Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 81

We did not have your colourful iron and plastic containers at that time. We had mashk – water bag – and it was made out of animal skin, usually a goat or a calf’s. Sheep skin is a little too soft and does not make good mashk. In it we carried water from the spring and stored it. In it we stored doogh – yoghurt beverage. And it also gave us butter. We filled it with yoghurt and water, and shook it for two hours, may be more, and only then the butter separated from the water. It was easier in the cold weather and qiyamat – apocalypse – in the summer. It was also good exercise. haha.

The goat or the calf was skinned such that there are tears on the legs and on the neck only. All the organs and bones are pulled out of the neck cut. That skin is cleaned and then kept buried under ash until the hair can be seen falling off. Once the hair begins to fall, the skin is the shaved under running water. It was very important for the skin to be cleared and cleaned without damaging it.  Then it was ready for the next step. The skin was white at this stage. Freshly cut roots of an apricot tree was then crushed, and the powder used to prepare a paste of red dye, which is used to dye the skin natural red. The cuts in the legs and around the neck are then sewn shut such that the stitch is neat and plain. The legs are respectively tied up to hang the mashk from a theerband – wooden hanging bar. It was ready.

Yoghurt was poured through the cut in the neck area. It was tied shut, and then shaken back and forth repeatedly for about two hours or three hours or more until the butter could be seen floating. If I did not see any chunks of butter, I poured a little warm water, not hot water, into the mashk, and then kept shaking it again. And that sound of liquid being shaken back and forth went on and on.

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You were a baby and you sat there until the butter was ready and out. I left two or three pieces of butter on a plate for you to devour in a moment. Once full, you then crawled down to your aunty Zia Gul’s house, and ate even more butter there.

There were days when there was no butter, and that made you cry: Patheermaal qad aaw mookhroom – I want traditional bread and water.

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 80

Our lives were difficult, our grieves were plenty and misery had a habit of finding its way to us, especially in the years after your grandfather disappeared.

We lived in Taina Aghil – the lower section of the village, and the all the streams flowed in from the foothills – Balna Aghil. There was a bad drought for a few years, and we were left without sufficient water for irrigating the land. The little water that streamed down the mountains was all used up in Balna Aghil, and the streams running through our farm dried up completely. In desperation, your father, still a teenager, approached the families of Balna Aghil to ask them to let some flow down the valley. Almost all agreed to do so, except Mamaye – the commander’s right hand man. Mamaye said that he would rather let the water flow to nowhere than let it flow to our farm. That was it. Most of the farm dried up that year, and most of the crop was wasted.
Days later your father sent your uncle to Serqol to ask Moallem, close relative and cousin, to lend us his bulls to help plough a patch of the farm. Moallem did not say no but he said everything else that meant no. He said he had already been approached by many people and that some had even offered to pay money. I understood what this meant – we were unable to pay and hence we could not borrow the bulls. Your uncle returned empty handed.

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Your uncle was a child at the time, a young child. Contrary to the advice of most of the villagers, your father enrolled him into a school. He walked to Sangemasha. He walked for hours through the hills to get there, and hours on his way back. The summer heat was crushing and the terrain was difficult. Every few days a week he returned home bloodied-nose, exhausted by of the heat. I advised him to stay at his sister’s home at noon and to then walk home when it was cooler in the afternoon. He did that for a few days, and then returned home early one day. I scolded him for walking in the heat again, and asked what had happened. He was upset:

Sister had guests over. When I got there, she was taking a plate of fruits to the guests. She saw me, she called me over and she kissed me on the cheek. She gave me a piece of fruit and she called me her life. She then told me not to return anymore. Her in-laws did not like my visits.

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 – 75

Our tiny village is on a mountain slope. At the time we lived there, the land barely produced enough food to feed the families. Today, it can not even feed the few families that still live there. What difference does it make anyways! Most of the families have moved out, and many have even left the country. Those left behind do not even have enough drinking water for most of the year.

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Bachay Haji Ghulai [Haji Ghulai’s son] said that a long time ago the people of Haydar lived on that land. Your great grandfathers, perhaps those before them were powerful and forcefully took over the area. I do not know what happened to the people of Haydar who lived here. Perhaps they fled past the pass where they now live, and where your auntie lives. I do not know.

Bachay Haji Ghulai said that your ancestors took over this land by force. The old ruins in by the stream in Saraw and another one by the ridge in Qolbili are all that remains of the people before us. Your ancestors came from Sangemasha, the grandparents of AbdurRahim had land in Tabqus and elsewhere. I do not know where the others came from.

It belonged to Haydar, then it was our home, and now only the old and very young live there. Perhaps complete strangers will own it in the future.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 74

A husband and wife in Baderzar took their little daughter to the mountains, and kept her in a cave. They took food and other things for her in that cave but they kept her hidden from the eyes of the other villagers.

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I do not know how long this went on for before she was discovered by a shepherd. The villagers then found out, and soon this news spread to the kharijis working in Sangemasha. The came to the village, and went to the cave where the girl was being kept by her parents. They found out that she had leprosy. The khariji took her to Sangemasha, and then to Karachi in Pakistan for treatment.

People say she received treatment for years in Karachi, and she was cured. In Karachi she met and married another leprosy sufferer from Jaghori. They settled and became rich. The girl’s parents tried to contact her but she kept them out of her life.

Leprosy was the big terror of our days. People thought leprosy sufferers were cursed. They hid the victims or took them to the mountains where they often died and were eaten by wolves, bears and jackals. People who contracted leprosy were considered cursed, their families were cursed, and their villages were cursed. It was terrifying.

When the khariji  doctors first started visiting villages to treat people, some villagers pelted rocks at them, and chased them out of their villages because they did not want others to find out.

The kharijis stayed in Sangemasha for many years and visited all the villages to treat people. They saved many people, and removed the terror of leprosy from our lives.

 

Khariji = Westerners

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.