My Village (extract)
(Translated from Pushtu by the author and Jennifer Langer)
My village was located in the most beautiful landscape ever created by God – green, lush fields, orchards dripping with fruit, a crystal-clear river and soaring peaks. The fast-flowing river gushed its way through the village adding more beauty.
We are the inhabitants of mud huts but in our daily life we were the proudest and most content people in the world. We felt we possessed everything – joy, satisfaction, with everything seeming to be on our side. We rose with the dawn chorus of the birds with every dawn heralding the start of a new life for the villagers. The song of the nightingale symbolised our elation. The pleasure of life was there, in Afghanistan.
God was the jeweller who early in the morning covered the green leaves and the ground with dew which shimmered like silver and emeralds as the sun shone. The sky was as brilliantly blue as lapus lazuli. All this enticed us to rise early and bestowed on us the energy to work and the confidence that we were capable of anything. After all, it was our land and we were labouring for our people.
For the young girls of the village, the late afternoon was a time of celebration, a festival, an Eid. They made their excuses to wend their way to the river to collect water and groups gathered all along the bank, singing, teasing and splashing water at each other. These were beautiful girls from the high mountains who were proud, confident and had self-respect. Yet, they were modest with downcast eyes and sweet smiles, girls who had only known happiness and who had true love in their hearts. In this way, life in the village had continuity.
But with the coming of the ‘Red Dragon’, the village and its inhabitants changed irrevocably. Everything was destroyed, houses, fields, crops, with the Red Dragon, swallowing the villagers’ happiness. Day after day people left the village until it was almost empty but for a young girl called Shaperee and her prematurely widowed mother whose husband had been murdered by the Red Army. One day the widow dreamed that her deceased husband spoke to her “My love, each drop of my blood was spilled for the freedom of our land so don’t leave the village and please do not desert me. One day we will regain freedom and people’s sacrifice will not have been in vain. The land will be covered in poppies and we will once again know happiness. The Red Dragon will disappear and this will be the dawn of a new life. Our dispersed people will return to their motherland and in this way those who sacrificed themselves will be gratified.”
The mother followed her husband’s advice and remained in the village because of her loyalty to her husband. The Red Dragon with its fiery breath could not dislodge her; she was as resolute as steel. She prayed to God saying “Dear God, my husband gave himself for freedom; please do not ignore his sacrifice but grant his wish.” Soon the Red Dragon was no more and everywhere the people danced and embraced each other and lit candles on the martyrs’ graves.
After two dawns, another dragon came to the country, more dangerous and potent than the Red Dragon. Young Shaperee asked her mother “Mother, what sort of dragon is this? With every breath it burns people.” The mother answered “Sweetheart, it’s the dragon which is hungry for power and supports the enemy. Its fire flares between the people sowing discord amongst us.” In this sad time, the widow again saw her husband in a dream. “Mother of Shaperee, all my hopes and desires have been destroyed. I sacrificed myself for my land and people but this dragon is too cruel and strong; it is immoral, uncaring, an unbeliever who will not heed God or the people who have suffered. Your life will be in danger if you stay, so leave now and take my blessing with you wherever you go.”
Indeed the fire of discord was so intense and cruel that more people fled.
In the end, young Shaperee and her mother had no choice but to flee and follow the road that thousands had taken before them. They left everything behind, walking barefoot with no head-covering and finally arrived in an alien land where the ground was red-hot and hard or deep in snow. They toiled hard, carrying heavy loads for other people, working unshod, without warm clothes. Their elegant, smooth hands became worn and rough and they were rewarded with but a piece of bread at night.
Their labour was sold for a few rupees and rials – for nothing.