National Geographic : 2013 Feb
110 national geographic • February 2013 the current khan’s father, led about 300 Kyrgyz back into Afghanistan, including Er Ali Bai. This is when Abdul Rashid was designated as khan. The Soviet troops, when they arrived, treated the Kyrgyz kindly, and over the past three decades, the population has grown to the current level of more than a thousand, even with the high death rate. Those who remained in Pakistan with Rah- man Kul eventually resettled in eastern Turkey, where they now live in a village of cookie-cutter row houses, with electricity and cable TV and paved roads and cars. They were assigned Turk- ish last names. They like their video games, their flush toilets. They have been tamed. d uring his recent trip to Kabul, the khan’s appendix swelled. He went to a hospital and had it surgically removed. Not a big deal. But it rattled him deeply. “If that had happened here,” he says, “I would have died. Lots of people die here because of that.” Sometimes, among the Kyrgyz of Afghani- stan—often at night, sipping tea in the warmth of a yurt—the question is asked: Would they be better off someplace else? Though the Kyrgyz valleys are free from the fighting that afflicts the rest of Afghanistan, living here can feel like a constant roll of the dice. The idea of leaving again, this time for good, seems always in the back of their minds. Some mention relocating to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, where the same language is spoken and they have eth- nic ties. But it is unclear whether this idea is really an option. Even the young khan is not immune to such thoughts. He admits, in moments of candor, that he’s imagined moving with his family, settling in a town somewhere in mainland Afghani- stan. Living a more normal life. Perhaps, the khan thinks, there comes a time to give up on your homeland. On the khan’s second day at his summer camp, important news arrives. Two government- employed engineers from Kabul have arrived at the end of the present road to survey routes that would extend the road through the mountains A girl carries a pair of lambs to be reunited with their mothers for the night. On especially cold days the vulnerable young animals are kept warm in cloth bags hung in the herders’ huts. The Kyrgyz complain that their winters are brutal. But would they want to call any other place home? into Kyrgyz territory. The khan must greet them, a trip that will require three days of dawn-to- dark horse riding. From a metal trunk in his yurt, the khan’s wife pulls out his finest clothes—a wool pin-striped suit, tall leather riding boots, a black-and-white scarf. His excitement is palpable. Maybe his peo- ple’s fortunes are about to change. “Everybody will be happy,” he says. His wife hands him a dark-blue bottle of cologne and a small brass container of n a s w a r, the potent Afghan chew- ing tobacco. He climbs on his horse. There’s “a 100 percent chance,” he says, that the road will be built. He snaps his crop on the horse’s flank. I watch him gallop down the valley. His confidence seems at odds with reality. In a the khan admits he’s imagined moving, living a more normal life. Perhaps there comes a time to give up on your homeland.