Authors: Najaf Mazari,Robert Hillman
Tags: #Fiction, #Cultural Heritage, #Literary
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
fled upheaval in Afghanistan in 2001 and made his way to Australia, where he now lives with his wife, Hakeema, and his daughter, Maria. He is a successful businessman with a shop in Melbourne’s antique precinct, selling traditional Afghan rugs. He is deeply involved in creating a better climate for asylum-seekers in Australia and in charity activities that provide medical and educational assistance to some of the poorest villages in Afghanistan. Each year, Najaf sponsors an Afghan Evening of traditional song, dance and cuisine that highlights the achievements of Afghans in Australia. In 2008 Najaf co-authored the extraordinarily successful book
The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif
, which eloquently tells the story of his journey as a refugee from Afghanistan to Australia.
is a Melbourne-based writer of fiction and biography. His autobiography, The Boy in the Green Suit, won the Australian National Biography Award for 2005. His 2007 biography, My Life as a Traitor, written with Zarah Ghahramani, appeared in numerous overseas editions and was short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in 2008. His first collaboration with Najaf Mazari, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif, grew out of an abiding interest in the hardships and triumphs of refugees.
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Copyright © Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman, 2011 All rights reserved.
Originally published in Australia by Wild Dingo Press
Map illustration: Dimitrios Propokis
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mazari, Najaf, 1971-
The honey thief : a novel / Najaf Mazari & Robert Hillman.
1. Afghanistan—Social life and customs—Fiction. I. Hillman, Robert, 1948- II. Title.
PR9619.4.M37565H66 2013 823’.92—dc23 2012039997
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book is dedicated with great affection to Robin Bourke, Norman Bourke, Jeanie Gibb, Hakeema Mazari, Maria Mazari, and also to Bruce Norman.
The authors wish to express their gratitude to the publisher, Catherine Lewis, and her dedicated team at Wild Dingo Press for their invaluable support in the development of
The Honey Thief
. We would particularly like to thank Hugo Britt and Katia Ariel for their painstaking editing of the manuscript and for the many improvements they suggested, and Susannah Low for her stunning design work. Special thanks go to Mustafa Najib, Abdullah Alemi and Major (Retired) Ali Raza for kindly agreeing to check the historical and political references throughout the book.
The authors would also like to thank all of the following people for their advice and encouragement: David Baillieu; Julian Burnside; Dan Cudmore; Ann Dillon; Sally Godinho; Christian and Elisabeth Groves; Norm Groves; Bruce and Rea Hearn-Mackinnon; Jim and Caroline Hill; Walid and Nadda El-Khoury; Harry Kontos; Nancy Otis; Rod Parnall; Ahmad Raza; Hussain Sadiqi; Simon Stewart; Jessie Taylor; Dunstan Towning; Pamela Vincent; Lin Windram; Colin Young; all the wonderful people at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne and Amnesty International Australia.
The inspiration for the tales in
The Honey Thief
is derived from the long oral tradition of storytelling in Afghanistan. As in those tales of centuries past, a number of the stories in this collection are based on actual events, and some make reference to people who have played a role in the larger narrative of Afghanistan. The oral history of Afghanistan, preserved by storytellers in villages, towns and cities, is a living treasure.
The Honey Thief
is conceived as a tribute to the men and women who for many centuries celebrated in poems, songs and stories the experience of ordinary Afghans, their culture and wisdom.
I was born in Afghanistan, but I only came to know where my country belonged in the world when I left it. I had seen maps of my homeland, of course, and I knew that Afghanistan had six other countries on its borders, but I took little interest in them. Then one evening, in a land of television sets far from Afghanistan, I saw a huge globe that rotated slowly, showing the weather for all the countries on earth. A young woman with dark hair and a green dress with silver buttons said that it would be dry in Kabul with a top temperature of thirty-nine degrees. I realised for the first time that Afghanistan is in the middle of the world, stranded there with no coastline, with no escape.
The sight of my native land on the television set fascinated me, but I must confess that it didn’t fill me with pride. I had no desire to stand to attention and sing the national anthem. This had nothing to do with the fact that Afghanistan is only on the news when things are going badly there. It had nothing to do with the explosions that tear people apart in the streets; nothing to do with the American jets that fire rockets into houses from a great distance; nothing to do with harvests of opium poppies. No, it was because my loyalty is not to this land in the middle of the world, but to the small part of it in which my people, the Hazara, have toiled for their bread for eight hundred years.
Afghanistan is a land of struggle, more than most, but of all those who live there, none have struggled like the Hazara. Perhaps this is because we are a mystery people; no one knows for certain where we came from, and we have been resented for generations by those who live in Afghanistan in greater numbers than ourselves.
I say we are a mystery people, but only to others. We are not a mystery to ourselves; at least not amongst the Hazara I know. Many believe that we are the descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors who swept down from Mongolia eight hundred years ago and overran China, northern India and the whole of Central Asia. Scientists who have studied us say, ‘Maybe.’ They look at our faces, and see the same faces as those of the people who live in Mongolia today. They look at our customs, and see many that we share with the people of Mongolia. They look at our yurts, our tents, and see the same yurts that the people of Mongolia pitch on their plains. They look at a hundred different things, a hundred different signs, and the more they look, the more they see what ties the Hazara to the Mongolians. And then they say, ‘Maybe.’ They have to be cautious, in the manner of scientists. But we, the Hazara, we don’t have to show the same caution. We know in our bones and in our blood where we came from. But does it matter? People are not theories. People are blood and bone, the eyes they see with, the hands they work with. Hazaras, who work with their hands, have lived in the land now known as Afghanistan for a very long time. There is no other land to which we belong.
* * *
A tribe is a world. I have described myself to people who are not of my tribe in this way and that, and usually I satisfy the person I’m talking to, and also satisfy myself, up to a point. I say, ‘I am a pacifist,’ and so place myself in a very large tribe of people who share at least one belief with me. Or I say, ‘I am a businessman,’ and the banker I am addressing knows that I can be relied on to keep an accurate account of what I buy and sell; that I make sensible decisions with my money. I say, ‘I am a Muslim,’ and the Muslim listening to me will make a dozen assumptions about the life I lead, most of them correct. When I meet a Hazara, I don’t say, ‘Nice to meet you, I am Hazara.’ There is no need. We will greet each other in a different way to the way we greet people who are not of our tribe. We will be both excited and shy at the one time. Excited because we are brothers, shy because without even knowing my name, the man I am talking to can see deep into my heart. And if this man says, ‘I have no bed for the night, I have no bed for the next year,’ I will say, ‘You have a bed in my house.’ As we stand facing each other, hundreds of years of good news and sad news flow between us. We are made from the same clay; or rather, we have heard the same stories.