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.

 

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 82

 

Many moons ago there was a severe hail-storm over the village. It came at the worst possible time of the year, just after spring, and hailstones the size of my fist fell out of the sky. It devastated the crops, the farms, the trees, the animals, and also the farmers. It hit any living thing that was not under a roof. The hailstone heaped up to a hand-span’s height over our roof. Hailstones so big, the ones in the shadows lay there for a whole day before disappearing.

The village shepherd had just made it past the pass before being caught in the storm. He had hid under a tree, and had to abandon his flock out in the open. Moments later four or five of the animals lay dead. Others limped and ran around like they had gone mad.

The fields lay flat, and the village streams flowed full with unripe apricots, apples, leaves and branches. The wheat crop for the year was destroyed, Alfalfa fields were flattened, saplings and weaker tree were brought down, and with them the hard work of all the families in the village. Crops devastated, orchards destroyed, and lives changed, all within a few moments of a long spring afternoon. We had almost nothing left, and it was only the spring. The whole year lay ahead of us.

In that year or perhaps the next one, may be even the one after that, we moved to live in Kabul. We moved to live with your maternal grandfather in Wazirabad. Musa’s father, yet to marry your aunty, was the only breadwinner for the families there. We lived in groups of five and more per room. Three families in the house. There was only a little food available to feed us all. Your grandfather had to return to Jaghori to bring to Kabul some harvest and farm produce. His cousin the Qareedar had come to him crying, telling him how isolated he had become in our absence. He had pleaded with him to return to the village.

That plea convinced him to return back to what we had escaped from in the first place. Our life in the mountains. Your mother’s family followed us soon after. We all returned to the village.

It’s true that man is tougher than a rock, and softer than a flower.

Qareedar = village chief

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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.

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 – 79

Wazir Begum was my one and only sister. She was older than me but I do not know by how many years. Not too old, a little bit, maybe more. We did not know our ages. My mother never told us. She was a strong girl and my mother’s assistant when I was still a child.

One day, when my father was at a feast at Atay Abdur Rahim’s, the elders asked him whether he preferred one or two. He was perplexed and asked as to what it meant. They told him to answer the question, and said nothing else. They told him to choose between one and two. He chose two. The men clapped, cheered and the family boys walked in with plates full of sweets. In my father’s absence, the elders had decided that that my father had to swap her daughter with Karblayee Babaye’s two daughters. In choosing two, my father had gotten two daughters in exchange for one. Wazir was to marry Hussain Ali and Hussain Ali’s two sisters were to marry two of my brothers. And that is how Wazir Begum’s fate was sealed. My father approved but my mother was not happy about it. It did not matter because the elders had already decided.

The marriage did not happen because in that year Hussain Ali had gone to Kabul for his military service. Like other young men of his age, he had to go away for two years to be in the King’s army, otherwise he would have been arrested by the King’s men. We waited for a year before my father received news that Hussain Ali he had fallen so ill during his service that he had to be brought back home. Men from the village went away and brought him back, but Hussain Ali did not recover. He died soon after. With his passing, we thought that Wazir would be free again. We were wrong.

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Yaqubli, Hussain Ali’s elder brother, had a wife and two daughters. A year after Hussain Ali’s death, Yaqubli’s wife fell ill and died. His family demanded that Wazir marry Yaqubli. My mother did not approve because of the big age difference. Yaqubli’s family visited kept visiting us, and then convened a meeting of the elders to convince my parents to accept their demands. In that meeting they vowed to get Wazir even if she escaped into the sky or hid in the ground.

My father accepted the words of the elders. Wazir married Yaqubli, and later that year, my brothers later married two of Yaqubli’s sisters.

Wazir was tall, strong, healthy and energetic. She was so until she grew old and then collapsed. She never looked as old as she was. She was full of life and stories. She developed high blood pressure when she was older. That brought her fall, and she remained paralyzed for eight years. Her daughters-in-law looked after her during that time. They did a good job. God bless them. Wazir is no more.

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 – 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.