KATHMANDU, Nepal (GPI)-- Indra Chowk, a lively square in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is always crowded. Even on the busy footpaths, vendors spread goods ranging from vegetables to clothes on sacks and wait for customers.
“Since two decades, I have supported my family through this business on the footpath,” vendor Laxmi Adhikari says as she struggles to move the large pack of clothing she has brought to sell.
It’s sweltering under the noon sun, and the dust and din from passing vehicles shroud the makeshift market. But Adhikari, 38, arranges her goods to attract customers with a smile on her face.
“This footpath has become my home and my world,” she says. “I will continue to work on the footpath until I die.”
Originally from the Nuwakot district north of Kathmandu, she married at the age of 17. Her new family was big, including her husband’s parents and their four sons and five daughters. Adhikari, who never received formal education, says she was immediately responsible for all the chores in her new house.
At 4 a.m., she began cooking, feeding the family and washing the dishes. Next, she worked in the field, fetched fodder for the cattle and carried firewood from the forest. She also cared for her husband’s younger siblings until 10 p.m.
“I worked very hard, but my in-laws never spoke kindly nor treated me well,” she says.
Adhikari grew tired of depending on others to buy anything she needed.
“Even [though] I worked 18 hours a day, I did not have a single cent at hand, nor did my in-laws acknowledge my hard work,” she says. “Therefore, I decided to leave my house with 100 rupees that I had with me since long.”
So Adhikari, three months pregnant, left her house with $1.15 to find her husband, who had gone to Kathmandu in search of work.
She reached her husband’s rented room in Kathmandu but says her life in the city was soon worse than in the village. Her husband was unemployed, so they struggled to pay rent and buy food. On top of that, her due date was approaching.
“A few of our acquaintances were making their living through the footpath businesses,” she says. “As we couldn’t see any other alternative, we listened to their advice, and my husband and I decided to start the same business.”
Adhikari began by selling slippers on the footpaths of the main business centers of Kathmandu. Short, thin and pregnant at a young age, she recalls that she had to carry loads of goods weighing 80 to 100 kilograms (176 to 220 pounds).
“Even on the day before my delivery, I carried all the goods myself,” Adhikari says. “When you are happy at heart, you do not feel any kind of pain.”
The heavy lifting became worth it when she counted the money she had saved.
“With every day’s saving, I had collected 6,000 [rupees],” she says, amounting to $70 for the first six months of her business venture. “Probably, it was the happiest day of my life, after the day of my marriage.”
She says she was thrilled when she had to spend only 1,200 rupees ($14) of her savings on her postnatal care. Fifteen days after her delivery, she placed the baby under her husband's care at home and got back to her business.
“I think I can earn more than my husband,” Adhikari says. “Therefore, I handed over the child to him and I returned to business.”