Image Credit: Silvia Baron

The dust that rises from the ground is as grey and vapid as the construction workers' boots. Plod, plod, the men in hard hats and overalls scuff through loose cement and rubble, and queue.

The temperature reads 41C with 75 per cent humidity.

The queue lengthens quickly.

The word must have spread. After all, today is like any other Thursday noon ritual where they get to savour home food. The news travels via jubilant shouts and gestures. In less than five minutes, most of the workers on the site stand in line, serried.

But Saba Qizilbash and her group haven't finished setting up the makeshift food counter.

That will happen after they erect the foldable canopy. Then they will arrange the steaming utensils and divide drinks and yoghurt into stations. During this well-organised operation, a few workers will step forward to help, offering a wooden platform on which to place the food. Each member will then take charge of a specific duty.

While the workers wait, Qizilbash, founder of Mums Who Share and her group, organises the ritual. The familiarity exposes itself in the way the tasks are carried out - democratically and effortlessly.

And in the way acknowledgment is conveyed - nods and smiles. These workers know all of them, except first-time volunteer Lyndsay Lentine who will later admit that she was amazed at the amount of food collected and impressed by how fast the members distributed it.

With the canopy in place, the group articulates sentences with marked urgency. Pita bread packets, disposable tableware, ladles… all need hands-on attention. The items on the menu include vegetable curries, rice and halwa, plus drinks and yoghurts.

Synthetic odours of brickwork mingle with the aromas of food.

The group moves fast, ladling food into bowls and handing out chilled laban and soft drinks. Despite the speed of the 45-minute operation, Qizilbash is circumspect, keeping an eye on the fast-depleting supplies and hoping there will be enough for second servings.

Beads of sweat festoon her brow. Yet the discomfort, if any, isn't palpable. She continues, impervious to the weather and the physical nature of the ritual, helping until the last few workers get a share, some using hard hats to receive packets of biscuits and yoghurt.

Against the billowing dust, the smiles of gratitude are perceptible. The workers quaff their drinks and walk away elated carrying the spooned-out gravy and bread. By 12.30pm, the canopy is folded and stashed in one of the 4x4s. Qizilbash and her group exit the area.

On the map,the construction site is ten minutes away from their homes, but you will find acres of generosity in between.

Earlier that day

By 9.45am most of the supplies were dropped off at Qizilbash's home at Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), the collection point. The members Shahneela Ghafur, Sobia Ansari, Asra Sharjeel, Sarah Nouman, Anu Chopra and Amal Talib chatted excitedly. First-time volunteer Lentine was there too.

Qizilbash's house help, Shamim Anayat, flitted around offering refreshments and attending to the front door that hadn't stopped ringing since 8am. The supplies kept piling up. It was in response to the appeal posted on the Mums Who Share Facebook page. The group had specified it would appreciate all kinds of food including lentils and fruit, and other items like clothes and blankets.

Since 2008, the members of this informal group have fine-tuned several aspects of the operations. They prepare both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. They work out ways to stretch the supplies by keeping track of tableware units handed out.

They increase the quantity of beverages in the summer. They consider feedback from the workers if they plan a second visit to the same site. They prepare care packages of essentials and special treats to mark auspicious days. They even raise funds for various causes. (The most recent was for the Pakistan floods.)

It wasn't always this organised. Several group members were doing some form of charity in their own capacity. Qizilbash began serving plated meals in remembrance of her deceased father - a gesture for blessings. In a short while, she realised there were others willing to cook and distribute food. Consequently, a group formed and adopted a name. The commitment that was born of goodwill today has close to 200 members with a focus on sharing, regardless of the quantity.

The phones, like the doorbell, kept ringing.

Coordination is an integral part of the process for which Qizilbash ensures that mums confirm their participation by Wednesday each week. That doesn't always happen. On some days unexpected volumes of food show up at her front door.

At her residence, the chatter revolved around the event and spun off happily into anecdotes from their personal lives. Yet they reeled in enough attention to complete the task at hand. The dishes were reheated; the beverages were chilled; and the bags were filled with supplies. When the time neared to load the vehicles, everyone helped.

At 11.20am three 4x4s drove out from the JBR parking.

Not all volunteers could make it to help with the loading and the on-site delivery. Ritu Singh couldn't, even though she lives two blocks away. However, she participated in a manner you would call ‘on the sidelines'. And has been doing so for the past nine months.

When she started out, her son, Uday, was in nursery school and her daughter, Uttara, was barely six months old. The Singh household didn't have domestic help. But Ritu made time to cook for those who work away from their families, and perhaps don't get to enjoy the kind of gastronomic pleasures most of us do.

So the previous night, Ritu soaked three kilos of chickpeas and set the alarm half an hour earlier than her usual 5.30am. She went about as quietly as she could, chopping ingredients and preparing the curry, making sure that she finishes before her son's wake-up time. The next alarm went off by 5.45am, and she braced herself for another set of duties: preparing school and office lunch boxes and seeing her son and her husband, Mandeep, off. After this, her youngest would wake up and she would arrange to deliver the curry to Qizilbash's place.

After the food distribution

"Sometimes they tell us that they appreciate the dish through a thumbs-up gesture. Or sometimes they tell us not to bring a particular dish," says Qizilbash.

Rarely does the group get unfavourable responses. When they visit a new site, it takes a few minutes to make the on-site manager aware of the nature of their salutary offer. The workers too help maintain order.

However, it isn't the ease with which they get permission to visit the sites, it is the philosophy of the cause that makes it possible to deliver home food and accompaniments regularly. The group's philosophy is that anyone can contribute in any way.

And its guiding principle is inclusivity.

This ethos is why Lentine and Ritu support the cause. Lentine says, "Even though it is my first time, I felt that I was part of the team and found it easy to fit it. When I called to ask what I should get, I was told that one apple was better than none."

For Ritu, Mums Who Share provides a pliable platform where she can volunteer at her convenience, given her full-time family responsibilities. "I suppose any contribution is beneficial. Still these are people working for a square meal and the opportunity to enjoy a home-cooked meal must be rather special. Cooking for them brings about a sense of peace. I've visited sites only a couple of times and the most heart-rending moment was when they came back for second servings. In this regard, I am glad Mums Who Share goes on," she says.

Then for those who are more involved, there is immediate gratification, echoed through one of the member's words: "I cook food and I serve it - instant reaction."

Then there are the ‘thank yous' - expressed both on site, and off site, if they meet workers unexpectedly - that keep them emboldened.

But for most, the feeling is ineffable.

Mums Who Share functions even when members are on holiday. Qizilbash says, "It isn't just my thing… members take on leadership roles every now and then. We also have our permanent support system - families, nannies and house help - to whom we are grateful.

"We have always maintained that you don't have to contribute or contribute a specific amount… Yet the contributions haven't stopped and the workers get to eat home food week after week."

Did you know?

Timing is an important part of their work. They have to deliver the food at a specific time to take advantage of the lunch break and prevent any disruption to their work schedule.

Did you know?

The group takes a break only during the Holy Month of Ramadan.

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