Life goes on as before for the ‘Greeks’ of Pakistan

In the telegrams I was receiving from Greece, all of them were frightened and were asking me to return. Still, though, I was feeling that I was in the most peaceful area in the world, remarked Thanasis Lerounis, a teacher who returned on Thursday after spending four months with the Kalash in northern Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. His eyes sparkle when he talks about the Kalash, a tribe of about 3,000 people who consider themselves descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great. His visit there was to supervise the construction of a maternity clinic that was built for the Kalash with Greek funding. Lerounis was there when the US-led airstrikes against Afghanistan began. The Kalash did learn about the military operations in Afghanistan and the tension that exists in their country, but in their areas life goes on as before, he noted during an interview with Kathimerini. In the morning the people tend to their farms and their children attend school, and their community lives without any anguish. The only ramification is that Pakistani border police units have intensified their patrols around the so-called valleys of the Kalash. Only when you travel away from their isolated areas, situated at an altitude of 2,500 meters, do you start realizing the dramatic events that are taking place in the region. It was when Lerounis, on his way back to Greece from the Kalash areas, traveled through Peshawar and Islamabad that he came across street protests and heightened security measures. Police and military units had set up roadblocks and checkpoints along key roads, but when the Pakistani officials were hearing Yunan – meaning he was the Greek representative for the Kalash tribe – Lerounis was immediately allowed through. He has been traveling frequently to Kalash areas over the past eight years as the result of an effort launched by the School Teachers’ Federation (OLME) and others, which was embraced by many Greeks who contributed money for the construction of schools, water supply networks, as well as for the tribe and its culture. The Kalash consider themselves descendants of the Greeks. They believe in polytheism and maintain an altar of Hestia in their homes, while in their language there are Greek roots. Due to the military operations, Greek Ambassador to Pakistan Dimitris Loundras had to cancel his visit to the Krakal village of the Kalash for the inauguration of the clinic, built this year with Greek funds. Lerounis had been informed of the dangers that could come from the US attack on Afghanistan, but he stayed in the valleys of the Kalash until September 30, the day of the inauguration. I hope the area will remain unaffected from these developments, as it was before I left. It is a community that lives with traditions that many democratic communities today would envy, he said, giving the example of the balance in relations between the two sexes. A woman in the Kalash tribe can marry only for love, while when married, if she is not happy with her husband she can break the marriage and return to her family home, where she receives the support of her siblings. She can also remarry if she wishes to. Moreover, it is an obligation for men to give a dowry to the bride’s family.

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