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Living a simple life in Pakistan’s Swat Valley

The journey there was terrifying! The bus driver bumped and raced at about seventy miles an hour along narrow mountain passes – overtaking everything in sight. I did not dare look out of the window. Every few seconds the air-horn blared out. I was quite frightened. Coming back I had a much more pleasant and slower ride.

The scenery was spectacular – mountainous and green with streams and waterfalls, wild flowers and blossom. When we stopped in the little villages on the way – we had to change buses twice – children rushed up to us trying to sell us bags of sliced sugar-cane. Everywhere we see that. It is quite good to eat and very juicy, but after you have chewed for a while, you have to spit out the wood. Up in the village of Madyan they sold delicious brown raw sugar balls that taste like fudge. I wondered what it could be at first. They keep it in sacks.

At last we arrived in the village. Ray went to stay in a very cheap ‘hotel’ – two rupees a night, and I went to find this little house where I had been invited to stay. It was a one-roomed stone dwelling, with a roof of thatched branches, mud and stone like all the others in the village. There was a high stone wall around it and wooden gates.

The women there observe strict purdah. I knocked on the door and when Sandy opened it, I showed her the note from Len and said that if it was not convenient I could easily stay in the little hotel. However, she invited me to stay there and I slept on the floor on sleeping bags that night and they chatted about the life in that tiny isolated Pakistani village.

When I first saw the English girls I got rather a shock. They wore very old, tatty, baggy clothes, looked very unkempt, and were squatting on the floor. They looked like hippies, but first impressions did not do them justice. Possibly they were just as put off by the sight of me, as my clothes (my bright blue long silk embroidered Afghani dress) were very clean and rather showy, as I realised afterwards, in comparison to people they see every day in the village, and have done for a year since they first came there.

One of the girls was my age, 22, and the other, Sandy, a few years older. They offered me some rice and then I went out for a walk along the valley with Ray. When I came back I chatted with the girls. Len’s girlfriend, Sandy, who rented the house, had been a nurse for seven years in England.

Next morning I learned an incredible thing – the people in the village had discovered that she had medical knowledge (because one day she had dressed somebody’s wounds) and they came to her every day with their ailments. She had a regular surgery and even supplied them with medicines and pills which she bought herself from the chemist.

She told me that the village people did not understand that dirt could cause infections and sometimes she had to give pills first, as well as emphasising that they must wash wounds. She had learned a little of the language and it was obvious that the people respected her very much. She dressed like the women and covered her hair when she went to the shops. There was a doctor, she told me, but the women were shy of visiting him and would not go, so they came to her instead. She would not see the men, only women and children. Some of the women brought her a few nuts or herbs in return for ‘treatment’. She told me that for a long time she had tried to keep her nursing skills quiet but that it was impossible to keep anything quiet in that village.

The other girl, a friend, was staying there for a while. She had been very sick and was recovering from hepatitis and pneumonia together! The weather had been very cold but now was getting hot.

I wished that I had stayed longer in that village to learn more about the people, but as always I am restless to move on.

Sandy showed me some of the beautiful embroidery done by the women in the village. In the morning one of the women living next door brought us a pot of tea and some round flat bread fried in a kind of butter – ghee, I think. Sandy told me she had brought it to us because I was there. She told me how very, very happy, friendly and giving the people were – so very poor – and yet always wanting to share the little that they
have. Average wages she said, are about ten to thirteen rupees a week. (One rupee is less than five pence). She told me how she loved living in the valley like these poor people, eating the foods that are in season. She said to me, “Never have I had so
little but never have I been so happy.”

I said I will perhaps visit them again on my way back from India.
Extracted from Rosamund’s travel diaries, now in print. Buy it at Matador or Amazon.

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