Literacy levels in rural Helmand Province are almost non-existent. Some of those few who claim to be able to read have, in reality, learned tracts from the Qur’an or other texts by rote and cannot read at all.
In the absence of written histories much of Helmand’s past is therefore preserved and chronicled through oral tradition and the story-telling of the Village Elders or Spin Zhira’s. This has proved to be a highly effective method of capturing and recording history, even if it is subject to greater inaccuracies with each successive telling. Muslim societies, even illiterate Muslim societies like those in rural Helmand, are keenly aware of their past. The decisions they make today are routinely shaped by events that happened many centuries before.
By contrast, Western societies have invested heavily in the writing and teaching of history but tend to have very low levels of historical knowledge and even dismiss its relevance in shaping their lives. The phrase that’s ancient history is commonly used to reject something as unimportant or of little value.
Since I did not keep a diary or take extensive notes at the time, the events described in this book are simply my version of the truth and, like those of the Spin Zhiras, have been subject to inaccuracy with each successive telling.