Coming Home

It took us eight hours to ride from Quetta, Pakistan to Kandahar, Afghanistan. On the way, there
were many Afghan restaurants. I was asleep in the bus when my mother woke me.

“Yagana, aren’t you hungry or thirsty?”

I was really thirsty. “Can we get tea here?” I asked.

She said, “Yes, I am sure we can get it.”

I looked outside the bus window; a sign on the right side of the road said: SHAIR AGHA’S RESTAURANT. We parked and my parents, my three brothers, my brother’s wife and I exited the bus.

A boy of about fourteen said, “Ladies, this way please.”

My mother, sister in law, and I followed the young boy. I asked my mother: “Why didn’t Father and my brothers come along with us?”

The young boy replied, “It’s your first time coming here, isn’t it?”

“Yes, so?”

“In our restaurants we have separate places to sit for males and females. So, your father and brothers will be sitting in the men’s section of the restaurant, and you have to sit in the female section.”

We washed our hands in a water pot in front of the room. There was a sign in Pashto. I guessed it said “LADIES.”

We entered the room, sat down and ordered “kabab” (steak). There were two other ladies with their four kids in the room. Sitting on the floor in an Afghan restaurant, on Afghan rugs, and eating kabab and tea from an Afghan tea pot felt so great. I was home.

We left the restaurant and went back to the bus. I asked my mother, “Who paid for our meal?”

“Your dad, of course.”

The driver started the bus and I went to sleep again. After four hours, my mother woke me up. “We’re almost there.”

I saw a big billboard: “WELCOME TO KANDAHAR.” At the bus station, a young boy came along with gums, juices, sweets, and snacks in a basket. My brother bought some snacks. Then we had to get out of the bus and board another because these buses were not allowed inside the city.

Finally, we then took a taxi towards Shahidah Square in Kandahar, to our final destination, my
mother’s cousin’s home. The seven of us were stuffed in the taxi. My dad and one brother sat in front seat next to the driver. My sister- in-law, mom, and two brothers sat in the back seats, and I sat on my mother’s lap.

As we drove through the city, I was astonished to see old and new buildings destroyed. Most had holes from bullets and rockets. Many houses were blackened by the smoke from fires caused by rocket attacks.

We entered a noisy street where kids were playing marbles. Houses stood close together with big gates and no doorbells. People knocked on the doors with stones because the houses were huge and the rooms were far from the gates. I saw many people come out of an enormous, beautiful mosque after praying to Namaz, one of the pillars of Islam and an important part of Muslim life. People were gathered outside the mosque, hugging each other, asking after one another’s health, and talking about their problems. If someone was missing from prayers, people would go to their homes make sure the family was doing well.

When we reached the house, we got out of the car; I was exhausted. We knocked on the large
gate, and a little boy nearly four years old came out without any pants on, holding a piece of bread. We went inside, through the dark kitchen, its walls black from the smoke of cooking. Pairan-Tumban, the Afghan clothes, hung in a long line on a rope inside the yard. In another part of the yard, a lady was taking water out of a well, and three other women sat on the mud floor washing more clothes with their hands.

My mother called out loudly, “Jamila Jaan!” to her first cousin. My mother had told me about Jamila, who had eight children. The women all got up from their washing, and Jamila’s first daughter, who was engaged, said loudly, “Is this Yagana, who I last saw at eight months old, now a young lady?” Jamila and the others cried and kissed my mother on her cheeks. They kissed all of the women, one by one. Kissing on cheeks was very different for me; they kissed each cheek three times.

Jamila Jaan yelled, “My son, come out, please.”

Her son came out of the room, and said, “Asalaam-u-Alikum, everyone.”

He shook hands with my aunt, mom and myself. He hugged my brothers and my father.

My sister in law said, “Ohhh, I am so tired.”

I laughed at her. “So do you think we are not?”

Jamila’s first daughter smiled, “I bet you are all tired, let’s go inside.”

They took us to their room, a long, empty room with red Afghan carpets. Everyone asked us
different questions: How are you? How did you feel on the way here? Did you have any difficulty with the police?

Some of the women left the room to prepare our meal, and the smell of the food made me hungrier. Soon afterward, a long dastarkhoan was laid out for us to eat on, and all the food was placed on it. Everyone sat down and said “Bismillahi rahmani rahim” (By the name of Allah the most merciful and compassionate). There were almost 28 people sitting and eating together. The adults sat on mattresses and the kids sat on the rugs. Three people shared one plate. You could hear the noises of the kids asking for different dishes. Some ate with hands rather than with spoons and forks.

I ate fast as I was really hungry. I tried all the dishes. One of my favorite was eggplant. They had cooked it so wonderfully that I didn’t want to stop eating it. The food was just like my mother’s cooking at home.

After eating, we had tea, and everyone seemed so happy. Someone talked, another listened. Someone smiled, the other laughed. My mother and her cousin shared their stories into the evening. Finally, I felt very tired and went to another room and slept on a mattress on the floor.

This was my first time back in my homeland, where I belonged, and it couldn’t have been more different from the way I was raised in Pakistan. There, we ate with spoons and forks, but Afghans used their hands. There, we washed clothes with a machine; here they washed by hand because they still didn’t have electricity at home. Afghans cooked dishes on the open flame, rather than using a stove. The floors here were made of mud but were clean as glass. Even though I felt culture shock in this place, this day was the most precious moment of my life, close to my own culture, my true home.

By Yagana

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6 responses to “Coming Home

  1. This is a beautiful story of belonging; be it belonging to a homeland, a people or a culture.

    My life has taken me to foreign lands for more than 12yrs now and to me there is no better feeling in the world than when the plane touches down in Johannesburg, my true home.

    Keep on writing your beautiful stories.

  2. The courage of crossing cultures – and crossing back again – is so evident here.
    You did a good job of setting such telling scenes. The food descriptions reveal so much, as does the scene in the restaurant.
    thanks!

    Barbara

  3. I loved the way you described how different Afghanistan was from what you were used to — but at the same time you felt like you belonged — like you were home. I know a little of what that is like. Whenever I go back to the place I grew up — I feel more at peace — more at home. The great part is that even if you travel away from there you can take a piece of your “true home” with you in your heart. Lovely essay!

  4. Dear Yagana,
    The sweetness of this memoir (the food, the marbles, the rugs) and the starkness of the world your describe (the bombed buildings, the boy without pants) is breathtaking. Thank you for creating this lovely piece of writing.

  5. You tell a very moving story. With very simple, small details, you paint a world and recreate your emotions. Well done.

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