There’s a small village in Ghor, just outside of Chagcharan, known as Little Wardak: a Pashto enclave in a largely Tajik/Aimaq district. I used to drive through it a couple of times a week, on excursions to the spring just beyond it where we’d fill up half a dozen jerry cans with water.
This last week, I’ve been in the proper, province-sized Wardak. You say that these days and people usually look at you as if you’re crazy, at which point you have to explain that you were in Behsud, the Hazarjat bit of the province that, in security and ethnic terms is a very different place.
‘Twas grand. I’m pretty beat afterwards, for it was frustrating planning for with numerous logistical hiccups and it was an intense week in the ‘deep field’. But good for that and we achieved as much as I could hope for in such a short time. It’s always a relief to get out of Kabul for while and get back to the familiar routines and rituals; the long drives, the pauses and tea and the TV in the evening. The cold clean air and starry nights, the lack of basic hygiene, my awkwardness at not being able to talk properly with most of the people around me, the discomforts of sleeping in an overheated room with a dozen other men, sardined into a sea of old blankets.
There were times when I couldn’t imagine a more privileged job to have in the world. Driving around such a rich landscape at will, with good companions and work to be done. Being invited into people’s homes, to ask them all the silly questions I can think of; learning endlessly and never understanding but slowly getting to grips with another way of life and another way of seeing the world.
Having to sit there cross-legged, knees aching and unable to stretch them, busting for a pee and a cig and trying to wrap up a discussion while the old fellow across the room is just getting into his stride, until you’re cornered by their hospitality and a young boy brings in the basin of water to wash your hands before laying out the rug and loaves and mountainous plates of rice. Then another round of tea; the conversation relaxing, sitting back and stretching legs an inch, until we can finally unfold ourselves and bid farewell in a cats-cradle of handshakes.
To drive on in road-tripping freedom, and on a bit, to track down and round up a few more folk whose time I can waste in my legitimised role as a half-wit nosey bastard.
There’s an unfettered joy to it my heart soars at times, as the van jolts over into another valley. Truly, it is a rare privilege, the days like that – in such a place with such people – and I’m thankful for them and all their bloody bruises.