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 – 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.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 24

In Watan the girls were never allowed to grow up. One day you were a child playing with your friends from the village, the next day you were wedded off and expected to live as someone’s wife, look after your in-laws, and become a family’s honor. The men, the old men, would sit together and make all the decisions.

Your auntie Aabay Naeem was a child, only 12 or 13, when they came to ask for her hand in marriage. I saw the men exchanging smiles, and I knew what it meant. It made me very upset. Her husband-to-be, Nabi, was twice her age. Your other aunties had been wedded off young. I decided that I had to confront your grandfather this time; even if it meant having to endure a beating. I stood up to him:

They aren’t all your daughters. They are mine too. You can’t just give them away like this.

He stared at me. He didn’t say a word, and walked out. He paid no attention to what I thought. Consulting your auntie, the people whose lives were in question, was absolutely out of question.

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A few days later, I was occupied with cooking when your grandfather walked in with Nabi’s older brother. They stayed for a meal. He pleaded with us to approve of this arrangement. I stayed lull, but your grandfather nodded. It was an approval, and the decision was made. My young child was to be someone’s wife.

Your auntie was too young to even understand what a wedding meant. She was happy to have new clothes and jewellery. She knew little else, yet she was wedded away. That’s how it was done in the past. The parents would just give away their daughters to whoever they wished. It wasn’t that the parents didn’t love their children; the truth is that it had always been like that. People were bound by traditions. No one bothered to think differently; no one changed anything.

 
Watan = Homeland

Aabay = Mother; Aabay Naeem = Naeem’s Mother

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 18

In the old days the birth of a daughter was a curse. She was a burden on the family,and was wed away at the first available opportunity, at very young ages. The son, it was believed, supported the family and made it stronger. The daughter, it was believed, did the opposite.

I have seven daughters. When I had my youngest daughter, your father cried. He was onlya child and my only son. He wept:

“I have no brothers.”

Mullah Hissari came. He kissed him, took him for a walk, and got him some yoghurt from his home. He spoke to him and had him understand:

“I too, have only one son, Sultan. It’s okay not to have a brother. It’s okay to have all sisters.”

That conversation made him feel better. He stopped crying.

 

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 4

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Your baabaye disappeared on his way to Iran. We waited for years for his return. He never returned. We assume he died somewhere in the desert.

After him, we had to live through some dreadful years. We were left with a little food, no savings, and no idea what to do about it. Your father was only thirteen, and the eldest male. He had to support our big family.

People from the village knew we couldn’t farm the land. They got together and promised us supplies and support. Most never delivered. A few good men did. Aatay GhulamLi was a lifesaver. He got us the cows for the plow. Aatay Ali Jafar helped us farm the land. Others brought us food and firewood. The harvest that year was very small. We had to give away most of it to the people who we owed money to. The little bit that was left, helped us survive.

*baabaye = Hazaragi for Grandfather

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 3

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One of my aunties was a Qalandar. The Qalandar Hazaras had been driven off their native land by the Kuchis. In the dead of winter she would tell us kids her story:

We lived in a valley called Nawoor Toghay, near Thai Bogha. We were a powerful and prosperous people. The land was fertile, and food was plentiful. We had almond farms. Upon harvesting the fruit, the women gathered to crush the seeds, and extracted almond oil. We bartered the oil for the things we needed. We also raised cattle, mostly fat and healthy sheep. The Qalandar herded their cattle on horseback. The arbab rode through the herd and sliced of sheep suet on the run. This was a show of power.

Then came the Kuchis, and it was all gone. The Kuchi attack caught us off-guard. Some fought, others could only run away. Many were butchered. We fled and were only able to carry what we could hold in our hands. We ran and hid. Many didn’t make it. We ran to the settled Pashtuns and pleaded with them to save us. They protected us, the survivors, from the Kuchis. In the darkness of the night, they helped us flee to the Hazara lands.

My auntie was old. She died and took her stories to grave. Now I am old but I remember her stories.

 

*Arbab = Nobles