A lifelong habit that helps me settle down to sleep remains reading. However, occasionally I delve into a book that turns out not to be so wonderful to read just before going to bed. The topic turns to the disturbing and then, suddenly, my mind churns. By that time, it is too late to go back. Or, like the book I am reading now, parts of it consist of stories inspiring, amusing, enlightening, parables for life. Then there are the other parts: the abuse of an entire people by the other ethnicities surrounding them, genocide, turmoil, invasion. I remain a lifelong lover of libraries. Recently, while browsing through new books, I found this one: The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman. Mazari grew up in a Hazara village in the northern part of Afghanistan, the area known as Hazarajat, became a master rug maker and fled from the Taliban to Australia in 2000 where he met his now close friend and coauthor. For several days now, it has been my bedtime reading.
The Hazara people speak a dialect of Farci, the language of Iran. Data varies, but they number approximately seven million in Afghanistan and remain one of the largest ethnic groups there. Nevertheless, in spite of this, other groups discriminate against them for various reasons, including the fact that most Hazara are Shia Muslims surrounded by Sunnis. Until 1893, they were the majority when half were massacred and many fled to live in Iran, Pakistan, and India. Some believe the Hazara are the descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors. Many resemble the people who live in Mongolia today and in many ways parts of their culture resemble that of Mongolia, e.g. their tents look like yurts; no one knows for sure. They have lived in what is now known as Afghanistan for hundreds of years. They are people of the mountains who have learned to cultivate beauty and farm in high, inaccessible places. They are famous for poetry and story telling. Unlike other women in Afghanistan, they shunned burkas, fought along side men as soldiers, and believed in education for women. These attributes fueled discrimination by other groups there.
Now back to bedtime reading. Several stories in particular contain what I consider the necessary qualities for bedtime perusal: entertaining and instructive without gore, controversy. They also hold an unusual quality of something you cannot quite quantify, a hint of the mystery of life, of a particular kind of not quite describable beauty. Hoping that at least some of you will find the book and actually read it, I will first list the stories to read without dread or worry if you want to read at bedtime: “The Wolf Is the Most Intelligent of Creatures”, “The Music School”, and the “Snow Leopard”. Under no circumstances read “The Life of Abdul Khaliq” and “The Death of Abdul Khaliq”. You will, indeed, learn a considerable amount of Afghan history, but unless you are quite heartless and insensitive, you probably will not be able to drift off to a pleasant dreamland for hours.
If all this stokes your curiosity, here are two websites to learn more about the Hazara: www.joshuaproject.net and http://www.hazarapeople.com.