Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bye for now

Well, it had to happen. I can't keep posting old material from previous years and as I am now back here in the West, I cant keep commenting on the chaos of a country I no longer live in, and I have nothing much to say about Australia, so it's goodbye from Sparrow Press. I may revive this if I go overseas to another posting, but that is not happening for a while.
Thanks folks.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A day in the village

Today we sat a lot. Not a whole lot of action; we are waiting for UNICEF to get their act together and give us the materials for the construction of the shallow wells. So Imam Baksh, the mullah and several others sat with Engineer, Ali Jan and me. After a while, the mullah turns to me. You speak Farsi, he says.
‘What’s his country’, he asks Engineer, but I give the answer first. I’m not sure why there is this habit of speaking about people, rather than to them, but it is quite common. People quite routinely might look at Ali Jan, or at me, and then say to Engineer – who’s he? Who’s the foreigner?
‘Us-taraliya’, I answer, making the sound intelligible
‘Us-taraliya’, the mullah muses. ‘There’s water all around it, isn’t there?’
I nod.
‘And most people are Christians?’
‘About 50%’, I said. This number is way out – but what else to say?
‘And the others’, he prompts, ‘what are they?’
‘Some Muslims. Some people who don’t have confidence in God.’
‘The ones who don’t put their confidence in God – what are they? Are they fire-worshippers? Are they Buddhists?’
Fire-worshippers? Where did that come from – then I remember, Saidabad is in Balkh province, which is the historical centre of Zoroastrianism, but there has been no active community of believers here for centuries. I am saved from trying to explain Australia’s rash of indigenous, pantheistic, atheistic and New Age beliefs by Mother-of-Matan, bringing chai.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More history to mull over

From summer in 2001, shortly before the attacks of September 11

A short break in Peshawar.
It is certainly time I had a break. Its Thursday; I came out from Mazar yesterday. As I was waiting at the airport, some young Talibs came up.
’Do you speak Pashto?’ – they asked, in Pashto.
‘Why not?’ – in Pashto.
Me, in Farsi: ‘Because I speak Farsi. I haven’t learnt much Pashto yet. Maybe next year.’
‘Your beard should be longer.’
‘It’s not the rule in my country.’
‘It should be longer. Longer is better.’

I turned away.

I arrived in Peshawar about 1.30ish and walked down to the Guesthouse. Peshawar felt hot and slimy. Within minutes of leaving the Red Cross’s soothing, air-conditioned van I was struggling with my bags and Sabina’s box of books that I had agreed to bring out, I was limp with sweat and I had already called the guard at the American club a shithead.

Made it to the Guesthouse without further social infringements and found Julie to be out. Nonplussed, I ate lunch, read the paper, sat under the fan. 2.30pm Julie showed up and we were able to share a sweaty hug and then heaps of mail. Some new people coming on the team – Bern and his wife Verity, who is one of 17 children. They themselves have three already, 2 ½, 1 ½ and 6 months. ‘How many children will you have?’, Julie asked. ‘We’ll let God decide that’, Verity smiled contently.

Julie and I went out to the Pearl Continental that night for dinner. It being five star, we thought we might get the chance of a beer. Sure enough, we asked at the Taipan restaurant, where we planned on eating, if there was alcohol. Yes, came the speedy reply. Reassured, we sat down and I asked for the wine menu.
‘You must go up to the bar for alcohol.’
‘Oh. Right. Can’t get it here?’
‘No, in the bar.’
‘Can we get it there and bring it down?’
‘No, but you can take your dinner up. Or we can bring it up. Or you can have a drink then come down. Actually it would be better if you ate up there, as we are full tonight.’
‘Well, we’ll go up and see.’

We went up to the fifth floor and found the bar, which looked nice enough and had a few bottles of whiskey on the shelves. ‘What have you got’, I asked, leaning happily on the rail.
‘Great, what else?’
‘Nothing else sir, just there is whiskey.’
‘What, nothing else? What’s in all the cupboards?’
‘Nothing sir, just you have whiskey.’

A pause.
‘How much is a glass?’ Could I go a glass of whiskey? How keen was I?
‘Not by glass. Just you buy the bottle.’
‘What, the whole bottle?’

Another pause.
‘How much is a bottle?’, I asked, speculative and increasingly incredulous.
‘500 rupees.’
‘Ahhh. Thankyou, you have been most kind.’

We went downstairs. A little ludicrous, in retrospect, but it certainly was suprising, not just once either, but a whole string of suprises closely knitted together and it took some unravelling. We sat down again in the Taipan restaurant, much to the discouragement of the waiters and had some very nice chicken and beef dishes, washed down with a cleansing lemon juice. Meanwhile, at the packed tables next to us, a tour group of Japanese drank themselves silly on non-alcoholic beer.