Photos by the author
|FRUITS OF SUCCESS: a pomegranate merchant in Kandahar|
ou could take the man for a Talib, in his flowing Afghan garb, six or seven yards of black silk looped around his head, beard untrimmed, eyes now politely cast down as we spoke, now focused on his glass of tea, now off to his left somewhere—anywhere but looking at me, a barefaced woman who speaks to men directly in their language. The man was no Talib; he was my friend Kabir’s uncle, who cultivates black cumin on a highland plateau that lies across two ridges of bony rock north of Kandahar. What wafted in with him was not the distinctive astringent smell of cumin but the heady perfume of the flower we had asked him to gather, so we could distill its essential oil. It’s called Salvia spinosa, and it smells like ripe bananas doused in lime. How the unforgiving dust of southern Afghanistan produces such miracles remains one of the mysteries of the place for me.
From Atlantic Unbound:
Slideshow: "Everyday Afghanistan"
A photo tour of the country's children, elders, artisans, and landscapes.
I was trying to push 600 afghanis, or about $12, on Kabir’s uncle for the 30 pounds or so of flowers he had brought. It would have cost him half a day to comb the wheat fields, plus an hour and a half’s ride in a jolting open-backed truck to Kandahar. He delicately picked up the bills and placed them a little closer to me on the carpet where we sat. “I didn’t do this for money,” he protested. I cut him short, knowing the value of those bills to him. Three days’ wages for unskilled labor: men who stand in the bazaar in the morning, shovels across their shoulders. For Kabir’s uncle, a windfall he could calculate in rice, kilos of tea, meat for children. “If I came to your home hungry or had been wounded, you could tend me out of friendship,” I told him. “But this is business. Work should be recompensed.”