Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 52

We hoped it would be only a short journey and we would return. We never returned. We became refugees. Your father had been the rebel. They first chased him down to the mountains of Rasna; from there they forced him to flee to Pakistan. From Pakistan, he arranged for us to be picked up under the moonlight, leaving everything behind but our family.

Our lives turned upside down when you were approximately two, and Abdul was about five months old. Your father had befriended Nasim, Abbas Karblaye’s son. He frequented our house, and he was like a family member to us.

1509974_370893729785446_1513224823289833401_n

One late evening there was a knock on the door. I asked who it was:

Nakhchi, I am Nasim. Open the door.

I opened the door but to my surprise there were two other people with him. He said they were his and your father’s friends. I let them in. They said they had come from Pato.

I instructed your mother to serve them dinner. After tea, they said they were tired and had to leave. They said they had been sent by your father to pick up the weapon.

We have no guns.

The looked at Nasim and then said they had clue given to them by your father:

Mamoor said the gun was concealed in the chimney.

I was astounded. That’s where it was. Only a select few knew that. I believed them, and that is how they managed to get the gun from me. I did not know they were the commander’s men.

Unbeknown to me, Nasim had betrayed us. Your father had befriended Nasim and entrusted him with the locations of the weapons. It was all Nasim’s handy work … perhaps he had been forced to reveal everything. That beghayrat!

My son-in-law Aatay Ali Jan had been beaten beyond recognition. His skin had turned dark red. He had been forced to hand over your father’s hand-gun. They had also visited Moallem-e-Jaar and had taken away some weapons from them. I thought my baby son would be next. I sent your uncle to Jaar and had him hide for weeks in Ishaq’s winter shed. He was only a child. I made him go away, far away. I sent him over the mountains with Aatay Ali Jan one night, on foot, through the mountains, eventually all the way to Pakistan. 

Your father found out. He sent us a secret message to take the bare minimum of our belongings and flee to Pakistan. That’s what we did; under the moonlight, leaving everything behind, hoping that it would be only a short journey. We never returned. We became refugees.

*Nakhchi = Auntie
*Beghayrat = Dishonourable

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 42

Khadim’s father, Hussain’s father and Bachay Atay Jan Ali of SarMazar were the last people to see him alive. They had journeyed together, and then they returned home to their families. He didn’t.

SONY DSC

We lost him. We had no one to send to look for him. My oldest boy was 13, my youngest boy was a baby, and in that God-forsaken country, girls cannot travel by themselves. We sat by as months and years passed by. We kept hearing stories:

We walked for many days and nights. The days were extremely hot and the nights were extremely cold. And then it began raining such that the Sun and heat disappeared. It kept raining, and it got really cold. The desert was vast, open and had nowhere for us to hide. We were stranded without adequate food and shelter. Khalifa’s son had set off with only the clothes he had on. He had no other clothes to keep him warm. He felt weak, laid under a small tent we made for him using our jackets, scarfs and coats. He shivered, and died of cold in the middle of nowhere.

While the rest of us stopped and talked about returning, he was determined to keep going. He left us there, and walked into the rain and mist. We saw him walk away and disappear in the rain and mist of the desert.

For a long time that was all we knew, and nothing more. Then one day few years later, from the front window of the house, I saw a stranger walk into the village. He paused just past the pass, looked around, and headed straight to our house. He sat outside and said nothing. I felt nervous and sent for your father.

Your father greeted the man:

Salam. You haven’t introduced yourself. What brings you to our home?

He went straight to the point:

I have a letter from your father. I have been sitting here for a long time, and I haven’t even been offered tea.

I and your father just stood there, staring at this man, in utter silence.

Why didn’t you say something?

He looked around. He sounded nervous.

Let’s not talk about it here. Let’s go in and we can talk about it.

We went inside. I made him tea. There was hope after all.

Your father told me the name of your village. He told me to look for a large mulberry tree, and go to the house right next to it. I spotted the tree and your house from the pass. I knew it was the right house.

He asked for a hookah. I sent Zia Gul to my brother’s house to get a hookah. The poor girl was so jubilant, she ran up and told every one about the man. She returned with a hookah, and followed by Hussain’s father.

The man was startled:

Who is he? Why is he here?

I was surprised to see the man that nervous and startled. I tried to calm him down:

He is my brother. He is our own.

Hussain’s father greeted the man. They had tea. He described the journey.

It was cold and rainy in the desert. We were set upon by local bandits. We ran for our lives, and soon became lost. There was more rain, and it became unbearably cold. My brother-in-law wore a shawl. We huddled together and he covered us with his shawl. He lit a cigarette, and took a long puff. He passed it around. It did nothing. There were no more cigarettes left. Khalifa’s son was fragile. He could barely walk. My brother-in-law said we better leave or we would all die. The dying kid didn’t want us to leave. He pleaded with us, and said we would all die anyways. Let’s die together here rather than one at a time. My brother-in-law left the shawl cover, he fastened his belt and shoes, and began walking into the mist. We sat there, huddled together, staring at him walk into the mist.

The stranger raised his hand.

I believe you. He does not know that you all live.

He took a folded paper out of his pocket, stared at it and then put it back.

This isn’t the letter from your father. This is for a family in Kosha.

He searched his other pockets.

I may have left the letter with the other person in Angori.

He instructed your dad to visit Angori, and get the letter from him.

At this moment, my older brother Shaikh walked in.

The man was so started, he almost got up to leave.

Who invited all these people!? Why are you bringing in all these people!?

I tried to calm him again.

He is my brother. He sent you the hookah.

The man did not calm down. He was visibly startled. He slammed the tea container on the ground, got up and headed for the door. My brother followed him. We pleaded with him to tell us more. I begged him to take a letter with him. The man did not wait. He put on his shoes, and headed for the pass.

He took a few steps, and then turned to me.

What kind of brothers are they! Tell them to man up, and go to Iran to find your husband. Your brothers don’t believe me. They ask asking me for the color of his clothes. I take hundreds of people to Iran. How can I remember every person’s clothes and face. Your husband is in Iran. He is fine and healthy.

With those words, he headed for the pass. In the same way that he had walked in, he walked out of the village. He was a people smuggler. He was fearful the villagers would report him to the government. In those days, people smugglers were luring people, and taking their money to take them to Iran. There were rumors that some villages had reported and handed over people-smugglers to the government.

Your father visited the address in Angori. The man there denied any knowledge of the other person, or of your grandfather. He denied he was a people smuggler.

That was that. We never heard from that person again. We looked for him, but no one knew him, or his whereabouts. He disappeared, and so did all our hopes.

Many years later I realized that your grandfather may really have reached Iran. He may have been alive. He was a clan elder and man of honor. He probably thought that he had left behind his brothers in law and friends. He thought they were dead. He probably thought there was no honor in returning to the village without them. To make it worse, the smuggler never returned to return to take a reply letter from us to your grandfather. Perhaps, perhaps that made him think that we didn’t want him back. He probably thought we had given up on him.

It doesn’t matter thought. What difference does it make now. We never heard from him again. We had no way of finding out about him or looking for him. Just like that, he was gone. We still don’t know what happened to him.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 40

Sometimes the difference between a smart person and stupid person becomes clear when they have to face change. The same applies to a people, and a tribe. Our people have usually been stupid. They made stupid decisions. We are still paying for it.

My parents told me many stories about Hazara elders who were taken away, pushed off a cliff, or stoned to death. The elders were taken to jails run by the kings’ men. They were put face down on the ground, covered under a shawl, and then pelted with rocks by tens and hundreds of people. One of your ancestors, not sure which one it was, was taken away by the king’s men. They made him dig a hole in the ground, and then buried him in it chest high. They pelted him with rocks until he was covered in blood and wounds and dust. He was buried under a pile of rocks. They assumed he was dead and left him out in the open to be consumed by wolves and jackals. The man was alive. He must have been very blessed. In the darkness of that night, he crawled out from underneath that pile and escaped into the mountains. He lived, and made his way back to the village. He was the only survivor the old villagers knew.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Every year the king sent polooss to the villages. They brought with them orders, tax demands, and a lot of terror. The polooss stayed in the best house in the village, and only the bravest men in the village went to speak to them and serve them food. The people had to comply with his orders and demands – an entire village surrendering to a single polooss, that was us. There was usually one tax on the harvest yield, another to pay for polooss’ journey, another for each head of cattle, and another if the king was at war somewhere. The tax was rarely collected in currency, and usually in the form of butter, wool, jewellery, cattle, crop-yield, and other valuables. If a village refused to pay, the king sent more polooss armed with sticks and guns. A visit from the polooss forced villagers into the hills. Some families hid in their homes, many just picked up everything they could and run up the nearest mountain. Our hills and mountains have always been our protectors.

Years passed and the king was deposed. A new king came to power. There was a change. The king’s men came into the villages to open schools. They made it compulsory for girls and boys and men and women to go to school. The people complied. The mullahs preached against it. They said the schools were there to turn people into communists and non-Muslims. The mullahs kept preaching against education for women and girls. They preached that girls were being sent to school to be turned into prostitutes, the boys to be made into communist soldiers.

The people believed the mullahs and turned against schools. They bribed the polooss to keep their children out of school. I know of a family in the village who handed all their wheat-yield for the year to the polooss to keep their son out of school. We were afraid. I buried a Quran in the fields because the government was taking away people found with Quran. In some areas the villagers burned down their schools and killed the teachers. In other areas, they declared jihad against the government. People said they would rather die than send their girls to school. And in some places they did that – they died but did not send their girls to school. Instead, many sent their girls and boys to the mullahs. Some of the mullahs then mistreated, assaulted and raped their girl students. Interestingly, those few who were too poor and weak to take their children out of school were lucky. Their children became teachers, pilots, engineers and soldiers.

What was the result of all of that! The result was that many generations of our people, all of us remained illiterate and uneducated. We did that to ourselves. We had no access to schools for a generation and more. We burned down the schools, we killed and chased away the teachers, and brought in the mullahs. Our world was confined to the valleys of the mountains. We turned our backs to change and to the rest of the world. Our people became stupid. We suffered for those mistakes. We are paying for those mistakes.

 

*Polooss = Police

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 38

Your mother’s family lived in Kabul. We lived in the village in Watan. The Soviets ruled the country. We had to go to Kabul to bring over your mother for the wedding. The elders wouldn’t let us travel. They feared we would be harmed by the Soviets, or the Mujahideen or get caught in the cross-fire. We could not take the young men with us because we feared they would be conscripted by the Soviets and the government, and sent to the war-front. My son-in-law Aatay Ali Jan had already completed his military service. He accompanied us. We had to go to Kabul, and we did.

My sister’s husband, the Qareedar saw us off at the Shilbitu crossing:

What should we do with your kids if the Soviets come?

I really did not know what to say:

Take them wherever you go. Hide them somewhere.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91We left for Kabul. There were four of us in the car: I, My youngest child, Aatay Ali Jan and the driver. As we reached the main road, I noticed there were other, many other cars on the road ahead of us, and behind us.

At a place just past Ghazni, the cars diverged off the main road, and stopped. Turns out there was a Soviet military convoy passing that area. All other traffic had to move out of the way. They convoy came. There were soldiers, and trucks, and cars, and tanks, and more trucks, and more tanks, and more soldiers. There were tanks everywhere. They also had dogs on leash. Then they stopped. Some of the soldiers pointed the guns at the cars, and the soldiers with the dogs approached us. We were terrified. The dogs sniffed around car to car, and then they all returned to their trucks. The were looking for mines or bombs or guns. They didn’t find anything. As fast as they had come, they left, may be for Kandahar. The soldiers in the last vehicle waved at us. Perhaps they were Afghans.

We continued on. A short drive later our group of cars were waved at and stopped by a man on the road:

There are Soviet tanks ahead. The Soviets will kill you. Come with me and I will protect you in my village.

The passengers in the other vehicles refused to go. The driver said the man might be a bandit, who would take us to his place, kill us all, and take all our belongings. We refused his invitation. He wasn’t very happy about it. He cursed us. We drove onwards to Kabul but did not see any tanks or any more Soviets.

We got to Kabul, stayed a few days, and began the trip to bring your mother home. We came across another convoy of tanks on the way back. We were terrified, but thankfully nothing happened. Despite our fears, the Soviet didn’t hurt us. We returned home safely. We had a small party, and that was that, your parents were married.


 
*Watan = Homeland, Countryside
*Aatay = Father
*Qareedar = Village chief

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 37

Your father didn’t tell us he was going to Australia. He talked about going somewhere, but I had never heard of Australia. I thought Australia was some place just across the mountains.

I asked my nephew, Sharif, about this place. He said it was a big big country that was far far away. He said the refugees were going there but not everyone made it there. He said that people spent up to 3 weeks on water, crossed jungles, and that it was a dangerous journey.

 22
I was terrified. I pleaded with Sharif to remind your father of the dangers. I begged him to stop your father from going. He said he would try.

Then the day came. He left. We wept. He told me not to worry and told us all to look after one another. From Autumn that year to the following Spring we had no information about him, his whereabouts, or whether he still lived. Some people even started terrible rumors about his safety. I chose not to believe them. I did not want to believe them. I believed my son was alright wherever he was. I prayed for him everyday.

A few months later, I overheard women from our street talking about a boat sinking, and people drowning. They said those who drowned were Hazaras. Darkness fell upon my eyes. I immediately got up and returned home. I asked around if anyone knew anything else. Some relatives told me not to worry as these were other people. Nonetheless, I wept all afternoon, and did not sleep that night. There was nothing we could do.

In the Spring of that year, some time after Nowruz, Moallem called from Iran. He said he had heard about your father, and that he was fine. It made me very happy, but also perplexed. I was concerned as to why he wasn’t getting in touch with us. I wept.

A few months later, a man came over from Marriabad and said they had heard from their relative in Australia. He had met your father and had passed to us greetings from him. I was overjoyed, but even more perplexed and terrified as to why he wasn’t getting in touch with us.

A few months later, just days before the Eid that year when we were preparing Bosragh when I heard the door knock. The kid from the house next door stood at the door with a phone in his hand. He handed me the phone, and on the other side, I heard your father’s voice. I screamed out of joy. I could barely speak. He was alive, and speaking to me. It was him. I passed it to you. You screamed and cried your eyes out. Then your mother, and the others. We were happy.

A few weeks later, your uncle returned home, and said he had received a letter from your father. We were excited, and all gathered around uncle to listen to him read the letter. In his letter your father had written of his year in detention in the desert, his journey through the jungle, his encounter with wild animals and the possibility of death. He said they were being kept in a place in the desert that was cut off from the rest of the world. There were snakes and dangerous things all around their camp. They were in a prison. Our happiness quickly turned into sadness and tears. Your uncle couldn’t read any more of the letter. He folded it up and, we all cried.

A long time later, we received another call, and another letter. We found out that he had been released and lived in a city. He sent us his photos. And I saw my son for the first time in years. I was happy. We were all happy.



*Bosragh = A traditional cake

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 31B

There was an old weapons depot at Qash-Oshtor (the Camel Slope) just above the village. The commander and his party kept stored their weapons there. The Pashi tribesmen interrogated the locals and found out about it. What they didn’t find out was that the depot was surrounded by a minefield. There was narrow pathway there but only a select few, who had already fled, knew about it.

 19Armed Pashi men approached the depot location. They walked on looking for signs on the ground. One of them stepped on a mine. In a bang and a plume of smoke, he was left in pieces and dead. The rest of their men stopped in their steps, and retreated back into the village.

Later in the day, they forced men of the village on to the minefield to retrieve the body. Among them was Ghulam Reza, who told me his story many years later when they too, became refugees in Pakistan.

The Pashi forced a group of us to Qaash-Oshtor. They had their guns pointed at us, and threatened to shoot us if we didn’t do as instructed. I was forced on to the minefield to drag out the body.

Aghay, I tried to step lightly on to the ground in front of me. Every step, I thought, would be my last. I stopped. They yelled that they would shoot if I stopped again. I walked past a splatter of flesh and blood, and reached his limbs. With both hands, I dragged him out. As I dragged him along the ground, I could hear jingles and pieces of jewellery fall out of his waistcoat. Those were women’s jewellery – perhaps stolen from the families in the village.



*Aghay = Sister in Hazaragi
*Qash = Slope / Eyebrow