Coming back from our trip to the Abghaj valley were running through an area prone to rock slides when Fiona took a small tumble cutting her hands and grazing her knees. When we got back to Morkhun Saeed used one of the endless invitations to take tea to get some better first aid than the band aids we had applied from our day pack.
Fiona was served apricots and anti-bacterial lotion by three young women. The youngest was sixteen. She had just begun teaching at a local public school. She had matriculated – a word I am pretty sure went out of fashion in New Zealand in the 1930s – but had no other training. The next, eighteen, was working in a hospital, so she got to apply the bandages. She had to move away from home to achieve this, and was just visiting when we stopped by. She lived with a relative in the larger town of Gilgit, but missed her family village, she said. The oldest, twenty five, worked around the house and, we sensed, was hoping for a marriage invitation to arrive any day now. As the women tended Fiona’s cuts they remarked that she had very soft hands. They were jealous. Theirs had been hardened by working in the fields.
There are work opportunities for women outside the home, as these young health and education workers show, but there is still a strong expectation that they will run a household, get married and have kids. And that they will do a bunch of reasonably heavy labour tending to crops (apricots, apples, potatoes, onions, peas, wheat…) and animals (cows, goats, donkeys, sheep…). This means their hands are more weathered by twenty than Fiona’s might be by forty.