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 – 59

My eldest brother had asked him to deny his inheritance to his daughters as we were already married.

He sighed and smiled at him:

I have two daughters, both gifts from God. My daughters are not married to people who will quarrel with you over a piece of land. They have their own share. It is up to them to decide what they wish to do with their inheritance.

I am the daughter of a farmer. My aatay owned a little piece of land on the foothill of Akhta Mountain in the upper half of the village. Aatay hired a farmer every year to help him with plant, raise, and reap wheat, barley, potato, and carrot farms. We never had to buy much. We lived off the land. Food, water, meat, vegetables, everything came from the land. The land gave us fifteen to sixteen heaps of wheat every year. It was not only us; all the families did well.

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Water was plentiful. In the winters it snowed above the height of a grown person. One could walk the paths and be invisible in the snow. You could sink in the snow if you did not follow the paths cleared by the villagers. The farms were irrigated by two main dams in the mountain above the village. In the spring water gushed out of the rocks, fresh water springs appeared in every corner. The dams spilled every day and it took the power of two grown men to unblock the dams to irrigate the land. We raised cattle, flock of sheep, two cows, and they gave us all the butter, milk, yoghurt you can buy in the markets here. At the onset of winter every year, aatay slaughtered two or three sheep to be dried and stored as beef jerky for the colder months. Because all we needed was there in the village and in the mountains, we never needed to worry about the outside, the world beyond the mountains only existed in stories.

Aatay died young. He only ever saw two of his grandchildren. Abay Esmatullah would sit in his lap and point to his missing tooth:

Look! A cow stole grandfather’s tooth.

He went to eat mulberries with the family one day. We all ate together. He then told others to continue while he returned home.

Later that night I heard that he had a stomachache. Just before sleep time my brothers came for me:

Come with us. Aatay is sick.

I left behind my babies. He was in agony. He was in anguish. All the pain was in his stomach. My uncle joked with him:

Once you get better, you will look back at your cries and laugh.

He said nothing at first and then only replied:

I hope.

The next day my uncle from Sar-e-Asp came to write his will. My eldest brother had asked him to deny inheritance to his daughters as they were already married.

He smiled back at him:

I have two daughters, both gifts from God. My daughters are not married to people who will quarrel with you over a piece of land. They have their own share. It is up to them to decide what they wish to do with their inheritance.

The following night he was in even more anguish. He screamed and sighed. It looked like his belly was going to burst. We brought him a container. He spewed his guts out – it was all black, dense liquid. He threw up, and just like that, in a few moments, he breathed his last. He laid back, sighed, and passed away. Appendicitis killed him.

*Aatay = Father
*Aabay = Mother

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 54

The birth of son was cause for celebration; the whole family celebrated the birth of a male heir. Daughters were no heirs; at every opportunity the parents reminded the daughters that they were inherent outsiders, born to one family but belonging to another one, that of their husband’s.

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The mother, herself a daughter once, was the happiest at the birth of a son. By giving birth to a son, she had met the expectations of her in-laws, and assured the succession of the family lineage. Women from the village gathered at her home for shawshini, to sit up all night, and dance and sing and celebrate. The women had two nights of shawshini for the birth of a son. The men had the third night. There were no celebrations for the birth of a daughter, khaagsir.

When I was young, I heard of the birth of Aatay Hanif. People gathered at their house and celebrated. I could not go; I do not recall why. I could hear the noise and the clapping. The women sang, did akhkhu-poofi, and stayed up all night. They served tea, sweets, bosragh, stories and jokes until dawn. At dawn, people ate, returned home and slept for the better part of the day. I joined them on the second night. Everyone had to sing. Aabay Qareedar, then the oldest person in the family, asked all women and girls to sit around her. They did, she sang, and got everyone else to sing. It is one of the rare happy memories from my childhood.

People lived off the land. They raised cattle. There was qadeed in the winter. It snowed more than the height of the average person and people remained cut off for months, the families shared whatever they had saved and stored. That way everyone made it through. People made chawkhal out of tree branches, tied it to the sole of their feet, and walked on the snow without sinking into it. They walked on the snow to get to their farms and scatter the ashes from the fireplace and the over on to the fields. Come spring, and the fields would be fertile and green, the streams flowing full – so much water that kids couldn’t cross them.

I hear that it does not snow as much anymore. It barely snows at all. People don’t even have enough drinking water now. People struggle to find a cup full of water in the streams. People have money and machines, but it is not the way it used to be. People aren’t happy, not even for short periods. They never have enough.

*Aatay = Father
*Aabay = Mother
*Shawshini = Staying up to celebrate all night
*Khaagsir = Poor, Wretched
*Bosragh = Hazaragi cake
*Qadeed = Dried lamb
*Chawkhal = Snowshoe

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 44

There was once a degho named Kalbi Zawar in our village. He had big scratch marks on his forehead, and the hair and part of the ear on the right side of his head were missing. The children in the village were scared of him. It is said that in his younger days, he had slept near the barn one night to guard his cattle. A wolf had attacked him in his sleep, mauled him and disfigured his face forever. The villagers believed that a wolf will chase after any person it has bitten once; the scratch was the mark of the hunted. Zawar was afraid to go out alone at night for the rest of his life. He believed that the same wolf was out there looking for him.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91In the days of my father, people dwelled in the villages, and beyond them lived the predators. During the war, the people moved everywhere, some of the people became predators, and actual animals vanished. In those days, people always traveled in groups, and only the bravest and most clever men ventured into the high mountains to collect firewood and hunt. My father told me stories about people who had been attacked by bears and leopards around the Akhta valley, only a short distance away from the village.

People were afraid of Bears. Bears built nests in and around their caves, and built little places to sleep, keep their cubs, jump around, and run up and down the slopes. Villagers rarely ventured past the foothills. A villager named Sayed Ismail once set out to walk to the Paato mountains. He ran into a pack of bears. The bears chased him, mauled him, and slapped him to near death. The nearby villagers heard his screams and came to his rescue. He had been beaten so bad, he was unrecognizable for weeks. The villagers wrapped him in sheepskin to save his life. He survived.

Wolves and hyenas were the most fearsome of all the animals in the mountains. The hunted in packs, attacked cattle, and when they could, killed and ate villagers. One afternoon, as I and my mother sat in the cattle barn, I sensed that there was something running round and around the barn. I alerted my mother, she looked out and said that it was a wolf. We reinforced the barn door and windows to keep the wolf out that night. But wolves are persistent, and that night, that wolf or that pack tried to dig under the barn wall to get inside and eat. We saw a dig area and scratch marks on the wall the next morning.

On another night, I almost lost my daughter Habiba to a hyena. She was probably 4 or 5 years old at the time. It was winter, the earth was covered in snow, and the men were busy sipping tea, smoking hookah, and reading the Shahnama. She had to go to the toilet, so I took her outside to the bushes behind the house. I was standing by and waiting for her to finish when I heard a growling sound. I looked up and saw this massive hyena running at us through the snow. It had its eyes locked upon us. I screamed as loud as I could. I grabbed Habiba and rushed for the house door. I had barely made five steps before the creature outmaneuvered me. It stood right at the door, staring at me, growling. I was paralyzed with fear, my arms became numb, I couldn’t scream, Habiba fell out of my arms, and I fell on my knees. Your grandfather and my brothers ran out of the house with shovels and sticks in their hands. The hyena ran away and disappeared into the darkness.

Many years later, one day as I sat home in the Sun and sipped tea, I heard Sakina scream. I ran towards the barn to see what was wrong.

Look Aabay, the chicken is eating a snake!

I went closer and saw that a large snake and the chicken were facing off. I gave Sakina a stick and told her to stand at the door. I picked a stick and attacked the snake. It slithered into a heap of alfalfa. I kept striking the heap with the stick, and hit anything that moved. I kept going. I killed that snake. I found it motionless. It was big. I could not even lift it with a shovel. I measured its length, and it was ten hand-span long. Snakes make home where they find food, and because of that, if you find a snake, you kill it.

Aabay Malik from the village did voodoo healing to treat people out of illnesses, bee stings and snake bites. She and her son could catch snakes. She treated and helped many to recovery, but she couldn’t save her own son. He had chased after a snake, and jumped into a pit full of snakes. The snakes bit him and wrapped around his legs. He had had to take off his Pyjamas to get the snake off. By the time he reached the village, his appearance had change. He had been bitten many times. His father and mother did these voodoo rituals and prayers for him for 4 days. But the venom had destroyed his organs. He kept spitting blood, and 4 days after the bites, he died.

I was twice stung by hornets. Both times I had to have injections to save me. The first time I got a sting, I was sleeping in front of the old house on a warm afternoon. I felt a sting on my left side. I quickly got up, took off my skirt, and threw it away. There was a yellow hornet there. I put some medicine on it, and thinking not much of it, tried to get back to sleep. In the space of an hour and perhaps less, I felt sick, I began stuttering, and then vomiting. I felt nauseous. Your grandfather gave me an injection, and only then I felt better. Another time, I was cutting up firewood when I was stung on my hand. The same thing happened again. I became drowsy, nauseous and very sick. Your late grandfather gave me the injection, and it made me better. To this day, I am scared of hornets buzzing around.

*Shahnama = The Shahnama is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between c. 977 and 1010 CE and is the national epic of Greater Iran
*degho = farmer
*watan = homeland
*Aabay = mother

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 32

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On my trip last year, I returned to the village to see who it was that lived on our land.
I was with your auntie. We walked into the old orchard, and began looking around to see what had changed. We saw a little girl. The expression on her face said she didn’t like us there.

What are you doing?

I smiled:

You have a beautiful orchard here, dokhtarem. We are just having a look.

She nodded but said nothing. I noticed her hiding behind the trees, and following us around the farm.
We stopped by the little stream in Lingaa, when the girl came to us with another older girl. The older girl was her sister. She greeted us, and recognized your auntie. She asked us to come over for tea. We were busy, so I promised to stop by the following day.

I visited our home the following evening. I met the two girls, and their mother. I didn’t see any men. I looked around, and thought about the old days.

I had tea with them, and told them our story.
I asked them theirs.
The lady said they were from Urozgan.

We had a house, a place like yours to call home. We had a farm and orchard.
The Taliban attacked. We didn’t have the weapons or the power to fight back.
They killed some of the villagers to terrorize us. We were terrorized. We fled into the Hazara mountains, and after weeks, ended up here.
The Taliban now occupy our village, farms and home. We are too fearful to return.



*dokhtarem = My daughter