Reporter’s name held for safety, edited by Mohammad J. Alizada and Brian J. Conley
Oruzgan is a well-known province in south-central Afghanistan, which was split into two parts, Daikundi, and Oruzgan, the former mostly populated by the Hazara tribe. Daikundi is a dry, cold, mountainous, rugged, with a harsh weather, little development and roads, other than a few kilometers inside the capitol, Nili, which was asphalted only in the recent past.
With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, Gizab, formerly part of Oruzgan province and Ajristan, part of Ghazni, became a part of Daikundi province overnight.
It’s about eight hours of drive from Nili to the poverty stricken and far reaching villages of Gizab district. The wealth of the people living in these rugged, mountainous areas is evident from behind their rooftops. As we pass by the road weaves through the hillside with houses below and above. Some roofs have solar panels, others have water tanks, some mud, others cement.
One of the things that catches the eyes and warms the heart are the school buildings for girls and boys as we pass by the villages. These buildings can be seen in all Daikundi villages, showcasing the residents’ thirst and love for knowledge and culture, as well their attention to their children and their future.
Since the Taliban have taken control, girls over 6th grade are no longer allowed to attend school in this province. Presence of women in the streets, market, official or unofficial meetings was a normal thing in Daikundi province, women would not cover their faces and restrict their movements, at least in the Hazara populated areas of Daikundi.
As we pass by Shero, the first village in Gizab district, the geography resembles that of elsewhere in Daikundi. The only difference is the volume of wild pistachio trees here. The trees have adorned the village and the mountains of this area. I can see little difference from other villages across Daikundi province, other than the couple of school buildings, which are the only development this village saw, despite the billions of dollars that were poured into Afghanistan during the western-backed government that collapsed mid-August this year. Most houses are made of stone and mud, and the village has a small, not so active bazaar.
A lot of things will be different from this point on, including the climate and culture. The mountainous plains slowly gives way to more flat areas while the air is just pure and clean. I can see the Gizab river and a village along the river where people are busy with farming and animal husbandry. Seems like there is no news of drought here. We arrive at a wooden bridge that crosses the river.
“Please get out and walk the bridge if you are afraid,” the driver suggests to my friend and I who are riding in his vehicle.
“No,” I shoot back.
We cross the wooden bridge. This is Gizab’s district center. As I thought, a vast, beautiful and green territory that has wholeheartedly hugged a flowing river. A river that flows with haste in the mountainous regions of Daikundi, only to calm down here. I see a half built bridge near the wooden one, where work has halted, which makes me sad.
We stop at the corner of an old intersection with faded colors in the middle of Gizab bazaar, apparently this is the same Gizab I desired to see. I had the image of a historic and crowded city in my mind but the reality is much different, it’s like we have traveled years back in time to a place without the presence of women or girls.
Little girls and boys surround our vehicle and keep opening and shutting the doors. We have to lock the doors from the inside to keep the children at bay while they keep making faces at us and expressing their wonder in different ways from outside the car. In a way asking us why we are here, what are we doing here, maybe they were asking what kind of clothing are we wearing or why are you girls out, women are not supposed to be in the bazaar and tens of other questions. Some of them were calling us “auntie”.
That’s when the driver approaches our vehicle and says, “We are going. Couldn’t find a guide, we cannot call Nili or the villages because phones are not working.”
We are traveling with a Pashtun who insists on surveying the far reaches of Gizab district at any cost because the Taliban told him that it’s been years since their areas have seen any humanitarian aid or development and the people have suffered greatly due to the war.
It’s now 5 pm and we are heading towards a village called Chapari without any guarantee for our security or any phone coverage. We are seven people split into two cars. Our driver is mad at the team leader and is concerned about security.
According to him, this area has been riddled with robbers for years and only luck will get us out of it.
“You are responsible for anything that happens to us,” he tells the man who insisted on proceeding. We are heading towards Sinjid valley, or the valley of death, according to him.
It gets dark as we move through the valley, as both sides are bordered by high mountains that constrains the sunlight. Boulders, rocks, the road, buttonwood trees and the patch of sky getting darker by the minute are all I can see. We cross the valley after 30 minutes full of fear.
The roads are very rough and tiring. I regret coming but we arrive in Chapari, our objective, around 8 pm. The men stay at the hotel in the village while we are taken to the hotel/restaurant owner’s home. He accompanies us to the door and then we go inside while he returns.
The ladies of the house don’t understand Dari and we don’t understand Pashto! We only look at each other. They first greet us with cups of water, then they serve us curry that has been sent from the restaurant and we eat while they watch. The home is nicely furnished, and the women are very kind. Although we don’t speak each other’s languages, they are super gracious hosts and we start feeling comfortable a short while after being with them. We do try to talk to each other by signing and using some familiar words. We laugh at our situation and I am reminded of the famous phrase, “Being close by heart is better than speaking the same language.”