a distance from them and her tawny brown eyes followed the hands that moved from the plate to their mouths.
    Her brother, perhaps a year or two older, stood next to her trying to arrange the packets of chips and biscuits neatly in the hope of attracting buyers. I didn’t see anyone buy anything from them, though a few people did throw some coins into their baskets as if the children were beggars.
    She soon spotted me looking at her and a bright smile spread over her face. She must have thought I wanted to buy something. Tugging at her brother’s sleeve, she pointed in my direction and both children ran towards me.
    “Baji, would you like to have chips?” he asked me.
    I wondered what to say. I shook my head and saw their eyes dim with disappointment.
    I figured I might as well give them some money to help them anyway. But the idea of treating them like beggars felt somewhat embarrassing.
    “I would like to take a picture of you,” I said.
    Both of them looked at each other as a third little girl came and stood next to them. She too held a basket of snacks .
    The two siblings talked to each other in their own language for a while. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but the excited tone of the little girl and the head-shaking of her brother told me he would need convincing.
    “I’ll pay you for it,” I said taking out a hundred Rupee note and extending it towards them.
    The boy nodded and nudged his sister. She smiled shyly and moved back.
    “No, baji,” she smiled. “I feel shy.”
    “Oh it’s alright,” I said taking out my camera. “See?” I held it up for her to see.
    “Do you have other pictures?” her brother asked, moving closer to me.
    “Yes, yes, see here.”
    I showed them some of the pictures I had taken earlier; of sunsets and flowers; old people and young children; inanimate and animate objects. They kept whispering to each other excitedly the whole time.
    I took a couple of pictures and gave them the promised money. Almost immediately, they started bickering over who would get to keep the money. Just like siblings the world over. Except these siblings had no proper home over their heads and no guarantee of food the next time their tummy growled.


    Notes:

    1. Baji: Urdu word meaning “older sister”. Used to address an older sister to show respect instead of using her name. It is common for these children to address people in this way.
    2. Khanpur Lake and dam is an hour away from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. It’s a beautiful place and is quite popular amongst tourists and locals alike. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khanpur_Dam
    3. Load shedding: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Pakistan
    4. Children selling snacks: Most of these children belong to refugee families who fled Afghanistan during the 1980s Soviet war as well as diplomats,traders, businesspersons, workers, exchange students, tourists and other visitors. As of March 2009, some 1.7 million registered Afghan nationals were reported to be living in Pakistan, majority of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and northwestern Balochistan. Many of them were born and raised in Pakistan in the last 30 years but are still counted as citizens of Afghanistan.Those designated as refugees are under the protection and care of theUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and provided legal status by the Government of Pakistan to remain in the country. (From Wikipedia)
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