William and the Black Hole
Deep under the bustling streets of Karachi, hundreds of sanitation workers toil away in toxic fumes with only a rope to help them up to keep our sewerage systems running smoothly, making it one of the filthiest professions of all time.
Walking past an uncovered gutter one day, I found myself thinking what a day in the life of a sanitation worker would be like. We often complain about the state of the city, how monsoon rains wreak havoc each year, how potholes have become a nuisance and how the stench and sight of overflowing sewerage holes take away from the ‘refined’ posh neighbourhoods. But we spend little time, if at all, to appreciate the things we have and to give a thought to those working under harsh conditions to make our lives easier.
I ventured into Karachi’s streets in hopes of capturing the harsh realities of the life of sanitation workers and face the things we often turn a blind eye to.
This photo feature, titled William and the black hole, follows the life of sanitation worker William Javaid, giving us a glimpse into a world that exists below our streets. This series of photographs shows a day in the life of William, an employee of the Clifton Cantonment Board (CBC), a freelancer and a family man.
William Javaid, 36, has been working as a sewerage cleaner for 10 years. He quit his job as a Rickshaw driver in Karachi so he could be applicable for pension.
William is one of the few sewerage cleaners at Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) who can fully submerge themselves in sewerage water, often necessary for clearing deeply-choked gutters. In this image, his assistant standing with a safety rope watches on.
William enjoys a smoke while working on one of the main roads of the posh residential area of Defence, Karachi.
William uses only his hands and feet to dislodge and scoop the sludge which is then pulled up in a bucket.
In this image, William works as his assistant stands by with a safety rope. Poisonous and often fatal gases can immerse unexpectedly while clearing the gutters. Some of William’s colleagues have choked to death as a result of not being pulled out in time. With no masks or protective gloves, a thin jute rope simply tied to the waist is their only ‘safety’ harness.
William smokes hashish before going inside the gutter. “I can’t bear the smell inside the gutter unless I am completely numb.”
Sanitation workers relax in between work at Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC), Khayban-e-Ghazi, Defence, as their supervisor (left) looks on.
William is caked with muck by the time he reaches Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) after a job.
William showers after work at the CBC office.
Sewerage cleaners place their belongings in the sun as it helps reduce the bad odour.
The changing room at CBC.
Every Sunday (on his day off) William works for ‘Tao’, an Asian cuisine restaurant located in Clifton, Karachi.
William is pictured with his daughter and aunts outside his home in Eesa Nagri, Gulshan Town, Karachi. His aunts run a small pan/cigarette cabin to support her family.
William returns exhausted after work to his one-bedroom apartment in Eesa Nagri. He dreams of owning a ‘Shehzor’ truck from which he can start a transport business.
William lives with his wife (not pictured) and children in a small one-bedroom apartment in Eesa Nagri. He sends his children to school despite earning as low as Rs12,000 ($120) a month. “It hurts when my children have to reveal my job to their friends and teachers at school,” he says.
William’s most prized possessions are displayed on the wall of his one bedroom apartment in Eesa Nagri, including personal and religious picture frames, crockery and his children’s trophies from school.
William displays his Facebook profile. People often contact him through the social platform whenever they need their gutter lines cleared.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
– Oscar Wilde
This story was edited by Ibriz Sheikh
If you would like to help William achieve his dream of running a transport business, get in touch with our social media editor [email protected], or send your donations to the following bank account:
Account title: Express Helpline Trust
Account no.: 0056-7900-2713-03
Swift code: HABBPKKA
Bank: Habib Bank Limited