Getting by on grit

6 min read
23 May 2017
6 min read
1024 words
From the Archive (Oct, 2016): For Jina Limbu, her pork shop is not just a means to make some money. It represents a stability she has finally found for herself

Jina Limbu was nine years old when she first learned how to brew raksi and help her single mother support their family. She was a short kid and remembers standing atop a stool to stir the alcohol brewing in large earthen pots. Limbu’s face would be covered with the smoke and steam from the brew. Today, she suspects the smoke particulates are the cause of her chronic eye problems. 

Limbu is the owner of Jina Meat Shop, popular in the Maharajgunj area for the shop’s pork, which she procures from Dharan. Located near Chakrapath, Maharajgunj, the shop’s small room serves two purposes. During the day, the room is a butcher’s shop—the front part, near the entrance, has a bench for her customers, two large marble tables, two round butcher’s blocks and two refrigerators. At night, this small room turns into a bedroom and kitchen—a neatly made bed is placed near a gas stove and a cupboard towards the end of the room. This setting has been Limbu’s home for the past three years. 

“In the early days, I would struggle with the cleaver. But over time, after many cuts on my hands, I learned how to be a butcher”

Limbu, 30 now, had to live through many upheavals before she became a butcher. Her eye problem, for starters, had started affecting her performance at school in Laxmi Marg, Morang, when she was 13. Although she sought medical assistance, her eyes continued watering, itching and swelling. At the same time, her relationship with her mother hit rock bottom—she said she wanted to live with her father, in Kathmandu, (he was separated from her mother), and that had left the mother, who had raised her, feeling betrayed and upset.

When she was 15, Limbu found a way to get away from her troubles. She fell in love and got married. By the time she was 16, Limbu had had her first child, followed by a second and a third in the next three years. By the time she was 20, Limbu was already looking after three children. Around the same time, her eye condition had worsened to the point of near blindness and her husband had left her for another woman. To make matters worse, Limbu was ostracised by her community for her husband’s taking on another wife. She realised that she would be unable to live a decent life in Laxmi Marg, and desperate for a way out, started inquiring about job opportunities outside her tiny village. Her cousin had gone to Malaysia, so Limbu made up her mind to go there too. When her husband and mother refused to support her decision financially, she began cutting and selling firewood to raise money for her passport, visa fees and eye operation. Limbu was eventually able to earn enough money and five months later, after getting an eye operation in Biratnagar, was finally out of Laxmi Marg, on a flight to Malaysia. 

Limbu spent the next year assembling parts in an electronics factory in Malaysia. Her job helped her earn a steady income, which she kept aside for her children, and it seemed like the dust was finally settling. But Limbu’s eyes started troubling her again, and the doctors at a hospital in Malaysia told her that her condition probably had to do with corneal abrasions.

Limbu returned to Nepal after receiving this news. She wasn’t going to go back to Laxmi Marg after everything the village had put her through, so she put up with relatives in Kathmandu. That didn’t work out when she started running out of cash—she had spent the money she had saved up for her children on yet another eye operation and on daily expenditures. During this time, she even tried to get away to Hong Kong but got ripped off in the process and lost most of her savings.

One day, as she was wandering the streets of Kathmandu, unemployed and broke, Limbu met a family friend from her village. He had come to deliver pork to a nearby shop. She learned that the shop was doing well, so Limbu thought she could try her hand at running a meat shop too. She had little money to buy a shop and no skills, but her friend was kind enough to give her a loan and tell her about a shop—previously owned by a butcher—that was up for sale.

A month later, customers had started trickling into Jina Meat Shop to buy pork imported from Dharan. “In the early days, some of my customers would offer to cut the meat themselves because I would struggle with the cleaver. But over time, after many cuts on my hands, I learned how to be a butcher,” says Limbu. 

Today, Limbu has repaid the money she had borrowed to start her shop. Her eyes are still not completely healed, but she isn’t going to get another operation—even though good eyesight is almost a prerequisite in her line of work. “Right now, my children are studying in the village, and I am saving up for my children’s future education,” she says. “I want them to come live with me and study in Kathmandu.”