In Pakistan small businesses sprout like mushrooms. Every patch of public land – every street corner, every piece of pavement, every bit of waste ground – can become a business, given an entrepreneurial Pakistani and a few basic supplies. Mochis (cobblers) set up their stalls everywhere, with little more than a couple of tins of polish, a brush or two, and a needle and thread. Subzi-wallahs (vegetable sellers) collect a few wooden boxes, fill them with peaches and cauliflowers and tomatoes, and make a living from it. Even hairdressers rig up a canopy under a tree, affix a mirror to the tree trunk, find a chair, and bingo – a business is born.
This morning I got my hair cut under a tree. The barber, a pleasant guy from Gujranwala, chatted amicably about Pakistan, the UK, and the price of tomatoes while he snipped and trimmed. A Pashtun man from Dir wandered over and sat down to listen to what we had to say, before saying that I was their “mehman” (guest) and would be welcome any time to visit his family.
On the downside, cars kept stopping to have a good laugh at the foreigner getting his hair cut under a tree. On the upside, though, I got to tell two Pakistani men how much I respected and liked their country, how much I want there to be peace and prosperity in Pakistan, and also a haircut. All for 40p. Not a bad way to spend half an hour.