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In Afghanistan, Simple Pleasures Boost Appeal Of Seasonal Migration

Razia 90 appreciates the simplicity and pleasures of nomadic life.

BAMYAN, Afghanistan -- Razia, 90, sits on the floor in her tent next to a woodburning stove. She wraps sheep’s wool around her tired hands as she warms herself by the fire.

At her age, Razia knows the difficulties that come with the nomadic life, but she also knows to appreciate its simplicity and pleasures.

“Here in the village, there is qaymaq (a creamy dairy product) in abundance,” she says. “There is oil in abundance -- it’s all very good here.”

Razia, like many others, prefers the unprocessed and natural foods of the countryside. She cherishes the calmness of the mountains that is unlike the noisy urban life in most teeming and polluted Afghan cities.

“I can’t milk sheep or cows, but I enjoy experiencing life next to our herd, eating fresh and warm local foods and breathing in the crisp mountainous air,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan.

She likes to get away from the hot summers in her town of Bamyan, the provincial capital of a province by the same name, and retreat to remote pastures. The makeshift settlement consists of stonewalls and tent roofs and is surrounded by pastures and ringed by towering snowcapped peaks.

A makeshift settlement for seasonal migrants in rural Bamyan.
A makeshift settlement for seasonal migrants in rural Bamyan.

Like families across the Afghan countryside, people migrate to the remote villages of the central Bamyan Province for the same reasons cited by Razia.

They want to take their herds to graze in the lush green and often desolate valleys and enjoy the spectacular natural landscape, eat fresh foods, and escape their mundane and routine lives.

Families travel long distances in the spring to spend their summers living on the mountainside.

This practice of seminomadic migration -- primarily aimed at taking flocks of goats, sheep, and other farm animals to graze in the summer pastures -- is common among mountainous communities across Afghanistan. It helps communities dependent on subsistence agriculture to supplement their income and food supplies from animal husbandry.

For many, village life in Bamyan is all they know. Most families are dependent on goats, sheep, and cows for their dairy products.

Livestock is a major livelihood source in Bamyan and other rural Afghan regions.
Livestock is a major livelihood source in Bamyan and other rural Afghan regions.

And in the summers, shepherds raise their animals and collect the milk and dairy products that they produce. They migrate with their animals to water-rich pastures and mountains.

But their quality of life depends on the efficiency of their animals. Most of Bamiyan's household expenses are covered by agricultural and livestock so it is central for their livelihood.

Yet finding pasture is a major issue for them. There are not enough pastures around them in the rural areas. For this reason, they are forced to migrate to distant mountains every summer to reach a suitable pasture.

Women and children also play a large role in the temporary summer settlements like the one where Razia lives. They often make up a majority of residents in such encampments. Women are in charge of milking the herds and preparing a variety of dairy products. The children help graze sheep, goats, and herds of cattle in the mountains.

The real burden of this seminomadic life falls on women, who often lead the seasonal migration without the help of their husbands, who stay behind to tend to their fields, business, or properties.

Fatemeh says seasonal migrations requires women to work very hard.
Fatemeh says seasonal migrations requires women to work very hard.

Fatemeh lives in the mountains of Bamyan and says the seasonal migration is an inevitable part of life. "We have to come here because our cows and sheep don’t have a proper place to stay. In the spring, people harvest the grass. We also come here in cold and rainy weather. It's very hard,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Our men don't come with us, just us women. We all come with our young children.”

These village residents face many difficulties, the most important of which is the lack of access to health services, transportation, and schools in remote mountain valleys. It’s especially challenging when residents are sick and need to be transferred to hospitals or other major cities.

Many of Afghanistan’s remote areas such as Bamyan suffer from a lack of infrastructure, which forces its residents to get accustomed to this arduous way of life. Still some women like Razia find value in appreciating its simplicity, knowing very well that this organic lifestyle is gradually disappearing.

Nilly Kohzad wrote this story based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Gulamaiz Sharifi from Bamyan, Afghanistan.