MarySmith’sPlace – Temper tantrums Afghan adventures #15

When the Programme Coordinator, arrived from a tour of the other leprosy clinics scattered around Hazara Jat he brought with him the money to buy a vehicle for Hussain – a second hand Russian jeep. Rather foolishly I’d assumed Hussain, understanding the precarious financing of the project, would accept, with disappointment perhaps, this was a reasonable way forward. Hussain however, on the subject of a vehicle for his clinic, was beyond reason.


Hussain with his cousin before he came to Pakistan for medical training

An Afghan sulk beats a Scottish humph any day and Hussain was an expert. I couldn’t complain about lack of exercise as he, on numerous sulky occasions, asked me to accompany him on scrambles up and down the mountain – to ‘discuss things’. Incapable of participating in a conversation while puffing up a mountain, I would be forced to listen to Hussain’s latest round of complaints, mentally trying to prepare diplomatic, reasonable arguments for when we finally stopped.

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Hussain not long after returning to Afghanistan

An appeal to Hussain’s concern for his patients was often successful. It was encouraging that, no matter how bad his mood was, he never allowed himself to be anything other than professional in his medical work. Even on the occasions when he was not on speaking terms with me he always showed tremendous care and concern for the welfare of his patients. The day Hussain realised the cash for his vehicle would not buy a Toyota our route crossed an almost perpendicular cliff face. Creeping cautiously in his wake, I wondered, for a moment, if he was trying to terrorise me into agreeing to somehow find the money for his coveted Toyota. But he was totally oblivious to his surroundings and to any danger we might be in.

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By the time we had reached the safety of a plateau I was too angry to attempt further reasoning. ‘Stop behaving like a baby. You’ve been told you can buy a Russian jeep now and we can ask for money for a new vehicle in next year’s budget. What’s the point in going on and on it?

‘You keep telling me your only concern is to do your work properly but I don’t believe that any more. You want a flashy vehicle to show off in, driving round the bazaar, visiting your family, your friends, showing what a big person you are!’

His face registered total shock and I wasn’t sure whether he wanted to throw me or himself off the mountain, or simply burst into tears. Speechlessly, avoiding the precipitous route by which we had come up, he led the way back down the mountain. Miraculously, by the time we reached the clinic he had regained his good humour and accepted that for this year at least, there would be no Toyota for his clinic.

It was astonishing how he could sulk for days, being thoroughly obnoxious then suddenly flash a big happy smile to show it was all over. He assumed everyone around him would instantly forget and forgive the horrors of his black mood and barbed tongue. This time, I was not so easily placated.  It was wearying, struggling to get through every day trying to avoid being snapped at by a child monster. I demanded to know why he persisted in taking his anger out on me.

He fell silent for a few moments before replying, ‘You know my mother and father both died when I was very small. My sister-in-law looked after us but she was horrible to me and even worse with my little brother, who was only a baby. I had to protect him or she would beat him for any little thing he did wrong, even if he passed stool when he was too small to help it.  I had to do all the work, fetching water, looking after the sheep and goats. I did not mind the work, everyone must work, but my sister-in-law was always angry with me and beating me for no reason. When I remembered my mother I would cry.

‘Now, after years of being alone I feel that I have a mother again and if I can’t say everything that is in my heart or show my feelings to my mother who else is there? It’s not that I am angry with you; I just get in a bad mood because I am angry with other things and I want you to understand how upset I am. Sometimes I don’t know how to explain things.’


Ready to leave for Pakistan to train as a paramedic – less than three years later he was in charge of a clinic

His voice broke and I realised again how very young he was. I thought of how it must have been for that small boy growing up, never able to cry in his mother’s arms, never receiving or giving a loving kiss or hug, never given approval, having to keep his emotions buried deep inside him.

It was emotional blackmail of the first order – and I was suckered.


Hussain, newly arrived in Pakistan. In need of his mum.

Fortunately life at the clinic was not all angst and emotional trauma. My birthday was a happy occasion. I was allowed to sleep late and Hussain brought me coffee in bed. The others trooped in bearing cards and gifts. The grand finale was when Hussain bore in an enormous cake with an iced birthday message piped in lurid colours across the top. The baker had never before been asked to create such a thing but the finished product was a visual masterpiece which had been hidden for the last two days in the depths of the kitchen.

It tasted absolutely vile. I noticed, as I finally swallowed the last nasty mouthful of my slice, no-one else was keen to have second helpings. I think Baqul took the remainder home for the children.

MarySmith’sPlace – #14 Food & Friendship

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Harvest time

Islamic rules, and the traditions of the country, dictate that hospitality is shown to guests. People, therefore, felt obliged to invite the foreigner round for dinner. Some would have felt easier fulfilling their obligations had I been a man, unsure as they were of the etiquette in dealing, on a social footing, with a foreign woman. Hussain, and usually, at least one of the others from the clinic would accompany me to the dinner party – mehmani.

Some men would greet me with a handshake, although often this was the merest brushing of palms – as though the touch of a woman may necessitate some kind of decontamination procedure to be carried out later.  I soon made a policy decision not to offer my hand unless the man offered his first after several embarrassing situations in which I would extend my hand, realise that the man did not want to shake it and withdraw it, just as good manners forced him to extend his. We looked as though we were attempting a badly synchronised performance of Pat a Cake.

There was always tea before the meal, with fancy sweets – the imported variety always referred to as “choclat”, although there was rarely a hint of that substance in them. Once the tea was poured everyone would greet each other all over again. ‘How are you?  How is your life? How is your house? How is your family? Is your life good? Are you well? May you never grow tired.’ These people saw each other regularly, and were more than likely to have met at least once that day already. At first, I could only mumble and stumble my way self- consciously through the ritual – my responses never quite coordinating with the queries, never knowing when, or how, it was all going to end.

After tea the long, embroidered cloth would be laid on the floor, at which point everyone shuffled forward into place. Several young boys of the family served as waiters sitting at strategic intervals behind the diners, watching carefully, ensuring that plates were constantly replenished.  The main course would be either korma – stew – of chicken and potatoes with rice, or shurwa – the liquid in which the meat or chicken had been cooked. Into this soup we would throw pieces of broken bread to soak up the liquid. The host divided the meat into equal portions, surreptitiously watched by all his guests, each anxious to receive his full share.  A simple salad of raw onions and tomatoes was a usual accompaniment, along with small dishes of subzi, a green vegetable similar in appearance and taste to spinach, and bowls of yoghourt.


In some houses each guest had his own plate; in others, there were several, large communal bowls around each of which four or six diners would gather. If there was chicken, a game was played with the wishbone. However, the person with the larger piece was not the winner, eligible to make a wish. Pulling apart the wishbone symbolised an agreement between the participants – an agreement “to remember”.  From then on, if one of the contestants tries to hand something to the other, the second person must say ‘I remember’.  If he forgets and takes the object offered to him he loses, and must pay a forfeit. This may be something previously agreed, such as a chicken dinner. Or, it might be whatever possession of his the first person was holding out, be it radio or a handkerchief.

At the end of the meal a prayer of thanks would be offered, often catching me unawares still gnawing at a chicken bone. More tea followed with the young waiters, sitting by the teapots, anxiously watching for signs of an empty glass. The only way to avoid drinking a gallon of tea was to place one’s hand firmly over the empty glass, signalling enough.  Conversation became a little more animated after dinner, often centring on the activities of the various local political parties: who was having falling out with whom, who was planning a takeover bid.     An effort would be made to include me in the conversation. ‘’Afghanistan chator ast? – How is Afghanistan?’ they would ask.

I would reply, ‘Afghanistan khele khub ast – Afghanistan is very good’.

They would respond, with much head shaking, ‘Afghanistan khub neest – Afghanistan is not good.’ Similarly, when they sought my opinion of the people, I would reply diplomatically that the people were very nice and I liked them very much. At this, they would laugh uproariously and inform me that the people of Afghanistan were very bad. I could never think of what else to say after that, denial on my part simply led to repetition on theirs. The ordeal would come to a sudden end when, at a given signal, invariably unnoticed by me, everyone would abruptly get to their feet and leave.

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My friendship with some of the women continued. As well as Fatima, there was Kulsom and her twenty-year-old daughter Latifa. She was a beautiful young woman, and didn’t she know it. Somehow succeeding in appearing provocative even when cocooned in her chaddar she was an outrageous flirt. When she walked about in the village or across the fields to the orchards, various young men would appear to exchange greetings with her. She would tug demurely at her chaddar but her flashing eyes were full of mischief.

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The lovely Latifa – probably a grandmother several time over by now.

At harvest time, the area outside the clinic was levelled for the harvest to be threshed and farmers worked there all day, guiding the bullocks which pulled the heavy wooden threshing machine around and around. And every day Latifa appeared bringing a jug of water for the thirsty workers or some fruit after their mid-day meal. She stayed to chat and joke with them.  The big window in our living room would become all steamed up as the clinic staff, and visitors such as Engineer, feigned great interest in the threshing. At the same time they were critical of her “free” behaviour. I berated them for their double standards, but to no avail.


None of the women came to my room, maintaining Hussain would be angry with them for disturbing me. I assured them this was not the case. One evening I had decided not to go to a mehmani and moments after the staff left, in trooped the Fatima, Kulsom, Latifa and Sughra, with tiny Amina tagging along behind. They had decided to come and keep me company. Before long another couple of women arrived, eager not to miss out on anything.

I offered tea but Fatima firmly insisted they would like coffee – having heard from Baqul about this delicious alternative to tea. With the addition of large quantities of sugar and plenty of powdered milk they obviously found it to their liking. Latifa asked to see my photographs and they were soon poring over family snapshots and studying postcards of sheep, cows and scenes of rural Scotland. One of the women turned most of the photographs upside down to study them. When she suddenly realised that she was looking at an inverted sheep she hastily turned it the right way up, darting a look of embarrassment at me as she realised her mistake.  It was always the familiar they appreciated most, the things with which they could identify, so farmland scenes were enjoyed while pictures of strange houses containing peculiar furniture were largely ignored.

When we had exhausted the photographs, the women turned their attention to Latifa, teasing her that soon she would be married.  Latifa was blushing furiously as she protested, ‘I am never going to get married – never.’ She ended the discussion by flouncing out of the room, amid much laughter from the other women. At the sound of the men returning, my guests rose to leave, still wiping away the tears of laughter. Sughra and I rolled our eyes at each other in incomprehension of what, I assumed, had been the ribald comments made to Latifa on the subject of her marriage.

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Latifa (in green chaddar) helping pick over the harvested grain with women from the village

MarySmith’sPlace: The Blogger Recognition Award – A thank you to bloggers who support so generously.

I am delighted to have been nominated by author and blogging star Sally Cronin and by author Jessica Norrie for the Blogger Recognition Award. I was going to nominate Jessica but she beat me to it but I still want to thank her for her support.

This gives me the opportunity to thank some of the wonderful bloggers out there who have supported me and my blog. If you have already been nominated on another blog (bound to have happened because like the ‘coo’s tail’ I’m always behind) then you know you are an extra special supporter.

If you have an award-free blog or are simply too busy (not many sleeps left until the big day) there is no need to participate so participation is optional. I simply want to say thank you to people for their support and let them know how much they are appreciated.

Sally made her own award plaque and, not being as technologically savvy, I have copied it.


First there are a few guidelines attached to the award should you wish to participate….

My thanks of course to Sally Cronin and Jessica Norrie for nominating me.


  1. Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
    2. Write a post to show your award.
    3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
    4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
    5. Select up to fifteen bloggers you want to give this award to.
    6. Comment (or pingback) on each blog to let them know that you’ve nominated them and provide a link to the post you’ve created.

How My Blog Started:

For a few years I was posting about my dad when he had dementia, his wife left him and I moved in to care for him. I often wanted to post about other things but felt it should be in a separate place and so MarySmith’sPlace began on 28 December, 2017. Here’s a link to the very first post. It’s a bit of an eclectic mixture of stories from when I worked in Afghanistan to walking in Scotland, from local history to an annual blog about bunions (not mine, I am fortunate not to have any).

Give Two Pieces of Advice to New Bloggers:

  1. Think carefully about why you want to blog – if you hope it will help to sell thousands of your books, don’t bother. It won’t. Blogging should be fun so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage to post every day or even every week. If it becomes a chore to you, take a break.
  2. Do respond to comments people leave on your posts – the interaction with people from all around the world (many of whom become ‘real’ friends) is one of the things which makes blogging so much fun.

Select up to 15 Bloggers:  If you have already participated, or don’t want to, don’t worry – this is just a thank you for your support.

Author Barb Taub  is one of the funniest bloggers around – she’ll make you spit your coffee all over your keyboard

Author and blogger and a great supporter of indie authors and bloggers Marcia Meara

Lynn Otty – poet and short story writer

Pete Johnson with his wonderful dog, Ollie blogs at:

Author Janet Gogerty blogs at Tidal Scribe.

The lovely Willow is a wonderful supporter of my blog – many thanks, Willow.

James Cudneyis an author, blogger, book reviewer – and a huge supporter of indie authors

Maggie’s lovely blog at Cave Walls is well worth a visit

The next few bloggers, as well as supporting my blog, are responsible for my tbr pile reaching a monstrous height:

Liz Lloyd

Alison Williams

Jessica Norrie

Rosie Amber

Jill’s Book Café 

Cathy Ryan

I could go on adding to this list but I know some of those I’d like to thank for their support – such as Sue Vincent who has shown me tremendous support over the years – have already been presented with the award by other bloggers so, a huge thank you to everyone who should be on this list and whose support I truly value.


MarySmith’sPlace – Afghan Adventures #13 #Babies

Although Hussain didn’t encourage house visits he could never bring himself to refuse, even though experience was teaching him the messenger’s ‘emergency’ was probably nothing worse than an indigestion attack. But there was always the fear that perhaps, this time, it really was a crisis.

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Shortly before dinner, one evening, a man arrived at the clinic to say that his wife was in labour and the ‘baby did not want to come out’. This threw us both into a panic. When visiting Rosanna, I had examined quite a number of women in various stages of pregnancy, but never had anything to do with actually delivering a baby. Before hurrying after the expectant father, we thumbed through the obstetrics books, trying to memorise relevant chapters.

When we were ushered into the house, none of the three women in the room looked pregnant, and for a brief, wonderful moment I thought the baby had been born. Instead, I was ushered behind a curtain and there lay our patient, looking a lot more calm and in control than either of us. I examined her, calling through the curtain to Hussain that as far as I could tell the baby was the right way round and the head was well down. ‘Ask how many babies she’s had.’

Hussain translated the question and the woman, smilingly held up three fingers. ‘Well, ask what problems she had with the other deliveries.’

Back came the reply, ‘No problems and all are alive and healthy.’ Mum-to-be smiled complacently. A strong contraction came and went. She nodded encouragingly at me.

‘What’s different about this time from the other times?  Why does she feel that the baby won’t come out?’ I asked, instinctively holding the woman’s hand as another contraction began.

There was a longer discussion on Hussain’s side of the curtain then he called, ‘You can come out now.’ As I emerged from behind the curtain he continued, ‘The woman says this time is like all the rest only her husband thought that as there is now a doctor in the village he should call us. We don’t need to stay, the women will help her and we are only minutes away if they do have a problem.’

I didn’t feel I wanted to be only minutes away from a delivery problem. Hussain glanced at me. ‘If I had a vehicle then we could take her to Qolijou,’ he said. I had to agree. Back at the clinic we resumed our study of the obstetrics book. Less than hour later the husband re-appeared to tell us that a healthy son had been born and both baby and mother were fine.  Hussain and I whooped with relief that we were not going to have to practise our non-existent midwifery skills after all.

Soon after this episode I did get a chance to participate at a delivery, fortunately under Rosanna’s experienced supervision. I’d gone to spend a couple of hours at Qolijou while Hussain attended to some work in the bazaar. ‘Come on,’ she said when I arrived. ‘You’re going to see a baby born this afternoon.’ She was just about to examine the very young woman who had been brought in early in the morning. It was her first baby and the girl looked petrified. Her contractions had begun the previous evening but when, mid-morning, they had stopped the family decided to hire a jeep and bring her to Qolijou. Rosanna had started a drip to induce labour again but the contractions were still very weak and infrequent. ‘It’s going to be some time yet,’ she said.

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A trip in this kind of jeep on these roads was almost guaranteed to kick start a labour!


Suggesting the family take the girl for a drive in the jeep she added to me, ‘Driving for half an hour on these roads should get things going nicely.’ Sure enough, when the little group – panic stricken wife, bemused husband, mother-in-law and confused looking aunt – returned the contractions were stronger and more frequent.

Although she had delivered countless babies Rosanna admitted she was slightly worried about this one. I found her in the delivery room, sitting on the floor, poring over her own obstetrics book. The husband was becoming increasingly nervous, making moves towards the door, but Rosanna encouraged him to make himself useful by gently massaging his wife.  Normally the husband is nowhere around for the delivery of an Afghan baby and the two women attendants at first looked shocked, then amused.

Hussain arrived to collect me but there was no way I was going anywhere until the baby arrived. He went off to take a nap.

It grew dark and lamps were lit. When Rosanna next examined the girl she said triumphantly to the father-to-be, ‘Your baby is on the way. Look, you can see the head – so much hair!  Now, you help your wife to push, encourage her.’

She turned to me. ‘When the baby arrives I’ll give it to you, don’t let the women get hold of it until I have finished. I’ll tell you how to tie the cord.’

As the woman pushed to bring her baby into the world Rosanna was there with her, pushing with all her might, puffing and blowing and panting until I began wondering which one of them would deliver first. Suddenly, the baby was there, yelling a protest at its arrival.   Rosanna told me how to tie the cord – giving me the chance to feel that I was actually doing something useful. As I tended to the baby girl, so beautiful but so slippery, I was overcome by awe at the miracle of new life coming into the world.

The father was totally bowled over by it all, the only father in Jaghoray if not all of Hazara Jat who had actually witnessed the birth of his child.

Only the mother seemed totally disinterested and we were afraid that she wasn’t happy because her baby was a girl and not a boy. Rosanna questioned the husband about this but after he had spoken lovingly to his young wife we saw her smile and he said, ‘O khush ast lekin kheley khasta shud – She is happy, but very tired.’ When the baby had been cleaned she was taken over by the two older women, impatient for their turn to participate and they expertly swaddled the child, binding her with a band of beautifully embroidered cloth.

The beaming father took his baby in his arms and invited Rosanna to choose a name and, after some thought, she decided on Gulzeba, meaning Beautiful Flower.

The only time the father lost his composure was when, the afterbirth having come away cleanly, Rosanna began to stitch up a small tear. He spoke excitedly to Iqbal who translated, ‘He is afraid that if you sew her up they will have difficulties in the future.’ When Rosanna explained what she was doing, promising that this was not a new form of family planning technique he relaxed again, looking rather sheepish. Rosanna and I returned to her room where we celebrated with a pot of tea and a biscuit.

On the way back to our clinic, I gave Hussain a graphic account of the birth to which he replied, ‘So now you can deliver all the babies in the village.’

I looked at him, aghast, ‘Not on my own, I can’t – send them to Rosanna.’

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The bridge of terror from a different angle

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – Christmas Book Fair – New Collection – #Verse #Short Stories – Life’s Rich Tapestry : Woven in Words by Sally Cronin

Another new book to hit the shelves in time for Christmas is Tapestry of Life: Woven in Words by Sally Cronin. Not only is Sally the author of many titles – both fiction and non-fiction – she is a wonderful blogger and super supportive of other writers and bloggers across the globe. Pop over and read all about her latest title.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Delighted to share the news of my own new release today. Life’s Rich Tapestry : Woven in Words is a collection of verse, micro fiction and speculative short stories.

About Life’s Rich Tapestry

Life’s Rich Tapestry is a collection of verse, microfiction and short stories that explore many aspects of our human nature and the wonders of the natural world. Reflections on our earliest beginnings and what is yet to come, with characters as diverse as a French speaking elephant and a cyborg warrior.

Finding the right number of syllables for a Haiku, Tanka, Etheree or Cinquain focuses the mind; as does 99 word microfiction, bringing a different level of intensity to storytelling. You will find stories about the past, the present and the future told in 17 syllables to 2,000 words, all celebrating life.

This book is also recognition of the value to a writer, of being part of…

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MarySmith’sPlace – Afghan Adventures #12

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Afghanistan’s amazing mountain scenery

It was through Baqul’s ten year old daughter Sughra and her mother Fatima I began to meet and make friends with some of the village women. Left to the men I would never have met women socially – maybe they didn’t view foreigners as being real women. Or foreign women as being real people.

Sughra often visited my room. She would rummage happily in my tin trunk, my few possessions an endless source of wonder. She questioned me on everything she unearthed, from supplies of soap and shampoo to notebooks and pens. She pored over a small album of photographs until she could identify each of my family members.

Her little sister, Amina, though at first nervous of me, was eventually won over by some old birthday cards to which she took a fancy. One day I made a string of paper dolls for her. She watched with interest as I folded the paper and cut the shapes. However, when I unfolded the paper and showed her how to make the dolls dance she shrieked in terror and ran for the door. Sughra, after carefully examining the dolls, scolded her and told her not to be so silly.

Fatima and I often met on neutral territory between our respective latrines, passing the time of day in friendly greetings. She always asked me to come for tea but I was hesitant, afraid my fluency in Dari couldn’t hold out for the length of time it takes to make tea. However, realising that yet another refusal might strain the shaky foundations of our friendship I finally agreed to visit.

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Just to show I was there!

The house was small, with just two rooms, both of which could fit easily into the living room at the clinic. The door opened directly into the first room – a kitchen and store. The second room provided living and sleeping accommodation for the family of seven. I understood why Sughra was so fascinated by my possessions – her family had none. A threadbare piece of what, once, had been a colourful gilim covered only part of the earth floor, while a small bundle of bedding in a corner constituted the entire furnishing of the room. On a small, recessed shelf a few medicines (no home was without a plastic bag of pills, syrups and tonics), embroidery materials and a small bundle of clothing were stored.

That first visit was not exactly a huge success. Fatima had invited several of her friends, and although none of the women were strangers to me, I became self-conscious, tongue-tied with embarrassment. There were many awkward pauses in our stilted conversation during which I would smile and smile, desperately trying to think of a topic my limited vocabulary would allow. Having exhausted the weather – what can be found to say on that subject when every day is warm and sunny? – I asked one little girl if she was going to school yet.  There was a stunned silence. In Jaghoray, in those days, girls did not go to school. They helped their mothers with housework, looked after siblings, or the sheep on the mountains. Their brothers went to school. Feeling extremely foolish, I resorted to praising the tea – which meant Fatima had to rush off to make more.

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Tea party


Despite the initial awkwardness I was soon comfortable enough to drop in from time to time to have a chat with Fatima. She was a plump, smiling woman in her early thirties – though age is pretty much a ‘guesstimate’.  When I first met her she was in her tenth pregnancy, still breast feeding Amina. Of her previous nine pregnancies, four had ended in miscarriage.  Two of her remaining children had Hurler’s Syndrome. The family was poorer than any proverbial church mice.  It was astonishing that she could still find anything about which to smile, yet Fatima was always cheerful, ready for a laugh. Baqul had taken Fatima to live in Kabul after their marriage. During the early 1980s all young, able bodied men were conscripted into the Afghan army but Baqul had no stomach for fighting and they returned to his village, to their tiny house, and small patch of land which could never provide for all their needs. No wonder Baqul had been so delighted when Hussain had agreed with Gul Agha’s request to employ him as the clinic cook.

Sometimes when I visited Fatima, some of her friends would put in an appearance. More tea would be made as they settled down for a good gossip. Following their conversation was often difficult and I frequently begged them to speak more slowly for me. They made valiant efforts to make me understand – using mime, bellowing in my ear (I thought only the English yelled at foreigners to make them understand) but try as they might, they could not slow down the normal speed of their speech.

Sometimes, in a party mood, they would dance. First, the dancers would pull their chaddar completely over their faces then, unable to see a thing, they would start to stomp. This stomping – there’s really no other word to describe it – had a “musical” accompaniment, a continuously blown raspberry. Perhaps the chaddar was worn as much as a protective device, to prevent the spectators being drowned in spittle, as for modesty. This rather graceless form of dance was performed at weddings, though never in front of men.  I thought it unlikely that men’s passions could be inflamed by viewing a performance so devoid of eroticism – but I kept my foreign opinions to myself.

Conversations invariably turned to women’s problems and my vocabulary increased greatly as we discussed stomach cramps, menstruation, contraception, pregnancies, morning sickness, breast feeding and children’s illnesses. I was soon disabused of the notion, based on their so careful concealment of every contour of their bodies and every hair on their heads whenever they were in public, that Hazara women were modest to the point of prudery. With surprising speed they would whip off items of clothing to demonstrate where the pain was.  Those who were nursing infants would produce enormous, milk engorged breasts without a hint of embarrassment, often forgetting to pop them back inside their bodices after the feed.  They made risqué jokes, full of sexual innuendo – much of which passed, disappointingly, right over my head.

Yet these same women would arrive at the clinic to consult “Dr” Hussain, and refuse to remove their chaddar. One particularly shy creature could not even bring herself to open her mouth to allow him to examine her teeth, which she said were giving her problems. They would giggle sheepishly, roll their eyes, but refuse steadfastly to allow much more than their blood pressure to be checked. Hussain was frequently driven mad by this behaviour but could never see that he and all other men were responsible for it.

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Hussain in the clinic – female patient reluctant, her son truculent!

Who was it who insisted that ‘mum’ pull her chaddar more securely round her when walking in the bazaar?


I’m not the only one with a new book out – just look at this gorgeous book by Annika Perry – perfect Christmas gift.

Annika Perry

It’s here! I am overjoyed to announce the release of my latest book!

Oskar is afraid of adventures. Yet one day he finds himself on a mysterious island which needs his help.

Join Oskar on this unexpected and magnificent quest, where he finds not only courage but so much more …

“It’s light, extremely enjoyable and very gripping.” Esther Chilton, author & editor

The first review is already in and thank you so much to Bette A. Stevens who read a pre-release copy of Oskar’s Quest.


In this beautifully illustrated children’s book, author Annika Perry captures the importance of caring for others, overcoming fears and making new friends.

Young children are sure to relate as a fearful Oskar steps out of his comfort zone and embarks on a perilous journey in an effort to save a beautiful songbird and return happiness to an island where he’s been stranded…

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MarySmith’sPlace – #Book launch #Successful

Keith Kirk and I enjoyed our launch party for A-Z of Dumfries: Places-People-History. I think the folk who turned out on a filthy wet miserable evening enjoyed it too.

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Our lovely, receptive audience

I was in my usual panic mode, convinced no one would turn up, especially as a trickle of ‘sorry, I can’t make it after all’ emails came in and the rain never stopped all day. The first thing we did when arriving at the venue was to haul chairs out and hide them in a store room so the place would not look too empty. Then, as people started arriving, we had to haul them back out again.

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Standing room only at the back

Keith’s granddaughters did a sterling job, meeting, greeting and directing people to the room then taking round the bowls of nibbles.

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The three lovely helpers in the front row (photo credit Keith Kirk)

We kept the introduction to the book fairly short – Keith talked a little about the photography aspect, I read out a few of my favourite entries in the book and we answered questions before urging everyone to enjoy some more Prosecco. And, of course, we pointed out A-Z of Dumfries is a wonderful Christmas gift and offered to sign books.

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Keith and I doing our stuff

Since then we have done a book-signing in the museum on Saturday morning and it was lovely to see people who couldn’t make the launch come to buy a book or two.

Next Saturday, December 07, we’ll do our final book signing, which will be in Waterstones – just perfectly timed for Christmas shoppers – as long as they don’t have to post them abroad. I took in some posters and fliers plus photos from the book so they could make a display in the shop – ousting Billy Connolly from his advertising spot!

If you are in Dumfries on Saturday, we’ll be in Waterstones from 11am to 1.00pm

After that, we are available to talk to groups and organisations about the writing and photography process that went into A-Z of Dumfries – a fine companion to Secret Dumfries.

Book launch 2 (Custom)

A few people have asked about book launches and whether it’s worth doing them so after our last book signing I’ll put something together with a more detailed account of what we did and how successful – or otherwise – it has been.