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.

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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 – 66

We used different names for different seasons.

The first month of a winter is Siyabar. It is very cold. Before that came Baamo, the last month of autumn. Baamo was cold, but not nearly as cold as Siyabar. After Siyabar came Najir. In this month, the air was less cold, but with less cold came dangerous avalanches. The village was at the foot of the Jaaba mountain. The collapsing snow brought down huge slabs of rock down with it, and made a terrifying “GorrrrrR” sound. The valley was steep enough to contain it but anything and everything that came in its way was wiped out.

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After Najir it was Ooral with flowing springs, blooming flowers and the change in the air  the month of Nowroz. Then it was the month of Ed, the first proper month of spring. Then Barredd, and it became warmer. Then it was Aakhir Maahe Baar. Then Awal Maahe Thaayesto – the mulberry season, and when the birds flocked to pick the trees clean. It made us all very busy. We had to wait for the right time to pick the trees before the birds. Then it was Ghol-e-Thaayesto – the apricot season. Then Thirmaa brought a cool and ugly change in the air. It was followed by Aakhire Thirma and we prepared for the snow.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 64

In my days, the women in the village sang songs and celebrated happy times more than men did. These days, women can not sing or even laugh because their men will scold them or worse.

When there was a wedding or a son was born to a family in the village, the women stayed up late and had three night long village party. On the day of the wedding, the groom and bride went to their future home on horseback. The family followed them with songs of joy, dance, and drumbeat. Sometimes they brought a professional drummer and ghazal-goy. You could hear them from far and wide.

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When they crossed another village, the women and girls there stopped them in their path to look at the bride’s face. The men kept walking, and the women stopped along with the bride until the girls had had an eye full.It was an innocent tradition. People of all ages sang, the young were not good at it, the older people were better – they remembered good poems, and good songs. The drummer would hang the drum from their necks and beat both sides of it in melody. The caravan walked with the beat of the drum. When the drum stopped, the people stopped. The restart of the drumbeat was the sign to move.

Hassan of Chuna was a popular ghazal-goy. He was popular at weddings and shaw-shini. Mama, Maamad were other singers from the village. They would not just attend any wedding or party. They had to be convinced, and promised rewards. The elders and the influential villagers had to go to them, and promise them good food or clothes to get them to sing. The parties began with grilled beef or lamb, sweet tea and dry fruits followed, and then came songs, stories and jokes. It continued right until sunrise.

If anyone fell asleep, the others played practical jokes on them. They placed their shoes under their noses, or tickled them in their feet, tickled their ears with a piece of string, or took items out of their pockets as a joke.

I think people knew so little about the world, their expectations were so low that they did not have much to ask for and anything worry about. People observed their religion, they did, but there was a time and place for it. People also laughed and lived.

ghazal-goy = traditional singer
shaw-shini = birth party

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 60

Shaykh brother died because something happened to his heart. Aatay Saadiq died after he was viciously beaten up by his own son. Appendicitis killed Aatay Khadimsayn, and loneliness killed Aatay Rasheed. Aabay Mamdyaqoob is half alive. May Aatay Abdulsayn live long.

Shaykh brother was the eldest. He died when we were still in Watan. He had been ill. In those rugged mountains there were no doctors or medicine. They had given him everything they could get their hands on. I went to see him. He lay in the corner. He sounded drugged. We sat and spoke for a short time.

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My sister approached him, sat next to him to comfort him, and placed her hand on his heart. He instantly sat straight up. He let out a sigh:

Aghay! You killed me!

He turned pale, his head tilted back and he breathed no more. No motion, no more sighs, nothing. He died.

My other brother Aatay Sadiq was an elder of the village and the family. An old man, he was beaten up by his son Juma Khan, over I do not know what! He beat him up so bad, the whole village heard his screams and cries for help. None went to his rescue. He did not survive that. He sustained injuries, fell ill and died. That beating killed him. That bastard Juma Khan still lives.

I saw my other brother Aatay Khadimsayn on the hospital bed in Quetta. I had not been told that he was in town. He had been so ill, they had had to take him across the border, straight to a hospital. I was taken to him. He lay on the bed but his stare did not look normal. I stood there and then walked up to him. I asked if he recognised me. He held my hand, and whispered:

I can tell from your voice that you are my sister.

He held my hands, but he kept staring at the ceiling. The bed he was on was wet. I asked his wife for the reason. He said the stitches from the surgery had gone off. Yellow puss had been oozing out of the cuts. And that was my last ever conversation with my sweet brother. I was returned home. The next time I saw him, he was wrapped in a white shroud, lifeless, gone forever.

Aabay Mamdyaqoob was almost killed by Hemiplegia. She lives as one half of herself, on a bed all day and all night, all the time, needing help to do even something as basic as rolling from one side to the other. She can not go around, be about and do what she likes. She spends her days crying, recalling names of her children and trying to identify the relatives visiting her.

I had two brothers left. Aatay Rasheed was left all alone. His children abandoned him, abandoned the country. He had a whole village, empty of people, to roam around at his age. Loneliness killed him.

I have a brother left – the only heir to my father. May god keep him safe and alive for his children and grandchildren.

*Watan = Homeland
*Aghay = Sister
*Aatay = Father

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 9

Everything changed when the war started. Everyone abandoned us. The village sided with the commander and his party, against your father, against us. They raided our house. It was the betrayal by those we trusted that hurt us the most. Two of my own brothers sided with the commander.

Your father’s close friend was the one who tricked me into opening the house door on the night of the raid. There was a knock. I asked who it was at the door. He answered. I trusted him and opened the door. Armed men, the commander’s men found their way in.

 

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They declared your father an apostate. The villagers ostracized our family. We didn’t belong anymore. We didn’t communicate, didn’t socialize. They even forced the village shepherd to make choice between herding our flock or that of the rest of the village. He made his choice. We were unwanted.