GIs, Kuchees cross paths
ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In Europe they call them Gypsies.
In Afghanistan they are Kuchees — nomadic herdsmen that share many colorful traits with their European cousins.
U.S. forces operating in southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province interact with Kuchees on regular patrols through several districts where the transient Pashtun tribesmen live alongside ordinary Afghan villagers.
Capt. Clara Abraham, 30, of Annandale, Va., an intelligence officer assigned to Team Apache (Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment) in the provincial capital, Qalat, said all Kuchees are nomadic. They are one of several tribal groups living in districts patrolled by Team Apache platoons, she said.
Company A commander, Capt. Pongpat Piluek, 33, of Plant City, Fla., who operates in Arghandab District out of Forward Operating Base Lane, said the Kuchees in his area are a target for Taliban insurgents who intimidate them and possibly force them to provide food and shelter in their tents.
Soldiers at FOB Mizan, in Mizan District, have to walk only about a mile down the river valley from their base to find the nearest Kuchees, who have set up a colorful temporary village of tents on a hill overlooking the Mizan River.
Hasibullah Nasseri, an Afghan interpreter working with the soldiers at FOB Mizan, said the word “Kuchee” translates as traveler or moving.
“That is why we call these guys Kuchee. In spring they are in one place. The next spring they are in another place — a place where it is warm and green and juicy. In these places the Kuchees live,” he said.
The Mizan Valley Kuchee village is a colorful place. Tents, which range from small shelters the size of a room up to large structures as big as a one-story house, are stitched together with multihued fabrics that make them look a little like patchwork quilts.
Between the tents children, chickens, dogs and donkeys play together during the day while the women sit beside campfires tending cooking pots. The adult male Kuchees wear baggy pants and herd their sheep on sparse vegetation nearby. Women and girls wear bright, ankle-length dresses.
“They don’t have cars. They move their supplies by camels, donkeys and cows. In spring the Kuchees all go to Kabul. In winter they move south to the warm provinces,” Nasseri said.
When they arrive in a new place they graze their sheep in areas where there are no crops. They make money by selling lambs, wool, sheep milk, yogurt and a wheylike substance called Quroot, he said.
Afghans welcome the Kuchees when they come to their neighborhoods, added Parwaiz Noori, another Afghan translator based at FOB Mizan.
“People like the Kuchees. They don’t have a special place to stay so everybody is kind to them. They are like a guest in every province for a few months,” he said.
Like European Gypsies, the Kuchees are famous for their music and dance. They play the flute and drum and have a special dance called the Attan, which is Afghanistan’s national dance, Nasseri said.
Another trait Kuchees share with the Gypsies is a penchant for palm reading and astrology, he added.
Although they are on good terms with other Afghans, the Kuchees don’t want to join them in the towns, Nasseri said.
“They give their daughters to Kuchee relatives. They don’t want to marry their daughters to other people. They always live in a tent. When the Kuchee women fight with each other they say: ‘May God put you in a house.’ That means God puts you in jail,” he said.