There have been practically no men here for a month. Akbar, third son of Rahman Qul, 21 years old, is in charge. Akbar ushers me into the mihrnankhana—the guest quarters—a stone house filled with warm furnishings: a felt carpet, quilted covers, and multicolored pillow – not that expensive furniture, but look cozy. Today buying furniture can cost you a fortune, but you can easily borrow loans. It is heated by a bukhari, the traditional Afghan stove, brought here by camel. Akbar immediately offers me tea, then leaves to greet Abdul Wakil and Roland.
I am not alone for long. A woman enters and embraces me. By Kirghiz protocol, it is Abdul Wakil’s first and oldest wife, Bibi Orun. She welcomes me warmly, then five other women enter. After exchanging the traditional polite phrases they sit down and watch me silently. Suddenly, a young boy rushes in, announcing the arrival of Abdul Wakil. The women scurry off. Abdul Wakil drinks some tea in the guesthouse before going to his own yurt to see his family again.
The next morning I decide to pay a visit to the women, and, to respect their customs, begin with Bibi Orun.
On the way a fierce sheep dog tethered to a yurt leaps up, showing me its sharp teeth. Its ears are cut off, and it wears a spiked collar as protection from the wolves that attack the herds. Bibi Orun sees my fright and scares the dog away with a well-aimed stone.
Abdul Wakil’s yurt is calm, clean, and orderly, thanks to the three childless women. But a yurt without children is a great misfortune. If, in another year, his third wife, who is 15 years old, does not bear him a child, he will take a fourth wife.
Abdul Wakil cleans his rifle while Bibi Orun sews a khalta—a sack. From time to time she gives an order to Bibi Turgan, who is baking bread, and Zeba Khanim, who is washing clothes. (Khanim, like Bibi, means “lady.”) Bibi Orun treats the younger wives like a mother.
I am surprised to see no jealousy among the wives. “Three women and one husband—doesn’t this create any arguments?” Bibi Orun. laughs. “When a man is just and good, as well as master of the yurt, there are few problems,” she replies. “Besides, it gives each of us less work to do.”