A dream cafe | Political economics


hah Puri, 50, a mother of four, has opened a fancy cafe in Booni, Upper Chitral, one of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s less developed areas. The cafe serves traditional cuisines to tourists and the local community. The kitchen is entirely managed by women.

Booni is a three hour drive from the town of Chitral. It is famous for its hospitality and its cultural richness and is the administrative seat of the Haut Chitral district. It has many tourist attractions including scenic views of the Hindu Kush mountain range. The inhabitants speak 12 indigenous languages. The people of Booni are Koh, which means mountain, and they speak Kho-war (war = language), which is spoken and understood throughout the Chitral Valley.

The Nan Café (Nope = mother in Kho-war) is an inspiring story of women’s empowerment in a field where they have traditionally had limited employment opportunities.

Shah Puri had previously lived in a small village. Hoping to secure a better future for her four children, she and her husband Mir Janan decided to move to the nearest town, Booni, where he started working as a caretaker in a private school. Later, she and her husband opened a cafeteria at school, where she served homemade meals.

For 15 years, Shah Puri ran the cafeteria. She always dreamed of starting her own business. Due to the lack of investment, she was reluctant. To make the mother’s dream a reality, one of her daughters, Shahida Parveen and her son Tahir ud Din presented the idea of ​​Nan Cafe to the KP Impact Challenge program, a collaboration between Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The objective of the initiative is to promote competition, entrepreneurship and innovation with economic and social impact, and to provide economic opportunities to talented young people in the KP. In January 2018, the family received a grant of Rs 1.5 million. Within months, they created the cafe.

Shah Puri, together with her daughter and daughter-in-law, a professional chef, run the kitchen. Her husband and two sons serve customers.

The menu is simple with a traditional twist. Some of the dishes served are Shu’la, beef and rice cooked in beef broth; Chamborogh, a dried apricot smoothie; Kavirogh; Ghalmandi; Cheerashapik; Shoshp, Chamani; Zholai Tikki; Lazheek; Sheetu; Alu Muxhi; and Shupinak Muxhi. They also offer catering and delivery services.

A dream cafe

Women-owned businesses in the northern regions of Pakistan are booming. Besides teaching and medicine, women are beginning to join the food and hospitality industry, supporting their families by earning a living independently.

Local handicrafts were displayed on the walls. To make their visit memorable, tourists can buy them as souvenirs. The cafe also offers online services where people can buy handicrafts and dried fruits.

Shah Puri’s eldest son, Tahir ud din, says that at first his mother and sister faced resistance from the community. “They would disdainfully say that it’s against our culture and our beliefs for women to work openly in the market,” he says.

Tahir worked as a research associate at the provincial assembly of the KP. “Due to extreme resistance from the community, I had to quit my job and join the cafe with my mother and sister,” he says. We agreed that the women should do the cooking and the men would be responsible for looking after the customers. The idea worked. Some of those who were against coffee have become regular customers. Over the past four years, Shah Puri and her daughters have become role models for other women in the district. “In Booni, a large number of women have joined the hospitality industry by setting up small guesthouses in guest rooms in their homes. Local women also offer local food to tourists,” the son explains.

From March to October, it is the high season when tourists flock to Chitral. However, during harsh winters, no one wants to visit the region. Shah Puri says, “one year after launch, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit Booni hard and severely affected his business.” She recalls, “At that time, we couldn’t pay the rent… When the district administration set up an emergency hospital for Covid patients in Booni, we started working with them as part of a food supply contract. It was for a short time, but we managed to pay our rent and utilities and cover our other expenses.

Women-owned businesses in the northern regions of Pakistan are booming. Besides teaching and medicine, women are beginning to join the food and hospitality industry, supporting their families by earning a living independently.

A dream cafe

The Nan Cafe also provides indirect employment for local women. “We hired eight families, five from Booni and three from out of town. These families provide milk, cheese, butter and vegetables. Sometimes we have more orders than we can handle ourselves and we ask them to cook traditional dishes at home to serve to customers here,” says Tahir ud din.

Shah Puri is an inspiring story of struggle against the odds and success. The women behind Nan Cafe are inspirational and purposeful.

The author is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

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