Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 78

This is from when I was young and strong, and I could work like many men can not. Your father was only a kid, and your aunties were younger. We had had to lease out the family land to repay your grandfather’s debts, and he had a lot of it. Your grandfather fell very ill that year, and had to remain home-bound.

Khalifa offered us some work on his land in the gorge during the summer months. We had to cut the tall grass, prepare the land, and cultivate grain. It was hard work. We worked there as a family, starting at dawn and finishing when darkness made it impossible to see what we were doing. We went hungry every other day and had no spare food.

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One day, in the midst of work and the summer, I collapse at work. When I opened my eyes Qareedar’s son, Yaqoob, stood there with some bread in hand. He offered me a piece of it with some milk. I sat upright, ate it as fast as I could, and felt instantly better. I ate some more, and I could get up and return to work again.

We worked there for many weeks, and finally harvested Khalifa’s wheat crop. When it was all thrashed and ready to be loaded on the back on the back of donkeys, he arrived there to weight it. He first claimed his half, and left the other half on one side. We thought that was our share. He then took our half and divided it into smaller portions, claiming those in exchange for what he had provided us with: a portion for the seeds, another for the bull and the thrasher loaned to us for a few days, and another for allowing us to use his farm equipment. He took everything, all of it, not one portion left for us. God curse me if I lie. Nothing for us. He took it all. Allaywar arrived there later in the day, loaded the harvest on the back of a few donkeys to take the wheat to the crusher.

The children stood by me and watched, as I wept in despair. Khalifa’s wife saw this. She was scared of her husband, and could not say anything. She walked over, and discreetly poured a handful of grain into a corner of my skirt and chador. She told me to take it and walk away as fast I could. I did.

I felt as if she had poured the world into my chador. That wheat only fed us for two days and two nights. A summer of hard work, and it was all over in two days.

Curse poverty. When you are poor, people treat you like cattle. Those are the kind of days we had to live through. When you have money, your friends remain friends, your relatives remain close. When you have no money, your own eyes will disown you. Khalifa was a close relative of your grandfather. He had been like family. He did not spare our starving family a plate of the harvest we had worked on.

That is what the world has taught me.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 77

The war was not just about people getting killed and hurt, it was also about how brother fought against brother, and how families and relatives were split and bitterly divided. The women did not have much say in what happened. It was the men who got into fights and arguments and fought against one another. Often we did not understand what the problem was but we had to play along. When the men were away, most of us got along fine.

Your father and your maternal grandfather were in opposing parties. We lived one roughly hundred steps apart but during the war we felt like we were worlds apart. We did not even acknowledge one another when our paths crossed. We did not use the village water-spring at the same time, and avoided interaction. Your mother could not visit her siblings and parents, and your aunt could not visit us. It was terrible. Khaag da sar azu roza kina.

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In early spring one year, your maternal  grandfather slaughtered a sheep and threw feast for the villagers. This was a few months before you were born. Given your mother’s pregnancy and the rarity of good food in the village, I expected them to send over some for your mother. They did not send any. The guests and villagers walked by our house, ate in the feast, and walked back. We were not invited. Late in the evening there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and found Aabay Saifulla and your aunt at the door with food in their hands. They said they had waited for your grandfather to go to the mosque for prayers before secretly making their way to our house to bring some food.

On another day I was at my paternal home in Geru for my elder brother’s funeral. Aatay Shukrullah’s older brother was also there along with other villagers. He was with the Mullahs and he had a beef against your father. He greeted everyone else at the home but not to me. He walked right past me. At the end of the prayer service that day, he consoled my sister but walked out straight past me.

Years after we became refugees, all the people who had fought against us and forced us out, visited us and stayed at our home on one occasion or another. We look past what had happened but we could not forget about it.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 76

I visited Afshar before the war. It was a poor but flourishing neighborhood on the slopes from where we had panoramic views of Kabul. The families living in Afshar were poor. Most of the men worked in the markets, some worked for the government, some were soldiers and officers.

There was a government in Kabul at the time. It was calm and quite at the time. I remember that the Kabuli women wore short skirts with bare legs. I saw many of them at the bus stations and on the streets. I wondered if they wore anything underneath but I could not know.

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Your aunt Fazlamad’s mother lived there, so did your Babayٓ Aatay Azizulla, as did Mamoor Abdurrahim and many many other relatives.

When I visited your aunt before the war, we stayed at her house. She lived up a narrow street. Their house had three rooms, a large living area, one space for the guests, and a kitchen like area in the middle. We ate dinner on her rooftop and I spent the evening staring at the city-lights that were visible as far as I could see. I had never seen so many lights before.

We were refugees at the time of the massacre in Afshar. We heard the horror and the stories a long time later. Aatay Azizullah fled at night and crawled through a line of tanks. Your aunt and her family took refuge in the basement of the nearby hospital. Mojahideen fired rockets at the hospital and hit the basement, which at the time was full of families that had just fled their homes. The rocket killed many in the basement, and injured many others. Your cousin Ilham was hit in the leg. Fazlamad later told us that after the rocket hit the hospital there was so much blood on the floor that his feet were drenched in it.

They told me many horror stories from that massacre but I am old now and I do not recall them all. One family lost all their men when the father was killed at their home and the three brothers were killed in their shop in the Afshar bazar. Another family fled and had to leave their young child behind. Another family was killed and their bodies thrown into the well in their family home. For many others, the women were allowed to leave but their men and young girls were taken away and never found again. Aatay Azizullah said he had come face to face with a Sayyafi soldier who carried a sword soaked in human blood. Afshar was cleansed. There was not one home left intact and there was not one family left behind. I wish I remembered the other stories they told me.

From there the survivors fled west and eventually into the mountains. Some fled to Quetta, others went to Mazar and Jaghori.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 73

Hassan was nineteen or twenty or perhaps younger, perhaps a little older when he died. I do not recall how and I do not know why. He just fell ill suddenly, and died half a day later.

Hassan was my my uncle’s – my father had a half-brother – son. His father and my father were from the same father but different mothers. We were Hassan’s family. He was still a child when he lost his father and mother. He was a clever child, and grew up to become a brave young man. He had learned the spell used to catch snakes and lizards. He would go into the hills and chase snakes when he had nothing else to do. He read the spells, caught snakes, sewed their mouths shut, wrapped them around his neck or waist, and return to the village to scare children and adults alike. He caught big snakes, some so big that it must have been an effort to carry them down the mountains.

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I remember this one time when he was bitten by a snake he had brought to the village. We worried and begged him to go and see someone, the mullah perhaps but he was not worried. He murmured his spells a few times and blew it out over the bite mark, and walked back in to the fields. We all thought he was going to die. He returned home, ate and went to sleep. Early the next morning, the old Karblaye came looking for him:

Go and wake him up. Check if he still lives.

No sooner had Karblaye asked for him that Hassan walked out of the room with a smile on his face. He sounded unfazed:

Snakes? No snakes can kill me.

Hassan got married a few years later. He had a daughter. He was a happy person, and adored his baby daughter. He returned from the fields one afternoon and said he was ill. He went to sleep, and just like that, he died. He did not wake up from the afternoon sleep.

I do not know what it was. Perhaps he had been bitten, or perhaps he had an illness. He might have had any of the many diseases that were common in the mountains. There were no doctors and there was no medicine. He died.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 71

Akhund Rizwani of Jaala had finished his Islamic studies in Iran. He had returned to Watan
and remained the mullah for many villages. Eventually he had been hired as the village mullah for our village. People paid him money, food, and a share of their harvest every year. Every family in the village took a turn to have him over for dinner, and this turn rotated around the village. In return, he led the prayers at the village mosque, at funerals, and performed the Islamic rituals during the holy months of Ramazan and Muharram. In the winter, when the schools were closed by the cold and the heavy snowfall, he gathered the village children at the mosque, and taught them how to read the Quran, their prayers, and how to perform other religious obligations. Most villagers sent their sons and daughters to his classes. They liked him because he was friendly, dressed neat, and was younger than most other clergymen.

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One day, when we lived in Quetta, we heard that Rizwani had suddenly disappeared. In the weeks after his disappearance, five, not one, not two, not three, not four, but five, perhaps even more girls from the village had fallen pregnant. All these girls were mere teenagers. All these girls had been students of Rizwani, and had attended his Quran classes. In his classes he had undressed the girls and told them that he would teach them “the Islamic way to bathe”. He had raped them, and repeated his deed with the next girl. This had happened over many weeks.

Before the families of these girls could find out, he had fled the village, traveled to Kabul and then to Iran.

Many years later we heard that the mullah had returned to Jaghori and had been appointed as the office-keeper for the commander. He probably walks free now, and is perhaps a mullah in another village.

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Akhund/Mullah = Clergyman

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 70

The whole village, old and young, called him Babai – the grandfather; Karblayi Babai – the grandfather who had been to Karbala. He was old. He would sit under the mulberry tree all day in the spring and summer, and he would spend most of the days reading the Koran. He had evenly spread some soft sand from the spring under the tree, and transformed the place into his own little part of the village. The whole village and everyone who passed through the village knew his little spot under the mulberry tree.

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He was a man of God. A long long time ago, in his younger days, long before I was old enough to remember anything, he had walked to Karbala. He had joined other men and walked into the hills all the way to Karbala and back. This was before there were cars and vehicles, before people knew there were other countries. He not only went to Karbala but unlike many others, he returned home alive. He must have walked days and nights and weeks and months.

Those were different days but the roads were as dangerous as they are today. Beyond the Hazara lands there were people who made their shoes from the skin of the Hazara pilgrims and wore it as trophy. They waited in the hills, ambushed travelers, robbed them of their belongings, and made shoes from pieces of skin of us infidels. Babai had made it out of those hills and returned back.

I was a teenager, and would go to the spring next to the mulberry tree to fetch water. I would carriy a pot on my shoulders, and go the spring with my face covered so that I could do the pardah from Babai.  He ignored it when I did that the first few times, but one day he asked me to stop; then scolded me:

Until a few days ago I would see you run around with the other children, and you would sing and walk here and there behind your flock of sheep. Today I see you covering your face like a grown woman. Don’t you act like a grown up. You are like my child. Also, you will tumble and break the pot and your father will beat you up.

I stopped doing that.

Karblayi Babai lived to be many years over 100 years old. No one knew how old he was but he was everyone’s babai. May he rest in peace.

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*Pardah = Veil
*Babai = Grandfather/Old man
*Karblayi = A person who has been to Karbala for pilgrimage

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 69

Life in the village was cruel, it was more cruel for girls and women than it was for the boys and men.

I was a young girl when my elder sister was married off and taken to her husband’s home. My mother went over with her to stay with her new family for a few days. I was left behind as the only girl at home, and I was expected to look after the home, the family, the cattle and farms. Before that day, I had only ever helped my mother with a few chores, and suddenly I was expected to cook and bake and do everything mother did.

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I had to bake bread. I prepared the dough, and heated the oven. I had made the dough so bad I could only make bread as wide as my palm. My father came over, had a good look at it, and laughed:

My daughter has made a tikki.

The following evening, I tried to do it differently. I baked bread, but the dough was still bad. The bread came out only a little larger. My father ate it and laughed again:

My daughter has made pathirmal.

On the third day and the third attempt, I got it all right. Father ate it and said:

Aaha, now this is right!

With my sister and mother gone, I had to learn things fast and I did. The men did not help. They just came and looked at the end result.

My sister used to teach me how to sew clothes for the family. I was a slow learner. My sister would poke the back of my hand with needles when I got it wrong. It was painful but it forced me to learn.

I remember that one day I got my mother to help me out with the sewing. I finished and walked over to my sister to show her my work. She prepared to poke my hand with the needle, but she could not believe what she saw. She looked up at me and smiled:

Good girl. You have learned and you have done it.

*Tikki = Hazaragi bread similar to Asian Baba bread
*Pathirmal = Thick crusted Asian bread the size of frying pan