Obitutuary for Merhab Sarahj, Taj Mahal Guesthouse Manager

Aug 18, 2012   //   by peretz   //   taj  //  1 Comment

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.

Lunch with Village Elder

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.