Home from work about 8 p.m., they take advantage of the still bright summer sky to embark on a home improvement project, stringing an electric line through the deep woods and attaching lights so they can illuminate their path, which takes them on a winding route through thick foliage and across two streams, negotiated over narrow tree limbs and boards. Tapping into a nearby power line — they’re construction workers — has provided a single light bulb and a small stove in their hut, which barely has room for three mattresses. Next maybe they can get a simple computer — and Skype.
They set off for work every morning by 5 o’clock, and lucky ones that they are, they have gotten on a construction crew that pays them a few hundred dollars more than the $300 to $500 a month most migrants earn.
“He has golden hands,” Malik said of Sattorov’s skill. “He’s the boss,” a passing friend from a nearby shack said. “Yeah,” Sattorov laughed, “boss of the fresh air.”
Sattorov is hoping to earn enough to marry soon. Mamedov, a former policeman who lost his job as his country grew poorer, supports three children and a wife at home. Malik’s pay goes to his parents and younger brother and sister. And he has his suit, ready to wear home proudly, if only on a yearly visit.
They work together to make their modest quarters pleasant — a wooden plaque with a picture from a Tajik fairy tale is nailed above their door. They have what they need — money to send home.
“We enjoy life here,” Sattorov said with his easy smile, as if he was living in a snug forest cottage instead of a thin-board shack hidden among the trees.
Invisible in the woods
Thousands of migrants live like this or worse, mostly invisible in the woods or fields where they turn abandoned garden sheds into shelters. Some manage the winter cold, others rent apartments when the weather turns bitter, sleeping 20 to a room.
Farther around the ring road, Sukhrab Karimov, a 27-year-old who earned $100 a month as a teacher back home, now makes $550 a month as a laborer. He pays $92 a month for a bed and hot water shower to a landlord who has built a shanty town for thousands of migrants hidden along a winding, muddy road. Every month he sends about $370 home for his parents, wife and children. “I have, thank God, three,” he said.
In April, police found more than 100 Central Asians living underground, in an abandoned bomb shelter. In February, a settlement was discovered under the sprawling Kievsky train station, where the inhabitants worked as cleaners. In March, about 30 migrants from Tajikistan and Moldova were found living under a sausage factory.