They weave a livelihood on Emirati coast

They weave a livelihood on Emirati coast

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 labourers, 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 200 km west, 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 in the calm and oil-rich Gulf nation.

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 non-stop work," Nour explains.

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 says.

Nour says he earns about Rs 450 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 says. He is not alone.

For decades, the UAE has attracted hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Pakistanis, Filipinos and other Asian nationalities willing to do manual labour 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.

For many, it is too long a time to go without work, but it is a requirement tied to local labour laws.

Making the traps is a craft, as the worker must simultaneously grip and tie fine wires together evenly and very quickly to prevent the entire structure from collapsing before it is finished.

To avoid injury, the men tie pieces of cloth or fine aluminium around their fingers.

The only sound in this sleepy weaving community is the sound of Afghan or Pakistani news bulletins on small TV sets, or music played on mobile phones.

Herat sits on a chair listening to music from his native Afghanistan under the straw awning.

He faces a mirror to keep an extra eye on his net progress.

"This small fan gets me through the heat of the summer," says 30-year-old Herat. "The heat doesn't stop us from working," adds Herat.