I love and hate winters in Afghanistan. I hate winter’s icy cold weather, the lack of equipment, the sea of mud it creates afterwards, but I love the warmth winter brings to people’s hearts and how it brings people closer. As the weather gets cold, people try to find creative ways to be with each other and stay warm.
When my family came back from Iran in 2002, we resided in Herat. My oldest brother had a decent house that he rented, and he welcomed the family there. They had two rooms, a hall, and a small kitchen. My brother, his wife, and two children would sleep in their own room. My father and two other brothers would sleep in the other room. My mother, my youngest sister, and I would sleep in the kitchen. We could sleep in the hall too, but it was very cold. The kitchen was warmer because we cooked dinner there.
I wore two or three pair of socks on top of each other. To sleep, I wore a huge fluffy coat under many heavy layers of blankets. I could barely move, but it was warm. I would wear a thick scarf to keep my head warm from the harsh, cold breeze that came in under the kitchen door and froze my hands and face. My father covered all the windows with plastic and the doors with blankets, but still it was cold. After each snow, all the men and sometimes the women would go up on the roof and shovel the snow into the yard. When we came out, there would be a little mountain of snow.
At night, when everyone went to sleep, I would bring out my hidden book and start reading. I was ashamed of reading romantic novels in front of my brothers, so I read them in secret. Most of the novels were Iranian novels my sister-in-law lent me. One of my favorites was by Fahima Rahimi; it was called Panjereh or Window. The books had been torn apart by my nephew and niece and were missing some pages. My imagination would try to recover the missing pages.
My youngest brother, two years younger than me, sometimes caught me reading the books during the day and he always tried to snatch them from my hand. He was curious to know what I was reading, what could make me so unaware of my surroundings. I always got away. But he knew my weakness and sometimes threatened to burn or tear my books, especially when I was so absorbed in them that I didn’t hear my mother calling. My brother didn’t like reading books. I was the only one who read novels. My brothers only read school books. While my mom was supportive of my reading, she didn’t want me to spend all my time at it.
But reading and writing were my main passions during winter. When everyone went to sleep, I would crawl out from under heavy blankets, and write my own books by the light of the lantern. I used old, thick calendars as notebooks for my novels. Some nights when we were lucky and had electricity, we used an electric hot fan that would glow and spread warmth. I would sleep in front of it so I could use its light and heat to read and write. Those were some of the best nights of my life, nights when my heart flew and my imagination swam in an ocean of dreams. Those nights I dreamed with eyes open, and traveled with my imagination.
During the day, I would help my mother and sister-in-law with household chores. Doing laundry and washing dishes were especially difficult in winter. My mother would make hot water to soap the dishes. My sister-in-law wore gloves to wash them but I didn’t like the gloves. We had no sink in the kitchen, so we had to wash everything in the yard. The good part was that the water in the well was warm in winter and cold in summer. I always thought it was a miracle that showed God’s love for Afghans. By making their well water warm in winter, God lessened people’s misery.
In the evenings, before the men came back from work, my mom made the korsi warm. A korsi is a table that we would put hot coal beneath and throw a big blanket on top. All of us would gather around the korsi. We laughed, chatted, and drank tea. My mother made the best kichiri and laundi, a dish made of rice, beans, and dried meat. We sat together at dinner and talked about relatives, politics, our goals, our complaints, and many other things. I loved sitting and sleeping next to the korsi and still love the closeness winter brings to families.
The longest night in winter is called the Yalda night. On this night, relatives get together and eat dried fruit, pomegranate, and watermelon. I love this night that resides in the heart of winter. Usually during the Yalda night, my grandfather would tell us stories that amazed and entertained us. I love how winter brings youths and elders together.
Winter has been always a good resting time for me. Its long nights inspire me and its short days give me enough time to work. I love winter because it allowed my imagination to grow. All those novels I wrote made me set goals for myself and made me try to achieve those goals. All those writings inspired me to think and look for a prosperous future. All those sentences I wrote were dear to me because those words were my friends. During my lonely cold time, they warmed my heart and made me hopeful.
Years later, I found out my sister-in-law burnt the calendars where I wrote my novels. Thinking they were useless, she threw them in the stove. All those stories of mine that took nights to write became ashes. My novels’ characters were dead before they were born in readers’ minds. I cried a lot when I heard they were gone. I know, however, that as long as winter comes each year, my imagination will go on too. I will write again and winter will continue to inspire me.
Mahnaz is a graduate student abroad. Photo by Hassan Ghaedi.