MarySmith’sPlace – An Afghan Ceilidh AfghanistanAdventures#47

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The littlest girls were too shy to dance.

The days in Waras passed too quickly. I wanted more time in which to get to know better these extraordinary women. They worked hard, rising early in the mornings to milk the cows, send the flocks out to pasture with the small boys, on whom the role of shepherd inevitably fell, and feed the hens. Bread had to be baked in the tandoor, other food cooked and the clothes to be washed, house to be cleaned. Yet, they still were able to find enjoyment in life.  They were not as isolated as women in other areas, able to go off to neighbouring villages, and beyond, to visit relatives and friends. They laughed a lot.

I had been especially curious to meet Ibrahim’s wife, Zohra.  At the clinic when collecting details of each staff member, including names and date of birth of dependents, Ibrahim had joked that his wife was very old and he should look around for a younger one. Her year of birth was the same as mine. I had caused him some embarrassment by asking if he thought I, too, was very old. At thirty five years old, Zohra’s thin face was heavily lined. She had five children, the youngest still breast feeding. Since Ibrahim had often worked away from the village, returning infrequently, she had far greater responsibilities for the household than many wives. Seeing Ibrahim and Zohra talking and laughing together I was sure he was joking about taking a second wife.

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Cleaning sheep wool before spinning

Zohra, jokingly, complained about Afghan husbands and how much they demanded from their wives, but admitted Ibrahim was a good husband. Some Afghan men believe it is their right to beat their wives – Ibrahim strongly disapproved of such behaviour. And he did not mind tackling “women’s work”: cooking when guests were coming, washing his own clothes sweeping the carpets in the guest room.

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The dancers

Ibrahim had promised kebabs for our last evening’s meal and a large fire was built outside the house on which to cook them. Early in the evening I was surprised when a goat was led, bleating loudly, into the room. As he was taken around, each of the guests put out his hand, stroked the goats head, murmuring some words of prayer, before passing his hand over his face in the Islamic gesture of self-blessing. This, I realised with some unease, was our dinner being paraded around before it went into the cooking pot. Having been a meat eater all my life, it was not unease about eating the animal. What worried me was if it was still strolling around baa-ing at us, when we would finally eat dinner.

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David blindfolding Abbas for the game of ‘cor-jangi’ or blind fighting

There was, too, guilt at knowing how seldom meat featured on the normal weekly menu when, throughout my stay in Waras, we ate meat twice a day. I was afraid the family was bankrupting itself. When, I later returned to live and work in Waras for months at a time and was considered to be part of the extended family rather than an honoured guest, I shared the usual, everyday fare. The monotony of yoghourt and dry bread, bread soaked in whey and oil, or rice with perhaps a handful of sultanas or dried apricots added made me remember with even greater guilt the number of goats and chickens devoured on my first visit.

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David feeding the ‘khoroo’ – chicken.

Evenings were always great fun. The extended family would gather in the house of whoever was providing the guest dinner and after the food was eaten and tea poured for everyone, the entertainment began. It was like a Scottish ceilidh – without whisky. When I came back to work in Tacht-i-Waras my son loved the times we went to the village for the weekend and he could join in all the fun and games.

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I was writing down the words of the rhyme for this children’s game – wish I could find that notebook!

Caca Qurban (who sadly passed away earlier this year) organised the last evening’s entertainment, persuading the young girls to overcome their shyness and dance for me. These were accompanied by songs about marriage customs and dowries – and a slightly different version of the Jaghoray raspberry blowing.

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David bravely riding on the back of the ‘haiwan’ – the animal. First time he saw it he was terrified.

After the dancing the children played some of their local games. The ‘khoroo‘ or chicken was a child wrapped in a blanket with a beak with which to peck offered food. The ‘haiwan‘ or animal was child sporting a turban with a unicorn-like horn and large ears. Soon everyone joined in – the children shrieking with laughter, delighting in seeing their parents acting daft, reciting silly nonsense rhymes.

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I think this was some kind of memory game – anyone who recognises it, let me know!

The most frightening was the dehyo, with a cushion stuffed up his jacket and a homemade cardboard mask. Even though everyone knew who it was, our giggling response was nervous.

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The ‘dehyo’ – don’t know spelling. It was terrifying to us all!

14 thoughts on “MarySmith’sPlace – An Afghan Ceilidh AfghanistanAdventures#47

  1. Watching the customs and comparing it to the way people of all cultures entertain their children, there are similarities: Rhymes and silliness along with costumes. That was fun to see.

    It must have been very hard to learn later that people sacrificed so that you could eat well. I have no doubt that you contributed to their well-being as much as they contributed to yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Joelle. I’ve enjoyed those remembering those happy evenings. Those kids will be all grown up now and, I hope, teaching their own children the traditional games.
      It did worry me people were making such big sacrifices to feed me – and I couldn’t refuse to eat the chicken or the goat. I felt much happier, in lots of ways, when I was no longer thought of as a guest.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The party monsters reminded me of when my dad and my uncle used to pull stockings over their faces at Christmas, and chase us kids around the house. Even though we knew it was them, we were still afraid of their disfigured faces.
    I wonder how much meat we would all eat here if we had to bless the animal and watch it being paraded around before slaughter? I cannot imagine roast lamb tasting quite the same if we had to say our farewells to the lamb.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s amazing how children’s imaginations work 🙂 I think we would have a much more respect for and appreciation of the meat on our plate. The Eid which has just passed is a commemoration of Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his son for God in the street in Karachi where I worked people would look after their sheep or goat, really caring for it – the children would play with it and then came the day of sacrifice. I remember saying to someone I wouldn’t be able to deal with loving an animal like a pet then have it killed. I was told if there was no love the sacrifice would be meaningless, which is true.

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      • I’m a total hypocrite and would find it very hard to eat meat from a beloved animal, but I wish I’d been raised like that. It gives value to what you eat, plus the animal has a much better life and death than all those millions raised in enclosed spaces in the west and killed in abattoirs. Here in Normandy I get beef from my neighbor who raises cows in idyllic circumstances, but I don’t have a personal connection to them. I sometimes wonder if I could bring myself to kill and eat my pet pig? I suppose if things were dire enough…
        Question: if that goat was eaten straight after it was killed, wasn’t the meat very tough?
        Regarding the hospitality you had to accept, I think they must have enjoyed it also in a way, as it gave them an excuse to eat more meat than normal (or live above their means, so to speak) An excuse to share, to have a good time together. Greek hospitality is a lot like that, never let a stranger go hungry, and even today in remote villages people will feed a visitor with the best they’ve got.

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        • I’m lucky here in Dumfries & Galloway because we also can have meat from cows raised on local farms. I suspect we in the west have moved too far away from raising our own animals for food. When I was working on an oral history project I was surprised by how many families kept a pig until quite a long time after the Second World War. And, of course, hens.
          To answer your question about the meat – yes, it was very tough. Fortunately it was cut into very small pieces. Chicken was also pretty tough because no one killed a hen until it had stopped laying so it was quite old and, being totally free range, all the fat had turned to muscle. I describe how I dealt with that problem in the memoir Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni.
          And yes, I am sure hospitality in Greece is on a par with Afghanistan.


  3. Thanks for sharing such fabulous memories, Mary. It is such a different way of life, but I remember going to the village where my father was born (in a pretty rural area in the North of Spain) when I was very young, and children would regularly be looking after the animals, both in the summer and before and after going to school.
    Their hospitality sounds amazing. I understand why you worried about the expense they went to, but you were a guest, and I’m sure they felt honoured to be able to offer you a feast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Olga. I believe in quite a lot of rural areas of Europe it was usual for children to herd sheep and goats until not so long ago. Perhaps in some areas they still do. The hospitality was always exceptional – and I can still remember many of the wonderful feasts provided.


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