Life in the Mountains

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| This is the 403rd story of Our Life Logs |


Located at the extreme north of Pakistan, Nathia Gali is considered to be one of the most beautiful and scenic places in Pakistan. Every day is filled with friendly weather and the aroma one can only find in the mountains. This place is where I opened my eyes for the first time in 1958 to Khan Shanawaz and Gul-zai Begum, joining my four older brothers.

Most of the people that you will come across here are Pathans (referring to members of the large Pashtun ethnic group), I, myself, being one. Hardly any of us are wealthy; we do not work in big factories, mills, or workshops as the people in cities do. There is no concept of education here and nobody bothers to think about it as people here don’t need an education to earn our bread. Some herd cattle and some make cheese. Some grow vegetables and fruits and some weave cloth. No, we make our own bread and butter and try to live our lives just like that.

Some of us do move to cities to set up shops and sell our homemade goods, but a person like me could not do that. I’m not used to city life. These mountains are my home and they have my heart. Only my death could take me away from here.

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All of my early days were spent watching the sweat roll down the brows of my parents. My father was a fruit seller who owned a small fruit shop just around the corner and my mother was a housewife. She used to make cheese at home and would help my father sell it every month; together, they made enough money to raise five sons.

I loved my parents deeply but was especially fond of my mother, as she was the sweetest person ever. She would make the most amazing and delicious cheese. She used to give the first lot of cheese to us children. That day was always a feast. She would smile as all her boys munched on the goat cheese made of her own hands.

Now, I truly loved my brothers, but I never really got along with them. I know why, too. As I grew, I did not like spending time with anyone. My brothers found it very weird for a Pathan and for that I was driven away from them little by little. Well, that, and the fact that while all my brothers would help my father with the very small business that he owned, I, on the other hand, was the mischievous and lazy one.

Work was just not my cup of tea. I loved my parents so much, literally to the core of my heart, but the idea of working would kill me. My father always said things like, “Abdullah, your brothers are working hard. Why don’t you want to join them?” or, “Abdullah, one day, you will regret all this laziness.”

I listened to him, but I did not do as he said. Instead, I liked going down to the river and spend time there. I would sit there for hours and think about how the mountains had first come into being. The gigantic mountains mesmerized me. They somehow brought out the best in me. Their beauty intrigued me, still does!

Unfortunately, all my admiration and pondering did not make me into a good son because I never helped my father when he needed me. This is why he left his shop to my eldest brother who was at his disposal all the time. I know my parents loved us all equally, but they had favorites, and it was not me.

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Life in the mountains was not always carefree. Unfortunately, a beautiful view does not ward off tragedy.

When I was 19 years old, my father passed away from a heart attack. My mother passed away not long after that. Our family was left shattered, and since I was the youngest, I was the one who was affected the most. I felt abandoned and lonely because I was sure my brothers would not tolerate me for long. They were married and had families of their own and would not be able to support their unemployed, good-for-nothing brother anymore. They never said anything but I could not have waited for them to do so.

So, what was I to do? What did I know?

I looked to the mountains and breathed in the air. In the calm, I concluded that, after all, I am my father’s son. I am a Pashan. I would live the life I was always meant to live.

I started growing my own vegetables in the backyard of our small house where nobody usually went and was of no use to anyone. It took me some time to make the business work and figure out things on my own since everything was new to me. But I was sure that I would achieve what I had thought.

My first time was not really a success, the vegetables were not sale worthy. There was something that was missing. Oh, I was so disappointed. Holding the shrunken maize in my hands, I finally I cherished my father’s words, Abdullah, one day, you will regret all this laziness. Oh, how right he was!

There was no one to fend for me but myself. And so be it, giving up was not an option. I dug up the meager crops and I started from scratch. The sweat trickled down my neck for what seemed to be the first time in my life. And you know what, I slept more soundly than ever before.

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At the next harvest, guess what, it was really a success! My business started flourishing! Had been my parents alive they would have been so proud of me.

A year or so later when I was 22, my brother came to me with a possible marriage proposal. I said yes because I was financially stable and was finally ready for a family. I thought that after getting married I could move out and have my own house and have my own little family and we could live happily ever after.

Now, Pathan culture is very complex and different, and I do not know if you know this or not, but we are not allowed to see our spouses before the wedding. So, when I first saw my wife, Zahra, at our wedding, I was surprised by her beauty. But because she was just 17, I wanted her to take time and understand our relationship. That is what I believed in. We bonded well over the months, and I realized that she was the perfect match for me.

I built us a small house near the river where I used to spend hours when I was a kid. The house was very small and not very extraordinarily comfortable, but it was ours and Zahra loved it. That is all that mattered to me. We were overjoyed when we moved to our house, but as it goes, harmony is not forever.

Our first son died in infancy. That kind of loss is unforgettable, but together, Zahra and I decided that we could only move forward. We believed that it was what the divine planned for us, as tragic as it was.

We did, in fact, have two more sons, Shanawar and Gulbaaz, who were our world. We tried for more kids but failed. Zahra was too weak to conceive for the fourth time, so the local doctors had given up on her. We made peace with that as well and decided to give our two sons everything we had.

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When my sons were young, I made them work with me that they do not have to go through what I witnessed. For better or for worse, say some things are in the genes. My sons both hated to work and neglected my teachings. They were mischievous and sometimes rude.

I have always believed the ordeals are an inevitable reality of life, my sons being disobedient was probably one of those. I just thought that if I continued to shower them in love and patience, they would get mature and sensible as I had and that they would come to know that their behavior towards their parents was unacceptable.

Zahra supported me in whatever I did, except I was never sure if what I was doing was right or wrong. We started worrying for our children, as the only thing they fancied was playing and roaming around. They would never spend time with us and that broke our heart. I never stopped working and hoping that they would understand and change. But that day never came. They just got worse.

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When my boys were in their 20s, Zahra started to feel pain in her chest and always seemed to feel nauseous. After the doctor checked on her, he said that she was experiencing kidney failure and would die soon without treatment. Oh, how my heart sank. We did not have the money to support this. I couldn’t do anything to save the only person in my life who loved me genuinely and fiercely. I knew that without her I would be nothing but a corpse with a beating heart.

But as the doctors had said, my wife, who was 37 years old, died days after she was diagnosed.

My sons cried for a day or two, but when their tears were dry, they abandoned me and never looked back.

I was devastated but I was not surprised. Maybe deep down I knew this was going to happen. They took what little money I had and left me with nothing, nothing, nothing. God knows why they even let me stay in that house instead of kicking me out.

I still wonder where I went wrong. I still wonder why my love was not enough. I spent months in my room doing nothing, just like somebody waits for death with open arms.

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Finally, I stepped outside my home one day and sat by my lonely little river. I wondered about all the abandoned parents like me. I wanted to help all those parents who were going through the same agony I was.

I wanted to start a counseling group, so that’s just what I did. I walked to the houses of the people in my community and let them know where our first meeting would be held. I did not expect much to come from this.

A few days later, many parents arrived at my meeting. To them, I was their professor and they revered my words. I realized the gravity of my position so I did everything in my power to learn about how to best help them. I taught my pupils how to cope up with their depression. I made them feel better and with their smiling faces, I felt the same. It felt great helping the vulnerable.

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Eighteen years later, I still successfully run this non-profit organization. Many people come here who face the problems I faced years ago, and my experience helps them. To this day, I have never heard from my sons, and while it saddens me, I know that it has made me strong and has translated into a life worth living.

Now when I look at the mountains, I see their jagged rocks and sharp cliffs. I see the treachery in its landscape. But together, it is all beautiful. Such is life.

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This is the story of Abdullah Khan

Abdullah grew up in the northern mountains of Pakistan, the Nathia Gali range. While his family was very hardworking, Abdullah was lazy and mischievous. When his parents died, however, Abdullah was left to fend for himself. This difficulty in life matured him in many ways. When Abdullah had sons of his own, they acted just as he had as a young person, and eventually abandoned him to live alone. Abdullah now runs an organization that helps abandoned people cope up with their depression. Abdullah after going through the very same thing finds solace in helping others just like him. He wants to die as a humanitarian.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on July 21, 2019.

| Writers: Noor Pasha; Colleen Walker |

 

 

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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