In Bhatial, a rural village in the Jhelum district of Punjab, Pakistan, 42-year-old widow Zubeida Begum works as a domestic helper for several families who have migrated to the UK. These families return to their luxurious villas in Bhatial for a few weeks each winter, leaving the houses vacant for the rest of the year. Zubeida’s job is to maintain and clean these homes, ensuring they are ready for the families’ return.
During the year, Zubeida observes birds and squirrels making their homes in the empty villas. She compares the freedom of these animals to her own life, marked by uncertainty and financial struggles. As a widow, Zubeida faces discrimination and gossip in her village, making her cautious about her interactions with others.
Despite the challenges she faces, Zubeida takes pride in her work and finds solace in the stability and solitude of the villas. When the families return, she works long hours, cooking and serving meals, and cleaning up after their guests. She is grateful for the support her employers have provided over the years, including financial help for her daughters’ weddings and the purchase of necessary household items.
Zubeida’s life is a testament to resilience and determination, as she navigates the challenges of widowhood and poverty in a society that often marginalizes her. Her story offers a glimpse into the lives of those who maintain a connection to their ancestral homes, even as they build new lives in faraway lands.
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