Khodahafez, Ghor

So I’ve said goodbye to Ghor.

I left without throwing a farewell party, too ill to sort it out at the end, and such events in our office are not exactly riotous occasions, merely the addition of a couple of bottles of fizzy drink and a bit more meat with our rice at the evening meal. But I was sorry not to all the same. Food has never filled me up in Ghor, but it has fed my thoughts.

The night before I left, someone just back from Lal district told me of a woman he had spoken to there, the mother of five children, who had grain left only for another month. Her husband was away, working on someone else’s fields. When he finished the harvest there, in about three month’s time, he would get paid enough to buy wheat, and nothing else, to last them two or three months. What they would eat in between, and afterwards, the woman did not know.

Nearly all of the people from that village who could afford it had left to search for opportunities elsewhere; those that are left too poor to leave. When I first arrived in Ghor last July the harvest, I was soon told, was not good. This year as I leave it is no better. And a bad harvest when you have nothing else is, in the wonderful understatement I have got used to, very bad.

Aid organisations are slowly responding to the food shortages, but oh so slowly: it can take half a year to finalise a proposal, secure funding, and then begin activities. During which time people like that woman and her family just have to survive any which way they can. Sell off a daughter perhaps. Or starve.

The office was fairly empty as I made my farewells. Which was probably just as well as there are only so many vice-like hugs my ribs can stand in any one day. I was told by one gentleman that I was not like other visitors because I did not expect any more than other staff that live there had, that I have not been too proud. So I’ve done fuck all of any use but I haven’t made a nuisance of myself: a commendation indeed! My still swollen face usefully excused any moisture around my eyes. God willing, I said, I will be back sometime in the future.

Driving over the bridge across the hari rud for the last time on the way to the airstrip, the small girl sitting in the dust begging was still there.

Back in Kabul that same evening I feasted on vegetables. A visitor was at the table, and the talk turned to the food shortages and the shortages of funds. I couldn’t bridge the gap that was suddenly vividly illustrated for me, between ‘the field,’ where individual people starve, and the world of headquarters and meetings and policy, where numbers starve.

I wanted to speak about the family I’d been told of the night before, but it was all I could do to answer questions about rainfall patterns, malnutrition levels, metric tonnes delivered and other specious statistics. My usual inarticulateness made worse by exhaustion, I couldn’t translate the individual to the ‘bigger picture.’ Maybe it would have been rude to anyway, numbers being politer than naming suffering.

Damn it, I didn’t mean to get all serious. I’ve left Ghor, I should be happy. As we flew off and banked steeply above Chagcharan and the familiar expanse of nothing much but dust, I certainly felt relieve – mingled with many other emotions in the pit of my stomach. But if I haven’t already I’m in danger of getting all melodramatic about my own travels in false relation to those stuck on the ground. I’ll shut up now.


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One Response to “Khodahafez, Ghor”

  1. Frida Says:

    I’d be surprised if you were really in danger of melodrama, that being more my territory. But this is an honest and touching farewell to a place that we both probably did very little to help. You were a help and a good friend to me there nonetheless, and I’m grateful for that. Thanks. Enjoy home and get in touch soon.

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