Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 83

We have an old Hazaragi saying that az bekaar shishto kada dokhtar zaydo khooba – it is worthier/better to give birth to a girl than remain idle. That is how the old ones saw it, just above nothing at all.

The birth of your youngest aunty Aabay Wahida it did not make your grandfather very happy. She was his seventh daughter when he only had the one son, your father. She was born at our home but ultimately belonged to someone else, the family she would be married into. When my youngest, the second son, was born after her, it earned her a new place and a better status in the eyes of the family. She had brought after her a son. She had been a good omen, a bringer of better fortunes because a son had followed her.

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This did not matter because it was only short-lived. It was very soon after that your grandfather walked out of the village and never returned to see either of them grow up.

 

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 – 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

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 – 53

The commander’s own brother, Karblaye stayed out of the fight, and the war, and left the village. My brothers, two of them, joined hands with the commander to banish us, raid our home, torture our relatives, loot your father’s shop, and attempt to kill him. Such were our lives in watan.

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Two of my brothers were active members of the commander’s party at the time when they looted our shop and distributed everything your father had among the members of their party. But that’s what the villagers were like. With the exception of a few families, the whole village stood with the commander, and against us. We did not worry much about others, but the betrayal of those close to us hurt us the most, and turned watan into a forbidden place.

Ours was the first house past the pass. The road into the village ran past the front of the house. In the days before we had to flee, I saw the commander walk into the village flanked by my nephew Juma, and another person whose identity I don’t recall. I was cleaning the front of the barn when I saw these figures appear on the pass. I knew it was them. As they walked past the front of the house, they had a look at the house, and then at me. I saw them and I spat in their direction. They stopped, and paused there with their faces all red. I stood my ground and looked them in the eyes. They turned around, and walked away mumbling.

Decades passed, and the next time I saw the commander was when this white-bearded old person visited us in Kabul. He appeared to be a mere shadow of what he had been. I am sure that he remembered the time I had spat at him, in the same way that I remembered everything he had done to my family.

*Watan = The village; Homeland

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.

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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 – 49

In the year after your grandfather disappeared, it was our turn in the village to guard the mountain for firewood. In the spring and summer the village families took turns to guard the nearby mountains against fire-wood raiders from other villages, and outsiders trying to steal our yearly supply of firewood.

It was our turn, we had no man in the family, women could not undertake the guard duty, and your father, my eldest son, was 13. In one year, he had had to go from being a child to bearing the responsibilities of a grown-man. He had to look after a large family, our farms and become our breadwinner and guardian.

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In the Spring that year Kareem Bakul from the village came to me:

Bekay, keep Hassan from heading into the mountains. He is young. He is inexperienced. He suffers from episodes of serious headaches. Should anything happen to him in the mountains, what are you going to do?

I thanked him for his empathy:

Thank you for your concern Kakay-shi. I will speak to him when he returns.

I promised to him to stop your father from becoming the ‘meer-e-koh‘ for the year.

He returned from Sang-e-Masha that night:

Aabay, pack me some bread, and food for tomorrow. I will head out into the mountains early tomorrow morning.”

I sat him down next to me, and calmly told him what I had in mind.

He stood up:

Is this what he said!?

I stared back at his angry face:

Yes.

He repeated the question three times.

Is this what he said!?

Is this what he said!?

Is this what he said!?

I replied:

Yes.

He continued:

If tomorrow and the next day and the day after, this family has no firewood, nothing to eat, and nothing to wear, will Kareem Bakul help you out? Will he bring you any firewood!? Will he work on the farms!?

I had little to say:

No, he won’t. He won’t help us. God will.

He would have none of that.

Then, Khalaas! Regardless of whether you pack me food, I am heading into the mountains tomorrow morning.

And that’s what happened. The 13-year-old boy rose up early the next morning, headed into the mountains, and became the meer-e-koh for the year. He guarded the mountains for the entire village.

At the end of the season, he brought back a barn full of firewood. He came to me and sought guidance for what could be used as fuel, and collected as firewood and what could not. I instructed him and showed him what to do. He followed.

He was a determined kid. He left early every day, and returned in the late evening. I would stand outside and look for his figure in the mountain slopes. It made me jubilant every time I spotted him, and the over-sized stack of firewood on his back, climbing down the mountain, one step at a time. For the few years that followed, we had plenty of firewood and food. Life was okay.

 

 

*Bekay = Brother’s Wife
*Kakay = Uncle
*Shi = Of Someone/Something; Kakayshi = His uncle
*Meer-e-Koh = Leader of the Mountains
*Khalaas = The end.

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 – 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.

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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.