According to a trusted source, we learned that the Taj Mahal guesthouse manager has been shot by two motorcycle riding gunmen.
We knew him as Mehrab, while his full name was Mehrubin Saraj. For many of us, he was more than the manager of the Taj Guest house, but our first condiut into Afghan society. He took us to purchase our Afghan clothes and explained the world outside the compoud walls.
One carefree afternoon, I asked Merhab to tell me about his life before the Taj. This is a transcription of my notes from that day:
In the 80’s we saw terrible things.
As a teenager, after a Soviet raid, I helped bury 14 members of my extended family. That night we packed all our belongings onto a donkey drawn cart. With a caravan of 23 and two cows we travelled two sleepless days to the border with Pakistan.
My father wanted to avoid the masses accumulating in refugee camps on the border, so he guided us to the hills on the outskirts of Peshawar, where he knew about some caves.
We survived as sheppards, having bartered some of our goods for animals. We sheltered inside the caves and blocked the entrance by stones each night to protect the animals from wolves and jackals. At times I would stand watch with a rifle, and tried to follow my fathers advice “aim for the bright eyes”.
My father was most concerned with the posibility that the kids would get bitten by snakes and scorpions. In time, he managed to purchase tents and we moved back to the refugee camps so that the youger kids among us could attend makeshift schools.
When the next summer came, to escape the heat, my family again went back to the higher elevations near the ancient caves, but this time we settled in the plum orchards. … and we brough others with us.
While the owners of that land had previously tolerated us as one family, they took an armed stand upon our arrival blocking our way. They worried that we would bring even more refugees with us and would start treating the land as ours.
So we went back to the caves and only went to the orchards for picnicks!
In the 90s we returned to Jalalabad. A branch of my family had escaped to Egypt and also returned. One of my brothers went missing in Iran, and I still don’t know where he is.
We recovered our home and I was married to my cousin. We lived somewhat apart in refugee camps, but my parents told me about her and made the family arrangement even before we returned.
Since then, I have tried my hand at various enterprises. I worked at what I knew best — as a shepphard for 6 months. A soap factory I started failed. I tried my hand as a beekeeper, bought 25 hives, but they all died. And then I opened a tobacco shop.
I discovered the Taj Mahal Guest house when it was run by the UN. I came on as a pool cleaner, and worked my way up to manager. First I worked closely with the Kiwis, and now with Dave.
RIP Mehrab. August 2012.