While there is no “typical” Afghan village, village life is remarkably similar throughout Afghanistan. The rhythm of life is ruled by prayer, meals and work, and since the majority of Afghanistan is rural, the village tempo illustrated here is that of a rural one. It is interesting and instructional to note that as modernization and urbanization reaches even the most remote Afghan village, these tempos are changing, with even some of the most isolated villages becoming electrified, and with the spread of satellite dishes, television and internet are insinuating themselves into everyday Afghan life.
Sometimes “fieldwork” means just that.
The inhabitants of a typical Afghan village awaken between the very beginning of dawn and sunrise, with the call to “Namaz-E Sobh” (Fajr/Morning) prayer. Since villages are fairly densely inhabited, the male villagers typically go to the village mosque to do the morning prayers in the congregation rather than individually. Younger children get to sleep a bit longer.
A woman in a farm near Gereshk draws water along with her child.
By the time the male members of the family return from the morning prayers, the women have completed their own morning prayers and are preparing breakfast. The younger children of the family are awakened at this time. They all breakfast together, and the meal typically consists of home baked bread (sometimes oily bread), tea, sugar, and homemade butter. More affluent farmers may also sometimes enjoy raisins, almonds, walnuts, and “panair” (a creamy Afghan cheese) in their breakfast.
A particularly idyllic view as we explore a new village.
For those village children who attend school, first shift school starts at around 8 am. This differs from the 7 am start for the city schools. The reason for this is that in rural areas, several villages have to share one school and the later start allows students from the more distant villages to walk the considerable distances to their school. In rural areas, schools may operate one shift only, but with separate classrooms for girls and boys. Otherwise, in schools with two shifts, the morning shift is usually allocated for girls. When female students finish classes for the day (a bit before 11 am), they immediately walk back home to help mothers with household chores.
A farmer in his field
Farmers and their male children of working ability try to be on their farms and get to work before the sun rises. Some farmers live in houses surrounded by their fields, while other farmers live in villages, and must walk or ride to their fields. They work the fields, orchards, and/or tend their livestock until 10 am. At this time they have a midday snack which usually consists of bread and yogurt or bread and dried meat.
A pharmacist in his shop ready for business.
Shopkeepers open their shops at around 9 am. Villagers tend to go shopping when their other work, whether at home or in the fields, permits. Often, adults will send children on shopping errands when they have need of something and cannot spare the time from work. Sometimes women or men will go shopping as a social event. In villages, shop closure is tied to sunset.
In bigger villages (one that has an entire school to itself), the second shift starts around 11 am, which is one hour later than their city counterparts, where the second shift usually starts around 10 am. This one extra hour enables those young male students in the villages to have made some meaningful contributions to their fathers’ overall farm work before leaving to attend school.
Prior to lunch, “Namaz-E Chaasht” (Dhuhr/noon) prayer is called. Since at this time almost everyone is on the farm working, few people bother to walk all the way to mosque to do their noon prayers in congregation. They either pray individually, if they are Shiite, right on their farm; if they are Sunni, several adjacent working farms may attempt to get together and do their noon prayers in improvised mini-congregations on one of their farms.
For lunch, right after noon prayer, one female member of the family brings hot food to the fields for the men to eat. This meal is usually “shor-wah,” a clear broth or bean soup with torn up na’an bread and vegetables inside. After eating, the men take a one-hour nap in the fields.
If the village has a na’an wayee, or bakery, the women will bring dough they’ve prepared in the morning to bake at the communal bakery in the early to mid afternoon.
Village schools usually do not operate a third shift, though city public schools tend to. Second shift schools let their student out at around 2 pm. The male students immediately return to their farms to continue helping their fathers for the rest of the farm work day.
Clover is a staple of Afghan cuisine. It can be boiled, steamed, fried and stewed in milk.
“Namaz-E Digar” (Asr/mid-afternoon) prayer, which depends on the season and daytime light, usually takes place between 2 pm to 3 pm. Much like noon prayer, few farmers bother to go all the way to the village mosque. They tend to pray on their farms. The workday ends as the sun starts its descent for the evening. Village men conclude their day’s work and start walking back to the village.
Younger male members of the family are also required to take turn herding the sheep, goats, and other farm animals throughout the day. Sunset is the time when these shepherds return the farm animals back to the safety of the village paddocks and sheds.
Kite flying, once banned by the Taliban, is enjoying a resurgence and is as popular as before.
As the sun sets, “Namaz-E Shaam” (Maghrib/ evening) prayer, is called. All the male family members working on the farm come home to drop off their tools and then go to the village mosque to do their evening prayers. This prayer is timed for after sunset while it is still twilight. These prayers are almost always done in congregation and are therefore the most important prayers after Friday prayers. Evening prayer is also when the entire male population of the village gathers and gets to meet each other in one place. As a result, the evening prayer has developed into a platform for exchanging stories about their day and engaging in socializing and news sharing.
The sun sets on another day in Afghanistan
While the men of the village take their time to do their evening prayers and spend some time at the mosque socializing, the women of the village do their evening prayers at home as quickly as possible so that they can get back to cooking the evening meal and warming the house (if it is the colder season when days are warm but nights are cold).
Upon the return of all the male members of the family from the evening prayers at mosque, dinner is served. In Afghan culture, depending on the financial means of the family, dinners are usually the most elaborate meal of the day. It is also the only time when the entire family, male and female, old and young, comes together and spends quality family time. Each tells the family of their day’s events and news. Weather is discussed, especially because of its effects on the crops, and rumors are exchanged. The house is usually lit with “Hurricane”-style lamps and the large family room is used for everyone to sleep in on thin mattresses (called “Doshak” or “Toshak” in Dari) which during the day are rolled up and piled up in one side of the room.
People pray their fifth and last prayer of the day after dinner, which is called “Namaz-E Khoftan” Isha – which happens at the disappearance of twilight. Because everyone is so tired, few bother to go to the village mosque to do it in congregation. This prayer is usually done individually at home.
In Dari (i.e. Afghan Farsi) speaking villages of Afghanistan, after the final prayer of the day is the time when a member of the family recites classic Persian epic poems such as “Shahnamah” by the great Persian poet Ferdowsi (940 – 1020 AD) from memory, or tells folk bedtime stories to the younger of the family. This is also the time when the adult members of the family talk family finance and discuss familial issues, such as the timing of important purchases, whom to consider for marriage to their children, the village’s issues, etc.
Finally, the hurricane lamp is turned off and everyone goes to sleep.
While there is no such thing as a “standard” day in an Afghan village, the demands of the rural village environment dictate a certain schedule that makes a certain amount of generalization possible. Of course, each village is an individual entity. And, of course, Afghanistan is not a living museum, no matter how much Anthropologists want it to be. Afghans’ lifestyle is always evolving to meet new conditions.