A life in maps

08 May 2013

During the many wars that he has lived through, Qais Akbar Omar and his family travelled around their country in order to stay alive. Sometimes their intention was to leave their homeland; sometimes it was only to escape from the violence that broke out to safety nearby.

In these maps and passages from A Fort of Nine Towers, you can see his home and the paths of his family's journeys.

'But those small fights became big fights. Chaos started spreading all over Afghanistan. Afghans who had a little money or relatives in other countries quickly left. Others who stayed were beaten up, or had their property stolen. We heard about women who were raped by the soldiers of the same commanders who had talked about Islam and its importance to Muslims and Afghans only a few months before.

My father wanted to leave Afghanistan for Turkey or Russia,where he had many friends from his days as a boxer, but my grandfather would not give him permission to go. “The borders are still open,” my father said. “We should go while we can. We will come back when things quiet down.”

“Afghanistan is in good hands now. We are with our own now, and we can decide what we want. Give them time,” Grandfather urged.' A Fort of Nine Towers, p. 30

Maps

'As we left Kabul behind and started driving north across the Shamali Plain, I looked out through my window and saw the remains of Russian military trucks everywhere. Some lay sideways or upside down. Most of them were broken into bits. Almost every field had one, and people farmed around them. A burnt-out tank lay in a river; water was rushing through it and little kids with wet clothes were sitting on it, watching the passing cars. Years of rain had rusted the hulks; the sun and dust had bleached their paint. Some of the kids were pulling on their steering wheels, taking long journeys across their fantasies. A Russian jeep hung halfway down a steep valley wall, as if it were held by some kind of superpower.' A Fort of Nine Towers, p. 123-4

'The caravan moved slowly, with huge, shaggy camels lumbering down the rocky slopes followed by sheep, goats, and fierce-eyed watchdogs. The men, tall, lean, and severe looking, walked proudly back and forth among their herds and cattle. They carried rifles on their shoulders. Sometimes, the silence suddenly was broken by harsh words from the leading camel driver, who spoke in a jargon known only to those of his profession and to his camels.

At both the head and the rear of the caravan, the women walked openly, contemptuous of veils, as they swung along blithely near their camels. They were as beautiful and ethereal as old romantic paintings. Some of them were black-eyed and tan-skinned with raven hair. Others were fair and blue-eyed with golden or red hair. The sun and wind had given them red cheeks and lips that contrasted sharply with their dresses of somber black.' A Fort of Nine Towers, p. 211

Read the opening passage of A Fort of Nine Towers

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