The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman published in 2011 is a book of traditional folk tales and original stoies from Afghanistan. More accurately, it is a book of stories of the Hazara people of Afghanistan.
Najaf Mazari was a master rug maker who emigrated to Australia to flee the Taliban. There he met the writer Robert Hillman, who was interested in the stories Mazari would tell of his homeland.
The book describes how the stories handed down for generations are important for holding the people together. It points out that “in Afghanistan we have very few universities and very few professors. The history of the Hazara is told in the fields, in our tents, in our houses.”
Of the original ones, my favorite was “The Snow Leopard”. It is a about a wealthy Englishman who came to Afghanistan and hired a local guide to try to photograph the elusive snow leopard. They travel high into the dangerous mountains finding tracks and becoming close friends in the process but find the snow leopard always just out of reach. The Englishman returns to Afghanistan often although sometimes he cannot come for many years due to various wars. The original guide dies and the Englishman continues the quest with the guide’s son.
They never find the snow leopard, and on the last day set the camera to take an automatic picture of the two of them together standing as friends in front of their tent high in the snow covered mountains.
When the man returns to England and looks at the final picture, he sees that lying on cliff ledge just slightly above their tent, the snow leopard was curiously looking down on them while they smiled for the camera.
You cannot help but think that the snow leopard is perhaps a symbol for Afghanistan itself. Foreigners come and go and never really understand what they are looking at. Never really seeing the beauty that was right there all the time.