When we arrived home, everyone trooped out to welcome me and I felt extraordinarily glad to be back, although there was an air of suppressed excitement about Hussain which made me wonder what was afoot.
Ali Baba and Ismail vied with each other telling me tales of the recent fighting. Throughout my stay in Malestan I had never heard a shot fired in anger, nor heard of any fighting. The three Parties in that district seemed content to maintain a peaceful status quo – or perhaps they shared Mubarak’s apathy for anything troublesome.
While I was unpacking Hussain asked, ‘Well, Mum, what did you think of Malestan?’ Before I could open my mouth, he proceeded to answer the question himself, ‘The people are not as educated as Jaghoray people, and of course they are much poorer.’
I replied, ‘Well, I admit Jaghoray is more prosperous but Malestan is peaceful – and the women are much more free, which I liked.’
Hussain snorted. ‘Free? Free to work all day in the fields! Is that what you call freedom? Our women don’t need to be field workers. Their husbands can provide for them; they are free to stay at home.’ I was still trying to formulate a suitable reply, hampered by my knowledge that in the UK in the 1950s and 60s some men did not want their wives to take jobs outside the home because it reflected badly on their ability to provide for their families, but Hussain had moved on.
‘I’m very worried about how slowly the work is going on the new clinic. Sometimes when I go there to check only one man is working, the rest have gone to do some other job. They know that we are too busy to supervise them. I think we have to move in now, and then they will work faster. What do you think?’
‘I think you’re mad. How can we move in? The roof isn’t on yet. Where would we sleep, where would Baqul cook, how could you run the clinic? There isn’t even a latrine!’
‘We can build a latrine in a few hours and we can live and work in tents.’ He flapped his hand about airily, all problems solved. I knew there was no point in arguing.
‘When were you thinking of moving?’
He gave me one of his most engaging grins, ‘Tomorrow.’
I began walking towards the door. ‘Where are you going? Don’t be angry.’
At the door, I turned, ‘I’m going to ask Baqul for hot water for a bath – it sounds like I might not have the chance of one for a while.’
It was actually two more days before the move was made – two days of frenzied activity, begging tents, hiring transport and packing all the equipment, furnishings and medicines. A large notice on the door stated normal clinic timings would be kept at the Mazar Bibi clinic. It seemed a bit hard on Latifa who was scheduled to have her ears syringed the day we moved. She now faced a three hour walk to reach the new clinic.
Saying goodbye to friends in the village was painful. Sughra spent the morning in tears. We all knew we would not see each other for a long time, despite the fact I would only be an hour’s drive away. For them, that meant a six hour round trip on foot – not possible for a social visit – and I understood that Hussain would be unwilling to bring me back to Sangsuragh very often. He could barely conceal his delight at leaving the village and moving into his own home territory.
Excited as a boy scout on his first camping trip, he was eager to show me our new quarters. One tent contained the medicines and was to serve as the consulting room. A smaller tent accommodated Baqul, his collection of pots, pans and other culinary equipment. He was already busy, fussing over a primus stove outside his ‘kitchen’. The third, largest tent was our living and sleeping quarters and I was surprised, and delighted, to discover it was luxuriously different from my notions of roughing it under canvas. The well flattened earth floor had been covered by our brightly striped gilims, mattresses and cushions were arranged invitingly around the canvas walls. A central flap converted the large living space into two sleeping rooms. The gas lamps hung from hooks, and even my bookcase had been set in place. Very ‘days of the Raj-ish’.
The temporary latrine was a hundred yards up the mountain, offering a great view of the surrounding countryside.
Baqul, by some feat of magic on his primus stove, provided a feast. After dinner we sat outside watching the moon rise from behind the mountain and tried naming the stars. The Milky Way was a broad band of white sweeping across the sky, and it was astonishing to see how many stars could be seen in Orion, which at home I picked out by his belt. Occasionally we would glimpse a shooting star. Jawad explained that everyone in the world has his or her own star in the sky and when that person dies his star falls down. I told how we wish on a falling star.
We sat talking late into the night. When we could stifle our yawns no longer we retired to bed. Ali Baba, Ismail and Jawad shared one room. Hussain shared mine, explaining that he thought I might be afraid to sleep by myself. I suspected the real reason was that there wasn’t a great deal of room left once the other three laid out their sleeping bags and blankets.
Hussain had been right – our presence certainly ensured the building work sped up considerably. Before long there was a roof on the consulting room, though patients had been arriving long before it was on – and another over the bathroom.