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Jatchi, or Town Crier, is Key Man in Afghanistan

As air strikes in Afghanistan continue, the world's media have converged in the north of the country, the only section of Afghanistan not under Taleban control. But journalists, who live in a world of satellite communications, are in for a culture shock at a place with no electricity and no phones, where information comes via the town crier.

It's market day in Khodja Bahoudin, a town of 35,000 perched on the desert of northern Afghanistan. It lies in the small fraction of the country controlled by the opposition to the Taleban, the Northern Alliance. Its population has been swelled by thousands of refugees who fled here when the Taleban captured nearby towns just over a year ago.

Despite the repeated air strikes and the presence of U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan, many of these people do not know in any detail about the terrorist attacks in the United States in September.

At a barbershop a group of men are waiting to have their beards trimmed. They say they haven't heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. The only man who does know, Nasr, has not seen any pictures. "We do not have television," he says, "or newspapers with pictures."

Generally speaking, information in Khodja Bahaoudin comes via the "jatchi," or town crier. Abdulmommen, the jatchi for the town, wears a turban, and carries a megaphone. He explains his job this way: "If a donkey is lost," he says, "then the owner comes to me and he informs the whole town. Then when the donkey is found, the owner pays me money."

Abdulmommen says he is not familiar with stealth bombers or cruise missiles. He says he knew more about Russian military equipment, in case he had to make announcements concerning those.

Abdulmommen finds there isn't much money in news. In the afternoons, he's a bricklayer.

The jatchi is also the public face of justice. When a crime is committed, the suspect is tied to a donkey and paraded through the town. The town crier walks by his side, describing his crimes, and asking the criminal to repent.

On a recent day in the town square, Abdulmommen walked alongside a young man who was trussed backward onto the donkey, his face dabbed with black oil, bleeding where he had been hit. It was a busy day, and there was a crowd in the square. The man was crying but that didn't prevent bystanders - or Abdulmommen - from hitting him.

"He repented, so we did not send him to jail," says Abdulmommen. "He was a pickpocket you know."

What do people do for entertainment in a place without movies, TVs or computers? They listen to a storyteller, or mado.

He sings a song, and then tells the story it contains, often a traditional Islamic tale. Today it is a parable about love and sacrifice: "The prophet Esau comes upon a man crying by a fresh grave and asks him why he is sad," said Abdulmommen. "My beautiful young wife has died, the man replies and I am inconsolable. The prophet offers to bring her back to life, but says there will be a price: the man will have to give up half his own life. He agrees, and Esau brings the beautiful young woman back from the dead. But her husband is now an old man."

After he tells this story, the mado collects money from his audience. But before he does, he offers a blessing, referring to current events - and aimed at the Taleban.

May God bring peace to Afghanistan, he says, and may God kill every terrorist.