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Life in a Rural Afghan Village
By Cassandra Nelson

Abdul Ghani rides in a camel caravan outside of Khewa, Afghanistan. (Photo: Cassandra Nelson)
A caravan of camels carrying tents and household items of a nomad family moves slowly but steadily across the dry and barren mountains outside of Khewa.

"Every year I pass through Khewa with my family on our journey north in search of better grazing pastures for our animals," says Abdul Ghani, a nomad Afghan boy.

Khewa is a typical rural Pushtun village in eastern Afghanistan. It is about 16 miles from the city of Jalalabad in Nangahar Province. Situated at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, this area has witnessed waves of migrating peoples and conquering armies over the centuries. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and even the Buddha have passed through this region.

Today, along the roadside are fields of wheat, rice, and vegetables. Most families here are farmers. Women and girls can be seen tending the crops and carrying water. They are dressed in brightly colored Afghan dresses, worn over pants. The females wear chadors, large scarves that are worn over the head by Muslims as a sign of modesty and respect.

Khewa, population 30,000, has not changed much in the last 100 years. It still does not have electricity or running water. There are almost no cars. "I have to walk to market or school or wherever I go. If I have a lot to carry I can take our donkey," says Yusaf, a boy from Khewa as he walks the 30-minute route to the village.

The damage from the last 20 years of war is still highly visible. Bombed-out buildings and homes are everywhere. The roads—what little is left of them—are filled with craters and holes from landmines. In stark contrast to the rest of Khewa, it is a constant reminder of the technological advances that have taken place in warfare.

At the center of Khewa is a single dirt road, lined with small wooden stalls. This is the market. Only the most basic goods are available. There are several fruit stands and a butcher shop with slabs of fly-covered meat hanging in the open air. A few shops sell everything from batteries to biscuits to shampoo. A music store stocked with Persian, Pashto, and Hindi tapes offers the only entertainment.

"Khewa has almost everything we need, but sometimes my father goes to Jalalabad to get things they don't sell here—like our radio," says Mohammad, a local teenager outside the music store.

A few kilometers outside of Khewa, Abdul Ghani is eager to reach town and see friends he has met on past trips through the area. It may not have a lot to offer, but for a nomad boy, it is an oasis.

"We will rest in Khewa for a few days before heading into the mountains," says Abdul. "I will share stories of the past year and hear the news of Khewa." Moving at an average speed of about 10 miles a day, it will take the caravan another two weeks to reach their destination.