We arrive at Faheem Dashty’s family home, by way of a narrow alleyway off the side of the road surrounded on both sides by steep rock walls. Shah Mohammad confidently steers the car through while Tony reaches out the window and touches the wall.
Faheem welcomes us and directs us to the lawn where a table and chairs is set in the garden. Surrounded on both sides by mountains, with the garden overlooking the river – it’s hard to believe this was the stronghold of Massoud’s resistance against the Taliban. Its too peaceful.
Soon Faheem’s father comes out to the join us. The General. A larger man, with a kind, grandfatherly face greets us and warmly shakes my hand, welcoming us to his home.
We all sit and a servant brings out freshly squeezed apple juice from their own trees. Thick and pulpy, the juice is the first I’ve had in days and it tastes as though I’ve just bitten into a sweet yellow apple. A refreshing break from the constant stream of watery green tea.
Faheem and The General shared many stories of the family home, Panjshir valley, life during the Soviet occupation, and their relationship with Massoud. Massoud played a leading role in driving the Russians out of Afghanistan, but is famous for his stronghold in Panjshir keeping the Taliban from moving in from Kabul.
The General told stories of how Massoud asked him to blow up the road at the beginning of the valley entrance to keep out the Taliban. The road sunk to the valley floor, level with the river and Taliban where they were either captured, killed, or fled back to Kabul. The ironic thing is that the General’s job with the government was road building.
Faheem’s daughter and son played in the garden, his daughter occasionally coming over to make Faheem give the teddy bear a hug, or flirt with the guests, especially the one with the camera!
After a couple of hours of chatting, sharing stories, and making pictures, The General guides to a little outbuilding on the other side of the garden for lunch. We enter a tiny foyer with a red afghan rug just large enough to slide out of our shoes and walk into a small rectangular room with cobalt blue pillows lining the four walls. We sit down, cross legged (it is considered rude to show the soles of your feet to others) and a tablecloth is spread in the middle of the empty space. Food and water is brought in from the kitchen and Faheem passes along plates, and platters of food. I sit next to the General and he gestures that I should serve myself first. Reminding myself to only eat with my right hand, I follow his directions not wishing to make a faux pas.
Let me just insert how much I adore Afghan food. Truly. It is a great joy to have been invited to a private home and have a homemade meal made in our honor, doubly so given our host’s stature. A platter heaped with rice with raisins and carrots covers tender hunks of lamb. Another platter is stacked with fresh naan bread. A bowl is filled with quorma, a slightly spicy Afghan stew of lamb chunks and potatoes. A tiny condiment bowl of spicy green peppers crushed with garlic, and another bowl of tomatoes, onions, and fresh basil. Lastly, a bowl of yogurt, freshly made that day. Everything from meat to veg to naan bread has been produced on the family land, and then cooked by Faheem’s mother, the General’s wife.
I am in heaven as the General keeps gesturing to “eat more, eat more”! Tony jokes with Faheem that his mother’s cooking will be famous tomorrow as I will be sure to write about it. He’s not wrong!
After a post-lunch walk around the garden, we say goodbye to the General who insists firmly but with a wide smile that I must return to see him. We walk through the inner courtyard and pile into The General’s Toyota 4×4 and Faheem drives up the valley to visit Massoud’s grave and his home. The car is fairly quiet, despite the brain jarring roads, and as we get closer we can see the construction in progress of the tomb that is to encase Massoud’s grave. Faheem stops to say hello a group of contractors working on the tomb and I press my right hand to my heart and say, “Salaam” to each of them. We follow Faheem and I hang back in respect as he bows his head, while Najibullah and Shah Mohammed pray silently on his other side. The mood is somber as we walk slowly back to the car.
On the drive back I ask Faheem if I can ask him some questions about the current situation in Afghanistan and he opens up quite readily. This is his forte and we pick up from a conversation we had the day before in Kabul. He speaks frankly of his analysis of what will bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, as I sit next to him thinking, I’m hearing the thoughts of a great mind, and it makes the trip out of Kabul all the more fulfilling.