Welcome to Rafik’s journey. The youngest character in Silent Heroes, Rafik travels from his Afghan village of Nauzad all around Afghanistan. It isn’t a journey made by choice, but out of necessity and bravery.
A critical political hot-spot for the past two millennia, Afghanistan is a country often mentioned in news headlines, yet one that few people choose to think of, and even fewer are aware of its natural beauty.
Life for Afghan children, the true Silent Heroes of any Afghan village
How was your life when you were a child of eight years old? When I was Rafik’s age, I wouldn’t even dream of going around the town on my own. My grandmother or my parents would still walk me to school. Yet Rafik and his friends venture daily outside their village.
They start their walk early, right after sunrise. It is a 10 kilometers march to the nearby stream to collect water for drinking, washing and cooking. Then they tread back, bent under the unforgiving Afghan sun and the liquid weight of their buckets and yellow plastic containers, for another 10 kilometers, home.
The water sings while their small feet dance on the hot sand. Sometimes a few drops would spill and the youngest children would laugh to see them roll away over land so dry that not even water can penetrate it. The older ones would scold them. Water is precious and they don’t want to take this journey again, later in the day. The sun is unforgiving and so are the landmines that litter the ground between their village and the stream, like weeds sprouting after rain, but planted by Taliban. So the youngest ones would burst into tears. That one word, Taliban, has this effect on them, as it has on their older sisters and their mothers.
Here, in Afghanistan, one does not need folk tales with monsters to tell their young. To scare them. Here, in Afghanistan, the monsters are real and they walk between the people.
Once a well-known bazaar, today Nauzad village, where Rafik lives with his mother and older sister, is no more than a ghost town, a dusty landmark lost in the shrub-lined valley of the Nauzad river. The only majestic landmark that still stands is that of the Hindu Kush Mountains, profiling in the horizon. With all their men gone to war, life has become a way of simply surviving from one day to the next, the hot climate being just as unforgiving as the Taliban insurgent group operating in the mountainous area rising in the north.
In the beginning of Silent Heroes Rafik is entrusted with a life-and-death mission…
‘Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along.’Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
‘Rafik wiped the salty drops invading his eyes with the dusty sleeve of his shirt, yellow-tinged by time and wear. His head was ablaze and sweat trickled down his neck, soaking the back of his pants. His feet bounced on the already hot sand. The boy was sure they looked like the naan his mom used to cook in the tandoor. Back when flour was still available. He would crawl behind her and grab fresh bread out of the basket to share with his friend. She would laugh and playfully snap at him. But not anymore. For the last year there had been no one for him to share his naan with.
One morning, his friend had left to fetch water and never returned. They found him on the field, halved by an IED.
Rafik felt his chest ready to explode with the pain of memories and wiped his eyes again, although no tears came. The rough sleeve against his face helped relieve the agony in his chest.’
Placing an entire country on Google maps
I invite you to open Google maps and search for Afghanistan. Now zoom in. How many places can you actually visit? Why do you think it is still impossible to zoom into Afghan locations?
Did you know that the Afghan maps you do see today on Google Maps were not visible before October 2011? Most of Afghanistan was pretty much off the map.
A man named Hasen Poreya and his friends, the Afghan Map Makers, all volunteers, walked around Herat with pen and pencil in hand and filled in all the missing details from Google maps.
Herat is Afghanistan’s third largest city and it was a major historical landmark along the silk road. The Afghan Map Makers have put streets, parks and even the Herat University on the map – so that people from all over the world can discover their town all over again. They, too, are the Silent Heroes of any Afghan village.
Where will Rafik travel next?
Come back in a few days to find out – or subscribe to my blog posts.
Until then, you might like to read:
5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting
You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.