Last cave family in Bamiyan Buddha Mountain

Xinhuanet, July 25, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan -- "All other families lived in caves have moved to houses at the mountain foot except us who still live here because there are not enough houses for us," the 70-year old Hamid Hussein said.

"Although Taliban has collapsed for more than three years, we didn't feel any improvement in our life. Bamiyan is a famous travel place, and many tourists come here to see the Buddha and the beautiful Bandimere Lake. However, the tourism development did not bring any good for us," the old man told Xinhua.

Hussein and 11 of his family members including his daughter, son-in-law, grandson and granddaughter-in-law, and seven other children lived in one of the caves in Buddha Mountain near Bamiyancity. The 12 people share two so-called rooms of about 15 square meters each, and all of their valuables are two sheep, two chickens and some simple cooking instruments.

Wearing colorful but dirty and ragged clothes, the children play in the rugged mountain all the time.

"I am happy when someone travels here as no other family lives in the same place with us, and we often feel boring and lonely," Hussein's granddaughter, the 7-year old Fatima, said.

Before Taliban regime, Hussein worked as a farmer and his family lived in a rented house. "Almost all residents fled away when Taliban occupied Bamiyan city, setting fire and even killing people in the city," Hussein said.

"We lost everything we had at that time, and even our oxen and sheep were donated to the soldiers who were fighting against Taliban. The life was very hard and the food we ate was only potato," Hussein noted.

Hussein went to the city regularly to buy something from bazaar, he never had the mood or chance to see the famous Buddha. "Every time I came to the bazaar just at the foot of the mountain, I was thinking of finishing shopping as soon as possible and returning home safely. I have never thought of visiting the famous Buddha, and it's a pity that the Buddha was destroyed."

Fortunately, Hussein's family got through the hardship during Taliban regime. No sooner then they returned to Bamiyan city, they came to live the caves again.

About two years ago, in order to protect the remains of the Buddha, the Ministry of Culture and Information asked people living in the Buddha Mountain to leave, and provided some houses or tents for them. All families moved into houses in or near the city except Hussein's family because there was not enough houses for them.

"Our life was very hard over the past two years. My son-in-law and grandson are the main labor force of our 12-member family and working for a French excavating company, which is in operation for two months every year. Therefore, they have to find job on the labor market in the rest of the year. They get about 6 US dollars a day and can hardly support our big family," the old man said with sadness.

"We have to do everything in the cave including living and cooking. Summer is better for us because of the cool weather, and winter is hard to tolerate as it's too cold. We have to make a fire to warm up before we go to sleep," Hussein noted.

When asked what they want mostly now, the old man said they just wanted a house to live in and a small land to work on.

"We don't expect much from the government, but we have to live and my children should go to school. According to our current condition, it's impossible for us to realize," the old man said.

The Buddha Mountain looks more solemn and serious as the sun set, but the smoke rises in the cave making it unharmonious with the whole scene. The last cave family in the mountain still strives for the life and looks forward to moving out of the mountain as soon as possible.