Friday, 9 November 2007

November 8th - on towards the schools

Three brave health workers

Taking exams

The road from Faizabad

(Posted by Paula - emailed to me by Sarah)

The morning light in these mountains where the air is so clear gives everything a bronze hue and as we climbed higher out of Faizabad we looked back at the city drenched in this early light and curtained in a thin film of mist. We followed the river at first and passed through lots of villages.

Today’s journey was perhaps even more spectacular than yesterday’s and made even more interesting as we passed so much life along the way.

It was bazaar day in Urchi and from all the villages for miles around came men perched on donkeys, bedecked in turbans and dressed in striped Badakshani coats in greens and purples, faded to different shades by varying years of sun exposure. They emerged on the track in swarms, sending up clouds of dust around them, appearing like some ancient tribe lost back in time.

The bazaar was packed and donkeys lined the streets, tethered where room allowed and topped with traditional woven saddlebags in magnificent colours. We passed the cattle market where hundreds of turbaned men bargained and hussled; on past the clothes market, the fruit and vegetables….everything up for sale on one of two bazaar days each week. A wonderful sight ….and one which hadn’t changed for centuries.

As we ascended higher and higher the scenery became ever more rugged and reminded me of those countries you fly over at great height on a jumbo - those miles of bleached, sun-desecrated mountains which seem unable to sustain life. So utterly vast and dramatic.

There was a house, perched like an eagle’s nest overlooking these views. Crowds of brightly dressed villagers lined the terraces and doorways around the adobe walls. It was a wedding party and the guests’ clothes were almost luminescent against the acres of dusty hills. As we turned the next corner we saw a huge column of donkeys, horses and people, led by dancers –the bride and groom arriving.

They crowded round our jeep and danced all around us. The groom wore white and was on horseback. Donkeys carried heavy loads of wedding gifts. Drums beat. The bride – on horseback and dressed in a white burkha with a red veil- followed behind with her entourage of women, all dressed in burkhas and riding donkeys. The party made a spectacular sight as it wound its way up the steep track, a glorious feast of colour in the arena of rocks, mountains and hills.

We visited a clinic built by USAID and run by Merlin. The madness of foreign intervention - yes a really beautiful, well run clinic but built too far away from the village and with no water coming to it ….so the local council arrange for water to be carried in by donkey each day. Was good to see it being run so well and beautifully clean and efficient…and also to see the community building a wall, planting trees and providing shelter and food for the doctors.

Finally reached Keshem at 13.30 - 3 hours later than expected. I said my goodbyes and was greeted by 3 Afghan twin school workers and 2 drivers—we need 2 vehicles for security. Headed off to Holt’s twin school Jari-Shah-Baba. Was so good to see them all again and all the children recognised me from our last visit. They had beautiful gifts ready for me to take back to Holt and some really touching messages pinned to stunning hand made embroideries and miniature Afghan costumes. They had a display cabinet up all about the project. Gave out all the cards and gifts and interviewed some of the girls. Masses of giggling. Had just heard from UK that we have funding to build 6 classrooms and to provide desks and benches for the school and they were so thrilled---their tents were all ripped and some were just poles without canvas and now they will have classrooms.

They had had lunch waiting for me for 4 hours and insisted that I went to a local teacher’s home to eat. It was a feast and so typical of Afghan hospitality. Huge plates of rice and mutton and salads and pumpkin and chips and fruit and the most delicious scented tea. All so generous and perfectly served. The house was immaculate.

Rushed off but were caught out by darkness and travelled through the next 2 hour stretch of mountain roads in the dark. So pleased to reach Taloqan. Amazing welcome from the guards and cook at the guest house. I have known them for years now. A beautiful room laden with blankets …and oh dear …another huge meal just 2 hours after the last …and they looked so happy to watch me eating! All so kind and thoughtful, which helps so much when alone in a strange place in some far corner of Afghanistan! No internet so will post this when can.

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