A day in a village

Today we sat a lot. Not a whole lot of action; we are waiting for UNICEF to get their act together and give us the materials for the construction of the shallow wells. So Imam Baksh, the mullah and several others sat with Engineer, Ali Jan and me. After a while, the mullah turns to me. You speak Farsi, he says.
‘Yes’
‘What’s his country’, he asks Engineer, but I give the answer first. I’m not sure why there is this habit of speaking about people, rather than to them, but it is quite common. People quite routinely might look at Ali Jan, or at me, and then say to Engineer – who’s he? Who’s the foreigner?
‘Us-taraliya’, I answer, making the sound intelligible
‘Us-taraliya’, the mullah muses. ‘There’s water all around it, isn’t there?’
I nod.
‘And most people are Christians?’
‘About 50%’, I said. This number is way out – but what else to say?
‘And the others’, he prompts, ‘what are they?’
‘Some Muslims. Some people who don’t have confidence in God.’
‘The ones who don’t put their confidence in God – what are they? Are they fire-worshippers? Are they Buddhists?’
Fire-worshippers? Where did that come from – then I remember, Saidabad is in Balkh province, which is the historical centre of Zoroastrianism, but there has been no active community of believers here for centuries. I am saved from trying to explain Australia’s rash of indigenous, pantheistic, atheistic and New Age beliefs by Mother-of-Matan, bringing chai.

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