Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Visiting Barchi

Kids skating on the ice outside N's house

The little guy on the left is N's oldest son, Mohsen

N and his youngest child, Mahdi

The whole family

Me (blinking) and N's family

This morning I had the opportunity to visit an Afghan family in their home. N, one of our drivers, invited me to meet his wife and children who recently arrived from Ghazni. It was a wonderful morning. N lives in the Hazara neighborhood called Barchi, not far from our office. There are three main ethnic groups in Afghanistan – Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras. Hazaras are decendents of Ghengis Khan’s armies, and their features are more east Asian than other Afghans. Because of their ethnicity, and their history, they are often persecuted by other Afghans – both the Taleban and the Mujahaddin targeted them during the 80s and 90s.

We drove down narrow, muddy lanes to get to N’s house, which is set back behind a big lot. On the way N insisted on apologizing for the “poor facilities” at his home. I reassured him not to worry about it, and told him that I was honored to be invited. When we arrived there were some children outside the gate of his house running and sliding on a big patch of ice. When we entered the gate we were greeted by N’s wife, his sister-in-law and several children. I was ushered inside, and after removing my shoes was led to the “guest” room. The room was very clean with lots of carpets and burgundy cushions lining the perimeter. I was offered a seat next to the wood stove and N’s sister-in-law brought in tea, cookies and nuts.

The children filed into the room, sitting quietly at first and peeking at me from behind N and the woodstove. Eventually they decided I wasn’t going to sprout a second head and they started angling over towards the cookies. N’s youngest child is almost a year old, and he sat in N’s lap most of the time I was there, drooling and giggling and trying to walk. Some of the female children came in a little later, but they hung back even more than the other kids – except one girl named Hadiya (which means gift) who sat right next to me but wouldn’t look at me. She was probably about 3 years old.

N lives with his wife and two children, his brother’s wife and five children and his mother. His brother works in Iran and sends money home, but N is responsible for the entire group.

After the tea, the women delivered Bolangi, a kind of potato pancake stuffed with vegetables, chicken and French fries. And so, the game began. I ate a much as I could, keeping in mind that the women and children would not eat until I was finished. Then N insisted that I eat more, so I took a few more bites. Meanwhile, N’s neice, Fatima joined us. She is about 17 and in 11th grade. She arrived from Ghazni yesterday, and as a guest was allowed to eat with N and I, unlike the other women. I use the word allowed in a cultural sense – not that N would not let them eat with us, just that it would be considered impolite.

Fatima had lots of questions for me about America, my life and my family. She also wanted to know how old I was. I told her to guess, and she said 18 or 19. Which means that she probably thought I was about 21 or 22 but didn’t want to offend me by guessing too high. Her eyes got really big when I told her that I am 27. Afghans age much faster than westerner’s are used to because of the harsh conditions they live in, and because of the dryness of the climate. Admittedly, I do look younger than my age, but most Americans would guess my age around 25. Most 25 year-old Afghans look about 35 or even 40 to Western eyes. After more polite conversation I convinced N to let me take a picture of his whole, beautiful family. N’s wife, Nafisa, tried to insist that I stay for lunch, but I demurred (I had just eaten lunch by my standards).

N makes a good salary by Afghan standards, but his income is supporting 11 people. Their home is very basic and without electricity, water or heat other than bukharis (woodstoves). The leftovers from the food they served me will probably be shared among all the children and the women. But, not eating would have mortally offended N and his family. He views having me as a guest in his home to be a big honor, and I’m sure it will be talked about for many days to come. I am the one who was honored, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have a little peek into Afghan life, even if all the kids were wearing their very best Eid clothes and had been scrubbed within an inch of their lives. These are the sorts of things that make working abroad worthwhile for me, and unfortunately because of the security situation in Afghanistan they are few and far between.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh come on. You didn't sprout a second head? They didn't have orange juice, that should be reason enough! Im glad you're having a wonderful time over there sahar. You should make N some scrambled egges like me and abdulla did for all the helpers at baba's place.

Miss you lots,