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Town Crier Juma Khan, Afghanistan's Low-Tech Newsman

While most people around the world consume news and information from TV, radio and the Internet, a centuries-old tradition that has mostly died out is still being practiced in one Afghan province where literacy rates are poor. Meet Bamyan's town c

Bamyan's town crier Juma Khan
Bamyan's town crier Juma Khan
Ghayor Waziri

BAMYAN For decades town criers were responsible for delivering news and information. But in the digital age, the tradition has almost died out. There aren't many people like Juma Khan left.

Khan has been personally delivering the news to the residents of Bamyan province since 1986.

"I was a farmer when I was young, and living in Kabul," he says. "Sometimes I did some laboring, but then in 1986 I came to Bamyan province. The city was very old and the person who was working as the newsman here had just passed away."

He explains that because he had a little bit of education and knew how to read and write, he took over as the next "newsman."

In the 1940s and 1950s, "Jaar-chi," the equivalent of medieval Europe's town criers, were well known in Afghanistan, and Khan represents one of the very few who remain.

He says he never thought about notoriety, but he soon become very well known in Bamyan, with his distinctive, clear voice. "When I started my job, the town crier was the only way to inform people about events," he says.

In the beginning, he had to memorize his announcements, but now they are written down so that he can read them.

Bamyan is a mountainous province in central Afghanistan. Though there has been a huge growth of media around the country, Bamyan is rarely covered in the news because it's so remote.

Only one radio and national television staion broadcasts from here, but its coverage is limited. That means most people in the city, like shopkeeper Zahra Laali, get their news and public announcements from Khan, whose nickanme is "Landani," which means "the Londoner" in Persian. The name is a joking reference to his rivalry with BBC radio.

"It was more than 10 years ago that I came to Bamyan province and opened my shop here," she says. "Mostly I get information about events, news and commercials via Landani. I think he is doing a very important job, as radio and TV broadcasting is just for a few hours here and most people don't have access to them."

When Landani walks through the city, most people emerge from their doorways to hear the latest news.

"When I announce something, everyone pays attention to my voice," he says, "They want to know what's going to happen in the province."

Khan receives between 6 and 10 items of news and advertisement each day, mostly from the public and the local government.

Kazim, who works for the media department within the Bamyan municipality, takes his announcements to Khan because, he says, it's the most efficient way to disseminate the news.

"Our announcement today is about a big campaign for city cleaning that we are going to start," he says.

Khan enjoys his job, which pays him between $3 and $4 for each announcement, and says he will continue for as long as he is able. Bamyan has among the lowest levels of education in Afghanistan, and no one is Khan's family is literate enough to take over.

"Sometimes I feel pain in my legs and waist, but I will do my job up to end of my life."

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