Introducing Ghor

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Ghor. The ‘h’ is important. Gor means graveyard in Dari. It’s a mistake in pronunciation I continue to make and a similarity I continue to be amused by. The province has its fair share of graveyards – heaps of jagged stones with coloured rags fluttering on sticks above them – but other parts of the country have certainly seen more violence and hold more reminders. Rather, it is the similarity with the old nautical phrase ‘graveyard watch’ that strikes me: that time in a ship’s day when the night is darkest, the hours slowest.

Ghor is a backwater: it takes Afghanistan’s graveyard watch. Colleagues in Kabul laugh at me for seeming to like it here. One man from Nuristan, a province known for its beauty but not for its ease of access, looked at me with a pity approaching horror when I told him Ghor is where I spend much of my time. Finding qualified staff willing to work here for any length of time is a perpetual problem. It is, as the young men I work with frequently remind me, a boring place to be. And as a fellow expat said, it helps to be a little introverted to get by out here.

In the simplified political geography usually given to Afghanistan and the apparent separation of North and South, Ghor doesn’t quite fit, being awkwardly in the middle and studiously avoided by the country’s ‘ring road.’ It shares this fate with equally mountainous Bamiyan and Daikundi provinces. I don’t know about Daikundi, but at least Bamiyan is a day’s drive from Kabul and has two anti-Buddhas and a Japanese hotel serving vegetable sushi to raise its profile.

Neither the ‘good guys’ nor the ‘bad guys’ take much interest in Ghor. It is hard to reach and has little to draw people to it. One of the few times people get interested in Ghor is when other areas threaten its isolation. In one meeting, a USAID chap in Kabul spoke of his growing interest in the province as the ‘Taliban’ were pushed into it from fighting to the south. So he came to speak of the need for pre-emptive development to head them off at the pass. Or something like that. It is unfortunate that people here see large sums of money being spent in areas beset by violence while sleepy old Ghor gets diddly squat. I can’t quite figure out how that translates as a ‘peace dividend.’

Some days though I take comfort from the fact that, at present, Ghor is largely forgotten by all and sundry.

I have cited these statistics in so many documents I no longer believe them, but for what they are worth: The female literacy rate in Ghor is 3.7%, compared with a national average of 19.6%. The male literacy rate is 25.9%. 68% of families in Ghor have no access to a toilet. 71% of families are further than half a day’s walk from the nearest health facility, or have no access at all. Over 90% have no electricity. 93% of households have ‘low diet diversity across all food groups,’ the highest rate in Afghanistan. (These figures are from the National Risk and Vulnerability Analysis of 2003 and 2005.)

The province’s name comes, I believe, from the Ghorid empire that had its centre here x number of centuries ago. Clearly I need to do my homework before waxing lyrical on that.

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