The looks on the faces of these boys summarise the reception we had at the village. It was a mix of intrigue by who we are and what we were doing there (from those who didn't know us), a shy face or two which chose to hide away in the background, and an overwhelming majority who offered unconditional, warm and welcoming smiles - all day, every day. This place was as far off the beaten track as I have been for a while. As a family this was as far from 'civilisation' as we ever got. It is also a place where I saw true civilsation.
We arrived into Sahar on a Friday, and after quite a drive from the airport I only had a short window to shower and shave ready for the Mosque. We went to the larger village nearby, Thathi, a small town rather than what it claims to be namely a large village Thathi has a population of around 30,000 after it more than doubled in size over the past fifteen years. I was very impressed by the mosque, the ages of the people who came for Friday prayer and what filled me with joy more than anything is the fact the politics doesn't seem to have found its way to religion here... yet.
I knew this would be the best part of the trip and staying here a few days only confirmed it. The fresh air, the openness, the people, the simplicity and of course the smiles. A sleepy village, that is in bed shortly after sunset and up at the crack of dawn, is my kind pf place to spend a relaxing week. Any longer and I may become a serial killer just to pass the time.
Wheat was everywhere we looked and the villages of Jarhi and Sahar were no exception. The crop was short and green when we arrived and grew substantially over the next week shifting in colour to the more familiar golden yellow. The harvest, we later learned, was a fortnight after we had left. The view from our house changed all the time and the foundation remained: a proud and prominent mango tree that seemed to belong there as much as it didn't.
The surrounding areas are still wild and will be presented in another post. The village is made up of cultivated land with houses dotted thinly around. The land has been tamed by force and time and, until recently, with very little machinery. The feeling of a working ground is all around and the drive feels constant.
There are no canal systems nor did I see any automatic irrigation. Locally dug wells and rain is what the farmers rely on. Rain that has not been coming over the past few months. The weather really was perfect for us tourists, if a little hot in the middle of the day. For the locals, a few more heavy clouds and some water from the heavens would have offered a little more comfort.
Farm animals offer the perfect garnish to the local scenery. All were very well looked after and clearly from good stock. What makes this part of the world beautiful is that nothing is here without a distinct purpose. I once heard an excellent line on a property show on TV: If it's not beautiful and you don't use it, throw it out. This forced natural selection seems to have done that here. Everything has a reason, and nothing, not even the size of a match stick, is there for no reason. It's a great lesson in managing our excesses.
This post would not be complete without specific reference to the role of women. I should be more supportive of my gender but if I'm honest I hardly saw any man lift a finger. To give you a flavour of the roles, women cared for the families, tended the land, weeded the ground, washed and fed the animals, cleaned the houses, took the laundry to the local stream, cooked the meals, served them and cleared up. Men didn't.
The local architecture has the same ethos as the rest of the village. Nothing extravagant, nothing unnecessary, but buildings that served a purpose and stood the test of time were the main two criterions for design. The overall result is a pleasing simple look that combines function with beauty and in the same way fitting in perfect harmony with the surroundings.
The infrastructure which I'm told has improved exponentially over the past decade is still lacking. However this area is blessed by its diaspora in the UK. There is some money finding its way back and investments, as well as philanthropy from businessmen, going hand in hand with government money to develop the basic services. During our visit the road to Thathi was still under construction. A journey which took an hour on foot will soon be a few minutes drive. Load-shedding was frequent and the disregard from the central government, to the people who are quite literally producing the bread and butter of the country, annoyed me. I was impressed by the 3G coverage - especially given the hills in the area. At times when we had no electricity, I was online talking to friends halfway across the world.
The views from the top of the hill are from an old tomb known locally as Baba Shakhanseev. It's still visited for blessings and it has a growing collection of hats left by grooms after their weddings for good luck. The view from there is breathtaking and the photos don't do it justice. The boys were standing right on edge seemingly oblivious to the vertical drop a foot away. I didn't mention it worrying it would encourage them to show off.
Having seen the place for myself and after a week or so staying there, I understand it a bit better than I did before. My perception is my own and no longer relies on description and anecdotes other visitors from London share with me. I am of course not surprised that life in London is a huge improvement for the current and older generations. It's certainly the natural choice to bring up the next generation. However I am unable to understand how little inspiration the Londoners who come from there have brought with them. Those who are born in London have taken back even less. I have no connection to this place, but my short stay there has made me appreciate what I have. Life lessons aside, I also fell in love with its beauty and will remember many of its people fondly.