I thought I’d provide some random snapshots from my second tour of the clinics in Afghanistan, in particular some of the problems we faced while travelling. We left on May 01, 1990 in two vehicles. I was in the Mobile Team vehicle along with Dr Epco, a doctor from Holland who was going to spend several months in the clinic in Lal, Jon and Jawad, the driver from Hussain’s clinic. In the other vehicle, Moosa from the field hospital in Jaghoray was returning after finding an organisation willing to sponsor the hospital.
We’d only reached the border town of Badani when we had to hire a replacement jeep and driver because without four wheel drive, the journey would be impossible. Delays waiting for a new driver – who came highly recommended because as a former highway robbery he could guarantee our safety – coupled with a series of punctures and a leaking water tank meant it took almost four days to reach the Mazar Bibi clinic. The hole in the water tank was temporarily but effectively fixed by melting a plastic water jug to use as a sealer. When darkness fell the first night we discovered the second driver had no lights on his vehicle. In the bazaar of Shahjoi, there was no room in any of the hotels – the driver went home, Moosa slept in one jeep, Jawad and I in the other and the rest of the group under a tree. Around 2 am I was awakened by a persistent tapping on the window – two armed mujahideen were demanding car park fees. Jawad paid them and we went back to sleep.
Although travelling could be wearisome the constantly changing landscape makes up for it – from flat, scrub covered desert to rugged mountains to white rockscapes wind-carved into fantastic shapes. Large tortoises, recently awakened from hibernation lumbered across the road – ponderous but determined. The weather was glorious making memories of last year’s battles in the snow fade.
The snow, however, hadn’t finished causing problems for us – or, rather snow-melt, which had turned tiny trickling streams into raging torrents. The road to Malestan was closed so we had to go over the high pass on foot, helped by donkeys, one to carry our belongings and one for us to take turns to ride.
On the return journey, as we went through a village, Epco was riding the donkey. It suddenly put on a great burst of speed and galloped directly into a house. Epco is over six feet tall, extremely thin and at that moment, totally without control of his donkey, lacked any trace of the dignity expected from a foreign doctor.
From Mazar Bibi we headed off, north to Lal-sar-Jangal. In Naoor, where we had to spend a night sleeping outside it was still freezing, despite being the middle of May. We heard conflicting reports about the road conditions, with some people feeling we wouldn’t be able to cross the swollen rivers. We decided to try. At the first river, running high and fast, Jon waded through first to check the depth and solidity of the bottom, decided it was doable and we did it.
This checking the depth was something we all had to take turns to do. The water was freezing. One of my flip flops floated away, watched by a gang of kids who did nothing to rescue it. I threw its partner out the window later.
On one occasion, the road seemed to be quite good – until the first river crossing where it was obvious we couldn’t go through. Back in the bazaar Jon negotiated the hire of a truck on which to load our vehicle. This created great entertainment value for the local people but it worked and we were able to carry on.
In Bonshai (not sure of spelling) even the trucks couldn’t ford the river. Everything coming from the south had to be unloaded – wheat, rice, sugar – and carried across a narrow, ramshackle bridge to the waiting trucks on the other side. Jon measured the bridge, decided there were about four inches on either side of the vehicle and charge across before anyone tried to stop him.
It took seven days to reach Lal and just before we arrived at the clinic, we got stuck in mud. Qurban and Ibrahim came charging down on horseback like a miniature cavalry and lots of people turned out to help. They attached ropes to the front of the vehicle and hauled it out of the mud. We still had the river to ford and a line of men formed up in the water to mark the way for Jon to drive through. The final obstacle was a steep climb up the bank on the far side and again, the ropes were attached, the tug-of-war teams took their places and with much revving of the engine and churning mud and pulling on ropes we were safely up the bank.
The last few yards drive had something of a triumphal entry as everyone jammed into the vehicle or hung onto the sides as we drove – very slowly – to the clinic.
Suddenly, it was time to leave. The last few days were hectic, full of frantic packing and emotional farewells.
So many people were joining us on the journey to Pakistan that we needed two vehicles. The night before departure the clinic was overflowing with people and, desperate to escape the noise and confusion, for a few minutes, I persuaded Hussain to take a last walk on the mountain with me. Now I was leaving, he was full of remorse for all the times he had acted badly.
‘Really, Mum, I never mean any of the bad things I say when I am angry. I know you are right when you try to teach me how to behave, and I don’t want to fight with you. It just happens. You will find a different Hussain when you come back next year, I promise.’ I didn’t hold out much hope the growing up process would take place within five months – five years, perhaps – but I accepted his promises in the spirit in which they were made. We returned to the clinic to find some floor space on which to sleep for the last few hours left of the night.
We left before light. I travelled with Jawad and Hussain in the clinic jeep as they accompanied us as far as the checkpoint on the far side of Angoori where, if all went according to plan, we would pick up a hired vehicle for the journey to Badani. As the sun rose, chasing the early morning mists from the mountains, the sky changed colour from pearly grey through pink to blue, and Jaghoray had never looked more beautiful. The politics of a small minority of people may cause us more trouble than in any other place we worked, but it was the place in Hazaristan I loved best. Well, I silently amended, maybe second best; after Waras.
We were allowed through the checkpoint with no problems. In the Toyota, which Jon was driving, Rosanna was comfortably ensconced in the front seat. Malim Ashraf, the headmaster of one of the Jaghoray schools, one of his students and Sharif sat in the back.
I shared the hired jeep with Rahimy, Zahir and the driver’s mate. Saying goodbye was painful and for the first few miles I was miserable – but it’s impossible to maintain such a high level of emotional intensity when total concentration has to be given to hanging grimly onto one’s seat. As we bumped and jolted viciously over rocks and holes, I thought my battered body would be hurled through the open roof.
By the time we stopped for a break every muscle in my body was aching and stiff. Jon asked if I wanted to change vehicles but I said I’d carry on until we reached Tang-i-Chaddar, where we planned to stop for lunch. I regretted that decision when our jeep broke down, several times, before we at last limped into Tang-i-Chaddar. Almost too tired to eat, I managed to swallow an egg and some nan before stretching full length on the floor, falling asleep almost before I had time to cover myself with my chaddar. I awoke to find the room full of thick smoke, coming from a fire in the next room. Rahimy was shaking me urgently, yelling in my ear that I should get out. Coughing and spluttering, we ran outside to gulp fresh air into our lungs.
I changed vehicles, to sit in the back of the Toyota with Zahir and Malim Ashraf. As Jon is tall he needs the driving seat pushed back as far as it will go so, sitting immediately behind him I had no room to stretch my legs. Hour after hour we drove while I fidgeted, trying to find a comfortable position. Once, Zahir demanded in a loud voice why I did not change places with Rosanna, who’d claimed the front seat for her own. I shushed him, but if she heard his suggestion she ignored it. Darkness fell and still we drove on, Jon keeping close to the jeep in front. Eventually the driver stopped to admit that he had no idea where we were.
We only knew we were somewhere in the desert. Jon and the driver wandered around with torches, trying to find the track. The others set fire to the shrubs to try to keep warm as it was, by then, bitterly cold. We huddled round each bush as it blazed into life, holding our hands to the heat then, as the fire died down, someone would light another. The road had disappeared. There was nothing for it but to stay put until morning. I persuaded Jon to pull his seat forward to allow me a little leg room, feeling extremely envious of Rosanna’s short legs and ability to ignore the discomfort of others. Surprisingly, I was soon asleep.
In the morning, we gazed at the desolate desert, dotted with fire blackened shrubbery. The ground was a maze of tyre tracks, one of which, we hoped, would prove to be the one for Badani. For a while we drove in circles, as we had presumably done the night before, judging from the number of tracks going nowhere, but at last the driver of the hired jeep drove off with a sudden burst of confident speed.
We still had several hours ahead of us before we reached Badani and, after a loo stop, Jon suggested that some of us might like to change places. ‘I don’t think so,’ replied Rosanna. ‘I’m quite comfortable.’
‘I was thinking of the others,’ Jon said, but Rosanna nimbly leapt back into her place in the front passenger seat. Wimps that we were, none of us in the back, dared confront our formidable travelling companion and so condemned ourselves to suffering in silence all the way to Badani.
We said goodbye to the driver, who could not continue any further into Pakistan in his Russian jeep, and looked about finding alternative transport for the rest of the journey to Quetta. Badani was one of those places which, before the Soviet invasion, barely existed, but had expanded rapidly when it became one of the main, unofficial, border crossing points. Now there was a large bazaar, where money changers were trading openly and an International Red Cross Hospital. Trucks, buses and jeeps were travelling in both directions.
After breakfast, we hired a Toyota and Rahimy, Sharif, Zahir and I travelled together. Our driver knew everyone at the checkpoints and I noticed money exchange hands occasionally, once even a mysterious package.
At our lunch stop, Malim Ashraf kindly stopped me from taking a mouthful of meat to which still clung a large tuft of the goat’s hair. After lunch we discovered our driver had been arrested. One of the people we’d driven past hitching a lift had been an out of uniform, off duty police officer returning to his post. He seemed to think the driver should have recognised his authority even dressed in civvies, and was incensed he’d not stopped. Catching a lift in another vehicle, he had arrived at the bazaar, just in time to have him arrested.
Jon rushed off to the police station to secure his release by apologising profusely for any unintentional injury to the policeman’s feelings. The driver, on his own behalf, slipped a little baksheesh into the outstretched palm of the police officer.
At the last checkpoint at Pishin no guards were on duty and our driver didn’t stop but when, sometime later, we checked behind us, there was no sign of Jon’s Toyota. We turned back to look for them. The driver was reluctant to go all the way back to the checkpoint. If they had been stopped there, our arrival would only cause more trouble. It was dark, when we pulled up in a small bazaar to wait, but our presence aroused the interest of the local constabulary and we were told to move on. Further down the road we stopped again. The road behind us remained ominously deserted and, finally, we decided to continue to Quetta to enlist help.
As the driver started the engine we caught the gleam of headlights behind us and, a few moments later, the Toyota pulled up behind us. Rosanna leapt out, eager to tell the story. They had reached the Pishin checkpoint only minutes after us, by which time the duty guards were again at their post. They were waved through without a problem until one of the guards pointed out that Jon had a flat tyre. Realising it would look suspicious if he drove off without checking condition of the tyre Jon stopped and realised he’d have to change the tyre. The guards kindly lent a hand but, just as Jon was thanking them for their help, one of them, peering in the back of the vehicle noticed, for the first time, the Afghans.
Their manner changed from friendly to officious and they started questioning Jon. The policemen insisted they stay the night until the D.C. arrived in the morning to decide what to do with two foreigners driving around with a group of Afghans, all emphatically denying that they had ever set foot on Afghan soil. Jon tried to convince them that they were all working for the Pakistan leprosy programme. Whether his story was believed, or the guards just couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork keeping them until morning would entail, and they were allowed to go.
We were nearly at journey’s end. As we rounded a curve in the road and saw the lights of Quetta twinkling in the valley below us I heard a collective breath drawn by my companions in the back who had never seen anything like it in their lives. Even Sharif who, as a small child had seen Kabul, and thought he had seen the world, was impressed. Zahir truly thought it was magic.
After six months of pressure lamps and torchlight, and dark, dark nights in Afghanistan, I also thought it was a pretty magical sight.
As we prepared to leave Arif’s clinic he became unusually quiet until, as he was saying goodbye, I realised how upset he was by his young brother, Sharif’s departure. He was coming with us to Pakistan where Arif had arranged for him to attend school in Karachi. I promised to take care of him, and with tears in his eyes he finally released Sharif from a tight embrace. If Sharif felt similar emotion, he concealed it well, appearing self-possessed about the prospect of not seeing his family for several years.
We stopped for lunch at the edge of Naoor where I noticed Sharif patiently helping to tear up Zahir’s nan before requesting a spoon for him, without which it was impossible for him to eat. His right wrist, which had previously flopped about, had now been firmly splinted. We feared a bone was broken (in fact X rays in Karachi showed the bone had not broken, but had crumbled away, attacked by pus bacteria which had presumably started life in an old, infected wound.) Despite his sorry state, Zahir still retained his high good humour, dissolving into his terrifying asthmatic giggle at the slightest thing. He was also becoming less self-conscious about his appearance, no longer keeping his face hidden behind his turban tail.
As there was only another three hours travelling in front of us to Malestan we decided there was no need to re-fill the thermoses at the chaikhana – more fool us. As the road began to climb steeply, becoming increasingly twisty and treacherous, we found ourselves, once again, in a snowy landscape. There was nothing to be seen, except a few rocks, appearing bald-headed, where wind had swept off their snowy caps.
Piles of snow drifted along the edges of the road, often obscuring dangerous ice patches. The single set of tyre tracks preceding us indicating how rarely this lonely stretch of road was used. We cheered ourselves by thinking of the welcoming tea we would soon be sipping in Malestan.
Near the top of the pass Jon had difficulty negotiating a tight corner. Reversing, to make another attempt, one back wheel slipped off the edge of the road. Further attempts resulted in all the wheels going off. Tyres spinning in the snow, the vehicle slid a few yards down the mountain. For the next two hours we struggled to get the vehicle back on the road.
We unloaded everything and tried pushing, to no avail. We attempted to build a “road” with suitably flat stones, laying them in front of the Toyota like offerings to propitiate some angry god – which is how it felt by then. Nothing worked. By the time the sun began to sink, resulting in a dramatic drop in temperature, we had to admit we were well and truly stuck and we knew no other vehicles would come this way before morning. Jon decided to walk back to the bazaar, hoping to find someone with a truck and a tow cable. Realising we may have to spend the night on the mountain, Rahimy, Sharif, Zahir and I made ourselves comfortable in the Toyota.
We had plenty to eat – dried fruit, toffees and busrock (a deep fried biscuit) but no hot water for tea or coffee. Very soon the inside of the windscreen iced over, and we were all becoming shivery. I switched on the engine, turning the heater up full. This alarmed Zahir, huddled in a blanket beside Sharif in the back seat. ‘Turn it off! The jeep will run down the mountain.’ I tried to assure him this was extremely unlikely but he was not convinced, afraid I would fall asleep in the warmth, nudge the gear lever and send us crashing to our doom. I switched off the engine, suggesting Zahir try to sleep but he refused. Sharif sat quietly, as always, seemingly unruffled by events, calmly chewing toffees.
When we could no longer see out of the windscreen because of the layer of ice, I’d turn on the heater, just long enough to melt the ice, and stop us all from freezing to death before the rescue party turned up. Rahimy became quite chatty, using the opportunity to practise his English. I asked if he would miss his family very much and he began to talk about his two wives and children.
I was interested in the way Rahimy spoke with evident fondness for both two wives. His first marriage had been arranged when he was young, and seemed to have been happy enough. Then Rahimy had met and fallen in love with the woman who became his second wife. He was worried about how his second wife would manage without him. Her family had disowned her when she married Rahimy, and she lived far away from his first wife and the rest of Rahimy’s family. Before I had a chance to ask how and where he’d met his second wife, Zahir made us all jump by suddenly crying out, ‘Gurk! – Wolf!’
I peered excitedly out of the window at the expanse of snow gleaming in the moonlight, ‘Where?’ I demanded. Zahir explained he hadn’t actually spotted one but they were everywhere around here. He was now worrying Jon would be eaten before he reached the bazaar. I reassured him that, as winter had only just begun the wolves should not yet be hungry enough to tackle Jon.
After about four hours, when I was thinking we really ought to try to sleep, we caught the sound of an approaching truck. We listened intently to the faint but unmistakable sound which, though still a long way off, surely signified help was on the way. Zahir, however, now started to worry about robbers and we looked helplessly at our piles of baggage heaped at the edge of the road. At last, an ancient truck rumbled into view, stopping a few yards in front of us. Jon leapt out of the cab.
The first tow rope snapped as soon as the truck took the weight of the Toyota but, finally, after a great deal of shouting and yelling between all parties, the vehicle inched slowly forward, until it was standing safely back on the road.
Jon paid our rescuers and I urged Zahir to stay in the jeep while we re-loaded our baggage. He was turning blue in the bitterly cold night air, coughing and wheezing in a terrifying way, as he struggled to help lift heavy bags with one hand. At last, we set off, everyone sitting in silence until Jon negotiated the last of the corkscrew bends and then, feeling the worst was over, we relaxed a little. Rahimy, Sharif and Zahir soon fell asleep, so they missed the next pass which was even more hair-raising. The summit was 3,600 metres and the bright moonlight illuminated the frozen snow, the hairpin bends and the sheer drops in a way which was both awesomely beautiful and terrifying.
Although exhausted, I was reluctant to sleep in case Jon, who must have been even more tired, did the same. It was a great relief to reach the valley and know that we were almost “home” in Malestan. At the clinic, Khala and Baba, unperturbed by our arrival at three o’clock in the morning, hastened to provide tea. Then we collapsed into bed.
The delay meant we were a long way from our destination, when darkness fell. At the next check post the mujahid guarding the chain, tried to persuade us not to continue our journey. Jon thanked him, but said we must ensure our patients reached the clinic in Day Mirdad. The mujahid played the beam of his torch into the back of the vehicle. When he spotlighted Zahir, without his turban, he jumped back hastily and waved us on. Poor Zahir, for once, we were grateful for the terrified reaction he provoked.
At the next check post Jon tried the same story. The mujahid peered into the back, saw Zahir and said calmly, ‘Oh, a leprosy patient. Never mind, we can give you a separate room for him.’ Jon requested permission to speak to the Commander who opened the window of his office a grudging few inches. We watched as Jon talked, gesticulating occasionally towards the vehicle. We saw the Commander shake his head and give a brief reply. Jon tried again – the Commander slammed the window shut. We were not going to reach Day Mirdad that night.
We were directed through a gateway into a large, bleak compound. Crunching over the frozen snow, we reached our room, unwilling guests of the Nasre Party for the night. The room was frigid, my head was hurting and we were all cold and cross. A man came in to light the bukhari around which we huddled, morosely sipping tea. We had to ask twice for food before we were eventually served a quantity of greasy, grey liquid with a few pieces of very stringy, dried up meat. Not even Zahir could find anything to laugh about.
When I awoke in the morning I discovered I’d lain on, and broken, my glasses, my head was throbbing worse than ever and, when I learned, despite the fact we’d not exactly been willing guests, we were expected to pay for our board and lodgings I was furious. Determined to tell the Commander exactly what I thought of his shabby treatment of us I headed across the compound towards his office. Rahimy talked me down – otherwise we might still be there. With bad grace I climbed into our vehicle.
At least the day was crisp and sunny, which helped lighten the mood, as we headed towards Day Mirdad. We left the snow behind us, but it would soon catch up with us again, and we would have to complete the work in Arif’s clinic as quickly as possible. For Jon, it meant examining the accounts and handing over the money required for the running of the project through the winter months. For me, it meant interviews with Arif to collect information, statistics and stories about his work, to be included in reports.
Day Mirdad is situated between Pashto and Hazara lands. Arif was Pashto. Before the Soviet invasion had forced him to abandon his studies, he’d completed two years in medical college in Kabul. Arriving in Pakistan as a refugee, he somehow heard about the leprosy centre in Karachi, and was accepted as a candidate in the training programme. Arif and Jon had been class fellows in Karachi but were not close friends. As a Pashto, Arif could never accept coming second to anyone in anything, while Jon, south-of-England-born, had a similar arrogance. Somehow or other at the end of the training, each was able to feel he had done better than the other, and honours were even.
As we approached the clinic the landscape became more desolate and barren. Grey, naked mountains rose on every side until it seemed there was no level ground anywhere. Everything was on a slope; the buildings, the fields – tiny handkerchief sized patches of brown – the few trees growing sparsely here and there. Houses were hidden behind very high mud walls in which heavy gates were set. Occasionally we had a glimpse, through an open gateway, of the mud built homes, constructed like fortresses. Pashto women are even more jealously guarded than Hazara women who, by comparison, are allowed tremendous freedom.
We drove through an imposing entrance into a large compound, on three sides of which was a two storey building. Arif came bounding down the steps to meet us, arms outstretched to embrace Jon in a welcoming hug.
Many are the tales of encounters between the soldiers of the British Raj and the fiery tribes from the Frontier Province, depicting the Pashto as tall, swarthy tribal chiefs, tangled black curls escaping from beneath their turbans, dark eyes flashing in challenge. Arif is nothing like those romantic heroes. Standing at barely five foot four he is stocky, has brown eyes which don’t flash particularly challengingly (well, maybe when angered) and a fair complexion. He is restless, excitable, unable to sit still for more than five minutes, and given to generous arm gestures when talking – which he does at great length and speed.
After embracing Jon he clasped my hand warmly, grinning, ‘Welcome, sister. I have many stories to tell you, but first we will drink tea.’ We followed him upstairs to the guest room which was large and sparsely furnished – a gilim which barely covered the floor and a pile of bedding. A Kalashnikov stood in one corner of the room, and when Arif saw me eyeing it, he rushed to give an explanation, ‘For protection, sister, for protection. When I go on tour Ashraf, you know Ashraf? My field assistant. He carries the Kalash – just in case. There are many thieves about, and maybe they think Arif has a lot of money because he works for a foreign organisation.’
We had stipulated weapons should not be kept on clinic premises by staff, a rule we suspected was frequently broken, although usually they had the sense to hide the thing before we appeared. I knew Hassan kept a Kalashnikov in Sheikh Ali, despite having made a big drama once about returning it to the local Commander. Now, he ensured we didn’t see it, but occasionally forgot, as when telling a story of being attacked by a wolf, which ran away when he fired his gun. He’d suddenly stopped talking as he realised he’d given himself away – then made matters worse by trying to say that he was just taking the gun home for a friend.
If Arif felt he needed the protection of a Kalashnikov while on tour, often on foot, I felt there was little we could say against it but I could never really see the justification in having one in the clinic itself. If thieves broke in to steal the medicines, they would surely be well armed. There would be a bloody shoot out which would most likely result in our staff being seriously injured, or killed – and the medicines would still be stolen. In this part of the world, however, men, from when they were still young boys, carried guns. It was expected. Only it used to be an old Lee Enfield which somehow seemed less of a killing machine than an AK-47 assault rifle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ‘dehyo’ – don’t know spelling. It was terrifying to us all!
I discovered some more slides, handed them over at the print shop – they say at least three weeks! Photos included this week, while relevant to the post are taken on different times.
Lal-sar-Jangal – early winter 1989
It was time for the trip to Waras which I was anticipating with trepidation. Not only would my equestrian skills be sorely challenged by two days on horseback – each way – but, so too would my conversational abilities. Although my Dari had improved, my vocabulary was very much women orientated. I wondered how far lines such as “Does the back pain come just before your monthly bleeding?”, “Does your bleeding come regularly?” or, “Is there any smell or itching?” would take me.
Ibrahim’s brother, Hassan, arrived to accompany us on the journey and early one morning we assembled outside the clinic. All the staff, several patients plus curious onlookers gathered to watch our departure. My horse was a pretty little thing, brown with a white star on her forehead. Outwardly displaying a degree of confidence, inwardly belied by the nervous churning of my stomach, I mounted, waited for Ibrahim to adjust the stirrups, mount his own horse and give the signal, “Y’Allah”, to be off.
He and Hassan trotted off. I stayed put. It was acutely embarrassing, in front of so many people, all much too polite to laugh, but who must have found the situation hilarious. On previous occasions, the horse had at least started out. After much kicking of my heels and frantic tugging on the reins, I had to suffer the ignominy of being led by Haboly for the first fifty yards, until the horse finally accepted that she was part of the expedition.
Probably 1994 with son, David and ‘his’ horse
Despite having reluctantly agreed to carry me, there was no way that she was going to put herself out any more than was strictly necessary, and I could not coax even a gentle trot out of her. Resorting to the method used on our way to Haboly’s village, Ibrahim rode in front with Hassan close behind me, occasionally giving my horse a flick with his whip. After about an hour of this Hassan decided enough was enough, and that if he did not teach me something about riding, it was going to take us a week to reach Waras.
He connected with horses like a horse whisperer!
His method was simple and direct. Riding up alongside me he handed me his whip with the command, ‘Bezi – Beat!’ Reluctantly I took the whip and, feeling acutely self-conscious, attempted to do as ordered but only succeeded in striking the saddle bag behind me. My second attempt connected with the horse’s rump. This so astonished her, she was galvanized into charging forward in a fast trot for all of a hundred yards. As she began to recover from this surprise action on the part of her soft-touch rider and slow down again, Hassan was right beside me yelling in my ear, ‘Bezi!’ There were a few more fits and starts but, at last, she understood, and accepted, that her novice rider actually meant business. She settled down into a steady trot. Flushed with success, I grinned my thanks to Hassan and patted the horse’s neck at which her ears pricked quizzically. I began to feel quite fond of her.
Ibrahim and Hassan sat loosely in their saddles, completely relaxed. I felt like a sack of potatoes lumping around in the saddle, and with every step my spine connected with the wall of my stomach. Progress may have become speedier, but it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. When, after two hours of trotting, Ibrahim suggested a stop for tea I was extremely grateful. Dismounting gingerly, I winced as my cramped muscles protested, but the tea and boiled eggs revived me and when Ibrahim said, ‘We must go.’ I remounted, eager to continue. It was nerve-racking when everyone else in the chaikhana came out to watch how the foreigner rode a horse. To my relief she responded instantly to the dog calling sound, which means “gee up”, and trotted off beautifully. I loved her. I decided to call her Zeba, meaning beautiful.
We were to break our journey at Ibrahim’s uncle’s home in Kirman and Hassan rode ahead to alert the family to expect guests for the night. I watched enviously as his horse galloped over the flat grassland on which we were riding, wondering if I would ever attain such confidence and proficiency on a horse. Ibrahim rode alongside and showed me how to gather the reins in my left hand, Afghan style, my right arm, holding the whip, hanging straight down by my side. I felt that at least I was beginning to look the part.
Never thought I’d be so comfortable on horseback!
The family had gathered outside to meet us. As soon as we were led inside Ibrahim’s aunt pounced on me and proceeded to massage my aching legs until the muscles relaxed and the pain melted away. Bliss. Later we played cards until dinner was served. Ibrahim never travelled anywhere without a pack of cards in his pocket. On this occasion he offered to teach me a new game but every time I thought I had grasped the rules, he seemed to change them. By the time dinner arrived, I owed him forty five chickens.
I slept little that night, devoured alive by an army of fleas sharing my blanket. In the morning Ibrahim caught me scratching furiously at my ankles and asked, ‘Fleas?’
Not wishing to offend anyone by saying their bedding was flea infested I muttered, ‘Perhaps I got them from the horse.’
Ibrahim was shocked by such a suggestion, ‘Oh, no, the horses don’t have fleas. They must have been in the blanket.’ When his uncle appeared and was told about the fleas he apologised for my disturbed night, but otherwise seemed to take the philosophical attitude that flea infested bedding was just one of those things in life with which we must cope. I escaped outside to find some privacy in which to enjoy a good scratch at the bites in less accessible parts of by body.
I’ve included a selection of random photos in this post.
On the ride home from the school visit Ibrahim complained about Qurban’s absence, saying this was typical of his behaviour with the people in Lal. ‘He does not understand it is important to keep these people happy – the teachers, the Commanders, the Mullahs. If they are happy the work will go well but if we upset them they can make trouble for the clinic. They care about their position being respected and Qurban should understand this.’
I decided to talk to Qurban. He was unrepentant about not turning up at the school, ‘Ibrahim behaves as if he is in charge, always talking to the people at the paygar (local government office), being friendly to the Commanders.’
‘Qurban, it’s called public relations. It is important. If the headmaster is upset with you and complains to the Commanders they could make problems for you and for the clinic. It’s surely not asking too much to spend some time now and then to keep them smiling. They know you are in charge of the clinic, not Ibrahim, and if you don’t accept their invitations they feel insulted.’
‘So let Ibrahim do this work and I’ll do my leprosy work,’ Qurban shrugged.
‘That’s not the point. Ibrahim is your assistant. The “bazurg” (big people) expect the most senior person to meet with them.’
Since I was already steamed up about one issue, I continued, ‘Another thing, why do you behave so badly when we are together at mehmanis (dinner parties) – not speaking to me, acting like I have done something terrible. I admit I don’t always understand the customs – but if I make mistakes it would be better to tell me about them.’
‘I don’t have to explain my behaviour to you.’
I gave up and turned to leave but, as I reached the door he called me back. ‘Listen! Our people are very poor. Most of them can’t afford more than dry bread and tea – every day. Some people can eat meat maybe once a month, others, once a year. They work hard on the land but there is never enough wheat for the winter. Do you know that sometimes in the winter the poorest people have to eat grass from the mountain, because they have nothing else?
‘I want to help my people but I can’t put food in their mouths, all I can do is try to make them better if they are sick. Sometimes we give some money from the social budget to a poor leprosy patient who can’t work but there is not enough money to help everyone. Besides, many people who don’t have leprosy are even poorer. You have been here for nearly two months, you must have seen this for yourself?’
‘Yes, I have seen the poverty – although I have never seen people reduced to eating grass.’
‘Well, it happens. People hope to be able to afford new clothes once a year for Nau Roz (Afghan New Year). It is the only time they can have something nice to wear. They wear the same clothes until the next year. These are my people, I work for them, and I really try to help. ‘Then, a foreigner comes along and everyone wants to meet him, or her. They invite them to their houses, kill a chicken for them – give them as much meat in one meal as would feed a poor family for a week. The people make a big fuss of the foreigner; their hopes are raised because they know foreigners have money, and the power to change things.
‘Then the foreigner says we should teach them this and teach them that and not give so much medicine to them. The foreigner bashes away on her typewriter making reports, then goes away and nothing changes.’
He shrugged, ‘Sometimes it makes me crazy. I don’t have power like the Commanders. They are rich, maybe even as rich as you, but do nothing for the people. They demand respect without doing anything to earn it – and expect me to run around them telling them they are wonderful.’
Qurban finally ran out of steam and I sat, stunned, wondering how to reply. ‘I understand some of what you feel,’ I said quietly, ‘and I feel guilty about how much people spend to prepare a dinner for me but what can I do? If I refuse their invitations they will be hurt and offended, won’t they?’ He nodded in silent agreement.
I continued, ‘We work for a very small organisation. We can’t do much more than we are doing already. As we are not agricultural experts, we can’t teach the farmers how to improve their crops. We can only try to persuade other organisations to come and do these things. By visiting the clinics I can provide first hand reports for the donors, persuading them to continue their support. That is the way in which I am most qualified to help – by writing about the needs of the people. I am sorry that you feel my presence is such a burden on them.’
Qurban smiled faintly, ‘Yes, the money is important. I suppose the occasional chicken is an investment – keep you happy so you keep the donors happy.’
‘The donors don’t count the chickens that are killed for me. They judge the success of the project on the number of leprosy patients you find and treat, the number of other patients coming for consultation and, of course, they are keen to see that we can work freely without trouble from political Parties.’
A few days later, the headmaster, with some of his teachers, paid a return visit to the clinic. Qurban played the part of clinic In-charge and host to perfection, smiling, courteous, a role model for all future public relations encounters. The headmaster was extremely deferential towards him. When they left, I said to Qurban, ‘You see it is not difficult to keep these people happy. They were all very respectful to you.’
Qurban looked at me pityingly, ‘You don’t understand anything about the people here. They can very easily pretend to like and respect someone, but I know what they are thinking. When they see me they think of leprosy. If people behave as though they like me, it is because they feel sorry for me. No-one sees the real Qurban so how can they know if they like or dislike me?’
I wished I had a degree in psychology, to help me understand what went on in his head – more importantly to know how to help him.
After the excitement of arriving in Lal I experienced a sense of desolation when Khudadad left next day. Although we’d been travelling companions for barely two weeks, not only had I come to depend on him for so much – from ensuring I was well fed to finding a bed for the night – but I’d truly enjoyed his company. As the truck pulled away I stood forlornly clutching the huge melon he had given me as a farewell gift, waving until he was out of sight.
Stocktaking and updating the record cards of leprosy patients seemed such mundane chores compared to the excitement of travelling, never quite knowing what might happen or where we would end up. Having to begin all over again getting to know a new group of people none of whom, apart from Qurban, I had ever met before was daunting.
The clinic was a depressing place with dark, poky little rooms whose tiny windows allowed in hardly any light – a common design feature in houses throughout the area, to insulate them from the bitter chill in winter, when temperatures drop to -40C. Qurban had done his best to improve the appearance of my room, which was the size of a cupboard, by lining the crumbling walls with orange cloth. When I was in bed, a colony of mice staged athletics events behind the cloth, occasionally venturing out to scamper across the pillow. Qurban was negotiating over the price of a piece of land on which to build a new clinic, something I hoped he could accomplish quickly.
Entrance to the clinic
I began to sort out who was who amongst the staff. Ibrahim was in charge of the dressings and injection room where he did the soaking, trimming and dressing of leprosy patients’ ulcers, as well as attending to other wounds and injuries. As two of his nephews had both been my English students in Karachi where they were trainee leprosy technicians, I happily accepted Ibrahim’s invitation to visit his home in Waras sometime, as I had promised the boys I would try to deliver their letters personally to their families.
Qurban, his brother Bashir and a patient (name has escaped me)
I’d already been invited by Qurban to visit his family’s village and Haboly, the general medical assistant, was insistent that I must also visit his. Invitations quickly followed from Aziz and Rahimy and my social calendar was soon completely filled for all foreseeable weekends.
Ibrahim on the camel on the right. Camels were rarely seen so far north
Rahimy had been a mujahid but retired from their service, cheerfully returning his Kalashnikov, to work in the clinic as a field assistant where he was paid a regular salary and was less likely to be shot at. Wounded in a skirmish, the injury had left him with a permanent disability in one hand. He was such a quiet, gentle person, demonstrating a genuine concern for the patients, it was difficult to visualise him in his former role of gun toting freedom fighter. Rahimy was to come with us to Pakistan to attend a laboratory technician course over the winter. The second field assistant, Juma, would then, the following summer, begin his training in Karachi as a leprosy technician.
Patient on right and some of his family
Me being maternal with a baby securely parcelled up so it didn’t wriggle
Every morning patients gathered early outside the gates of the compound. Many travelled for hours by foot, or by donkey – by horse, if they were better off. Some took two days or more to make the journey from remote villages and, most days, around fifty patients arrived to consult Qurban and Haboly. They arrived well prepared for a long wait, bringing with them kettles and dry tea and nan, along with fodder for the horses and donkeys. Children found new playmates with whom to pass the time, chasing each other amongst the groups of adults and around the tethered animals. The scene resembled a country fair and in fact, in the days following the clinic’s initial opening, one enterprising man had opened a temporary chaikhana to cater for the crowds.
In addition to these “general” patients Qurban had a case load of around two hundred leprosy patients scattered across his extensive control area. He had an almost equal number of registered tuberculosis cases. It was too much for one leprosy technician to cope with so Qurban was keen for Juma to start his training as soon as possible to lighten the load.
Tuberculosis patients caused the greatest concern because of the rate of absenteeism, and lack of personnel to follow up missing patients. The effectiveness of the tuberculosis drugs in some ways works against controlling the disease in Afghanistan – and other developing countries – because soon after a patient begins his treatment he feels well. Believing he is cured, he discontinues the medication. If he is being prescribed drugs by a private doctor the cost for the full course of treatment is prohibitively expensive and, understandably, the impoverished patient has other uses for his money. The biggest danger, when a patient stops taking his medicine before all the bacteria has been destroyed, is the remaining bacteria mutate into a new strain, resistant to those particular drugs.
When news spread a foreign doctor had arrived the numbers of patients, especially women, increased. Despite Qurban’s cajoling I refused to play at being a doctor. ‘In my country a person would be sent to jail if caught pretending to be a doctor. It’s too easy to make a wrong diagnosis or prescribe the wrong drugs. I’m happy to check female leprosy patients and talk to mothers about nutrition and family planning but I’m not going to pretend I can do anything more than that.’
Qurban laughed, ‘You are not in your country now. The people here are desperate for medical care. Anyway, everyone in this clinic is a doctor, even the cook!’ I’d heard the cook being called Dr Aziz but had assumed it was simply a term of respect. I hadn’t considered the possibility that he might actually prescribe medicines for people and was only slightly reassured to discover he confined his prescribing to aspirin and vitamins.
‘Dr’ Aziz, the cook
We finally agreed I would do the stock taking, write my reports and carry out leprosy examinations on female patients. I’d be available to talk to women about nutrition for their children and for themselves in pregnancy, to explain how contraceptive pills should be taken or to teach a woman how to work out her fertile days. The dwindling number of female patients soon made it clear the women were not interested in hearing a foreigner talk about mashed potatoes and greens for their children, and had no magic drugs to make their babies strong and healthy.
It was bitterly cold at four o’clock in the morning and I really hated leaving my snug, downy bed for the trudge across frozen fields to a frozen truck. Paying a quick call behind a tree before we departed, I shuddered at the thought of how it must be to live here in the middle of winter, the snow thick on the ground for months on end. In an attempt to defog the windscreen, the driver drove with his window wide open. Sitting immediately behind him, I felt the full force of the icy air blasting in my face.
At the prayer stop I shivered, watching the men washing in icy water from a stream. Khudadad didn’t join them. It certainly woke them up and they returned to the truck, talking and laughing together, although for the most part they ignored us. The breakfast stop was at a small chaikhana where Khudadad insisted that I sit on a particular piece of floor space. This was almost entirely taken up by the driver, who reluctantly shuffled sideways to allow me to enjoy the glorious warmth generated by an underground central heating system. Hot air from a fire is forced through tunnels under the floor. I understood the driver’s reluctance to give up even a few inches of blissful heat.
Breakfast was tea and bread with individual pots of butter. The butter was so hard I couldn’t see how I was to spread it. The driver solved the problem by sprinkling his butter liberally with sugar, then eating it with a spoon. I followed suit.
The sun finally warmed the cab to a tolerable degree. The road wound up mountain after mountain. At the top of each pass the conductor leapt out to cover the bonnet with a large blanket. This, Khudadad explained, was to prevent the engine, which had become dangerously over heated on its laborious struggle uphill, from cooling down too quickly on the downward slope. At the bottom of the pass the blanket would be removed until the top of the next one was reached. On the steepest part of the climb all the passengers sitting amongst the apples in the back of the truck got out to walk, to lessen the load, as the ancient vehicle groaned its way to the summit. These mountains were higher than those I had seen in Jaghoray, rising to a height of over three thousand metres.
When Khudadad informed me that we were nearing the top of the highest pass, I looked out and saw the road snake away behind us with one or two toy town vehicles far, far below. On the descent, two bends from the top, the driver misjudged the turn and brought the truck to a halt, its front wheels teetering on the edge of the drop.
Everyone, including Khudadad, leapt out to help the conductor heave boulders in front of the back wheels to prevent the truck from taking a nose dive down the precipice. Outside, sounds of shovelling and digging were accompanied by a great deal of shouting but inside the cab with the entire bench to myself, I enjoyed the luxury of stretching full length. I closed my eyes. In a sleepy haze I heard someone knock on the window, a voice declaring, ‘Khau raft– She’s asleep!’ Khudadad’s voice in my ear woke me. He was shouting, ‘You must get out! Get down! The driver is going to reverse the truck. Get out!’
‘Why can’t he reverse the truck with me in it? Does my weight make any difference?’
Khudadad shook his head in exasperation. ‘It’s dangerous. You have to get out, now!’
Grumbling about having my nap disturbed I clambered out joining joined the cluster of people gathered on the steep mountain slope. We watched the driver reverse the truck back on to the road. ‘See.’ I beamed at Khudadad, ‘I knew he could do it. You have no faith, that’s your trouble, no faith at all.’ I took my place again on my allotted twelve inches of seat.
‘Were you not afraid?’
‘No, he is a good driver; he knew what he was doing. And the conductor had put half a mountain in front of the wheels – the truck couldn’t possibly have fallen over.’ I didn’t admit that until I had actually seen the drop over which we teetered – once forced out of the truck – I had been unaware of the danger.
The driver demanded a translation and was obviously delighted at my praise of his driving – he smiled at me for the first time since we had met.
The scenery changed as we left the high mountain passes, driving now through the flat valley of Kirman with rugged rocky outcrops on either side of us. Few vehicles were on the road but we were clearly in horse country. Many riders had to rein in their mounts as we passed. Frightened by the noise of the truck, the horses stamped their hooves and tossed their heads, obviously longing to flee from the terrifying monster approaching them. Again the landscape altered and we were in the midst of great, rounded, sweeping mountain vistas, vastly different from the more rocky and rugged mountains of Jaghoray.
Khudadad pointed, ‘On top of that hill, on the other side of the river, is the Lal clinic.’
By the time the truck pulled up a welcoming committee had formed. Jumping from the cab I scanned the blur of faces until I caught sight of Qurban’s familiar features as he pushed through the crowd to greet us. Khudadad received a huge hug and kisses on both cheeks, I got a brief handshake and we were swept off to have tea with my “brother” and his colleagues.
Qurban and his mother and siblings
Introductions were made to a host of staff, patients and curious visitors but I knew it would be days before I succeeded in sorting out who was who.
Juma Khan, the truck owner joined Khudadad and me for tea in the guest room. He was accompanied by his elderly wife whose eyes were filmed by cataracts. Pointing to his wife’s eyes he asked what could be done; did I have any medicine to make her see again? My heart sank. I was going to be a very disappointing guest.
I shook my head, explaining only an operation would help. The nearest hospital where such surgery could be performed was Kabul. We all knew, without further discussion, that Juma Khan’s wife would end her days in darkness. More patients from the village arrived for consultations – children with eczema, children with scabies, malnutrition, diarrhoea. The picturesque rural scene I had seen as we arrived disguised the poverty, ignorance and disease in the village.
Apart from a couple of doctors of doubtful qualifications in the bazaar of Yakolang no other medical facility was nearer than our clinic in Lal. Some years ago, an American Government funded mission group had built a hospital in Yakolang. It had been closed, even before the Soviet invasion, amidst rumours of spying and proselytising. I had seen the modern buildings as we drove through the bazaar earlier and, faced with so many children for whom I could do little to help; I wondered why one of the many aid organisations working in Afghanistan did not re-open the much needed hospital. Our organisation was tiny, but where I wondered were Oxfam, Save the Children, the UN agencies? Khudadad answered, ‘This place is too far from Pakistan. They don’t want the bother. It is easier for them to help in the nearer, Pashtun areas.’
Although he spoke in English, on hearing the word “Pashtun” Juma Khan’s wife let out a long wail of anguish followed by a voluble speech full of anger and grief. Khudadad explained, ‘This family are originally from near Jaghoray, but the Pushtoon took their land and forced them to move. Many, many families lost their lands at that time and moved here. The land is not good and farming is hard. They will always hate the Pushtoon people. That is why the Hazaras must have some power when there is a new Government.’
It was quite a speech from Khudadad and the emotion in his voice was clear. ‘When did this happen?’ I asked.
‘During the time of Abdur Rahman Khan,’ he replied. ‘They will never forget.’
Abdur Rahman Khan ruled from 1880 to 1901 and is known for uniting Afghanistan after years of fighting when the Durand Line was being negotiated with the British Raj. He also forcibly removed thousands of Hazaras from their lands which were given to Pashtuns. Thousands of Hazaras were killed, raped, sold into slavery and many thousands more left Afghanistan for Iran, Baluchistan (in what is now Pakistan). The Governor of Baluchistan reported to the foreign department of India that he believed Abdur Rahman was intending to exterminate the Hazaras.
Even though she was not even born in the days of Abdur Rahman Khan’s rule I understood Juma Khan’s wife’s anger and grief. At home in Scotland people still talk about The Killing Times, as though they took place a couple of decades ago. It was a period of church conflict in the 17th century.
The rest of the party soon arrived for dinner. More tea was served. Having seen the tea consumption of the average Afghan, I fail to understand why the English are considered to be a race of tea drinkers. Dinner was “sheer brinj” (literally, milk rice) and for me it was a first to see it served as a main, savoury dish rather than as a pudding. I watched to see how I was supposed to tackle the moulded ring of glutinous rice, surrounded a well of hot oil. As he dipped balls of rice into the hot oil, Khudadad muttered, under his breath, complaints about the fare.
I found it unappetising myself but, not surprisingly it was a filling meal and I soon felt that I had eaten more than enough. The driver bellowed a question which Khudadad translated, ‘He wants to know why foreigners eat like birds while Afghans eat like donkeys?’ I mumbled something about how hard most Afghans work compared to us puny foreigners, which provoked much laughter. I was amazed at how much food they managed to put away, especially as not one of them, even the giant conductor, was even slightly overweight. If the amount of food they consumed was impressive, the tea drinking which followed was truly awesome. Two enormous kettles containing several gallons of tea were brought, with a smaller teapot for the foreign bird.
As the guests talked and talked I grew more and more sleepy. I might even have fallen asleep had I not been diverted by the antics of a little mouse, scampering nimbly over the bedding and cushions round the edges of the room. Khudadad caught my eye and grinned when he saw what I was watching but no-one else appeared to have noticed, so engrossed were they in their conversation. At last, the driver upended the kettle. It was empty. Juma Khan immediately offered to have more tea brought and I smothered a sigh at the thought, but apparently the signal for departure had been given.
Khudadad had been unusually quiet throughout the evening, taking little part in the talk, and I wondered if something was wrong but he replied, ‘No, no. I was a little bored. They were talking about their business.’
While we prepared our beds Khudadad continued to talk, translating chunks of the after dinner conversation, delighted with the improvement in his English which enabled him to be so articulate. I lay down, but Khudadad carried on talking, making up for his silence earlier in the evening. When he had completed his run down of the evening’s discourse, which seemed to have been mainly about the price of goods and transport costs, he began on the political history of the revolution. I would have found this a more interesting topic but, unfortunately, at this point, his English failed him and he turned off the lamp.
There was a sudden scampering by my head as the mouse ran across the pillow, seeking his bed for the night. After a while, I realised he’d found it, inside my pillow case. ‘Khudadad, the mouse is inside my pillow.’ He switched on his torch and we took turns trying to dislodge the mouse, until the ridiculousness of the situation struck us and we both dissolved into helpless laughter. I chose a different pillow, leaving the mouse to his peaceful slumber.