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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.