We were often amused by Ray and Hamid as they seemed to spend their days bickering – in the lighthearted way you do when travelling in close proximity. We had pulled off the road for lunch and the place a was deserted except for some sheep. It was 30° but windy.
Two giggling teenage girls rode by on a donkey, the donkey wanted to go one way, the girls the other, causing the great amusement. One had to get off and lead the animal. I gave them a bag of clothes I brought out from England. Ray and Hamid were resting in the shade and arguing like a married couple. Ray was asking about how much livestock Hamid had. Hamid said he only had a donkey so I asked whether the donkey had a name. “We call him Ray” he promptly replied.
Our next stop was “Fatima’s Farm” near Imilchil, a town in the mountains at almost 2670 metres. We were driving along a seemingly deserted road when Ray in the lead vehicle pulled over and announced wE had arrived. Looking down from the road, we saw a narrow river and a cluster of buildings, made of mud and straw lying in the valley, twenty feet below the road. Within a few minutes of our arrival, a group of children had scrambled up to the road and greeted us with hugs and smiles – they were Fatima’s family. Following more slowly was Fatima, a sturdy woman of indeterminate years (we guessed about 55) carrying a two year old grandchild on her back in a sling. We smiled and hugged and shook hands and she invited us to visit her house later that day.
Once again Hamid cooked the dinner, helped by Fatima’s older grandchildren who took the cooking pots down to the river to do the washing up. When we had finished eating it was time to visit Fatima’s house. The crowd of children carried our chairs and tables up the slope to the camper and then escorted us down to their home across the river. As I walked, a child’s hand slipped into each of mine. As I jumped across the stream, more little hands reached out to help me across. Fatima’s house was solidly built but basic, there was a kitchen with an open fire on which a kettle boiled. Another fire was burning at the rear of the room. We all went upstairs to their guest room which had colourful rugs on the floor and the walls. There was cushions on the floor and two low tables on which the family served mint tea, bread and oil as well as some cheese, which tasted like butter. There were electric lights hanging from the ceiling, powered by their own generator. They had no telephone or mains water or electricity. They pumped their water from the river and, I assume, had earth closets for toilets.
We awoke the next morning to the sound of giggling and when we looked out, the children were outside waiting for us, the numbers had grown from the previous evening. We had brought donations of clothes and toys that we had collected during the previous year, these we handed to Fatima’s son who would distribute them to local families. These people were not poor in the undernourished sense, the children were well fed and clothed but just lacked anything but the bare essentials. We distributed a bag of oranges and it was hard to choose which eager hand to fill. Others in our party gave them pencils and crayons. One of the young girls had very dry skin so I gave her a pot of Nivea that I had not yet opened – then we were hunting in our camper for anything else we could give away. We distributed a bunch of bananas and one very small boy grabbed a banana from my hand, snapped it in two with surprising strength and swiftly handed half to his sister before running off before the others could relieve him of his share of the spoil. I suppose you could call it begging but they were certainly not thieves and you could trust them not to touch anything that was not given to them. I had a bag of empty plastic mineral water bottles that I was keeping until I found a rubbish bin. One of the little boys indicated that he wanted these bottles and this surprised me until I realised their water did not come in clean plastic bottles but had to be collected from the river. Fatima came to bid us farewell and Tony slipped a 200D note into her palm (£15) as he shook her hand. Ray had known Fatima and her family for more than thirty years.