Writers and farmers

4 05 2010

Istalifi Kid

We have many visitors often both friends and professionals with an interest in what we do. The author William Dalrymple fits into this category as a writer researching his latest book. As I write he is in one of the most dangerous areas which saw in 1842 the final demise of thousands of British soldiers at Gandamak, also the name of the bar/restaurant run by an ex-BBC journalist. I am particularly interested in this period of Afghanistan. As part of my more regional reading I am up to late 1800s in a book on Afghan history. Men such as Roberts, Stewart, Abdul Rahman and Dos Mohammad had key impacts on the development, and deterioration of the country.

Istalif Valley as green as it gets in early summer. Once the rains stop only the snow melt will keep the fields and trees from drying out.

Security is calm although you have to realise that any day it could change. Karzai’s pressure on internationals has given the police an excuse to be more bothersome, it’s hard to go through a checkpoint without being stopped. They will use any chance to hold you back and so we all now carry passports as it’s the one thing they can’t argue with. Copies of work permits, company ID and registration cards are also in the wallet to cover all issues.

Farmers who cultivate the steep rugged hills above the village of Istalif

With the weather opening up we’ve had more chance to get out of Kabul. This time back to Istalif. With rain keeping the valleys green and some of the trees still in flower this is perhaps the best time of year to see the hills.

These farmers took time from their work on the steep slopes to talk over a few cups of tea. They were quite surprised that I had made any attempt to learn Dari, but I have a long way to go before I can describe more than my jib and my country.

Terraces stepping up the hillside

The hills they cultivate are barren dust and rock for much of the year. They build channels to carry the water from far up-stream to the thin terraced fields above their houses.

Having spent a few hours with the farmers I then managed to injure myself climbing down a terrace. They were most hospitable and took care to check that my (own careless) misfortune wouldn’t prevent me from going back.  And so they take the place of this week’s Afghaniman.

Duncan DJ


Walking above Istalif and the Eid festival

26 11 2009

View of the Shomali plain from the mountains of Istalif. Both these territories were the battleground in the battle for Kabul.

One unforeseen benefit of being out here is the absence of Christmas hype. Instead this weekend is Eid, a three day religious festival with all the family extravagance and sheep slaughtering but none of the musak. What makes this even more charming is that the mullah who decides which days Eid actually falls on can only work it out a week before, as it is linked to being able to see the moon. This means that everyone gets four days off instead. Each family buys a sheep for hundreds of dollars, dyes its wool purple and spends the week fattening it up. Every spare piece of land in Kabul is full with numerous flocks and men negotiating over the right price. This isn’t like buying the right kind of Christmas tree although the sheep can end up decorated before the fateful day of slaughter and feast.

Stopping for a break on the way up to the mountain tops above Istalif

The nightly frosts were broken by rain earlier this week so we have built a temporary roof over the whole site. If we had managed to get the floorboards in the scaffold and tarpaulin cover would have done very nicely as a marquee for an Eid party. Most of the lime work is finished and the carpenters are flat out on shaping poplar trees into beams and window lintels.

Typical house built into the slope above the pottery town of Istalif

I’ve added a few pictures from our walk in the mountains around Istalif last weekend. This was the front line between the Taliban and Northern Alliance and the HALO trust have been busy in the town and surroundings. The strategic hill tops were heavily mined and a Northern Alliance tank sits improbably on a ridge, the turret facing the direction they retreated when the Taliban captured the site, using their own shells against them.

The week's Afghaniman, Qari Aktar from Istalif. He has four sons and drives himself and the rest of the team of potters from Istalif to Kabul each day.

Afghaniman is Qari Aktar, one of the drivers and potters from Istalif. Although probably younger than me he has four children and a beautiful walnut grove in the valley.

Qari means that he can recite from any part of the Qur’an. During our return into town he broke into tuneful songs from his favourite singer. Although the language is pure the message is more inviting. “I like you. Can I be your friend, you can come to my house.”

 Duncan DJ