Monday, May 8

The ability to be happy: Longevity secrets from 100+ year old man in Afghan village

"Every day I dance, too, and laugh. Mostly at myself."

By Hollie McKay
May 8, 2017
Fox News

[See the website for McKay's photos of Satar, his home, and Panjshir Valley]

PANJSHIR VALLEY, Afghanistan – Every day, just before sunrise, a hunched figure moves down the mountain from his mud-hut home in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, ready to work from dawn to dusk collecting wood, cutting stones and using them to build houses.

Only this is no ordinary mountain man. This is Abdul Satar, known by locals simply as "Sheikh." At an estimated 105 years of age – Afghanistan does not have standardized birth records in some rural areas – he has the mental and physical aptitude of men half his age.

With his cheeky toothless smile and a notorious penchant for pulling pranks, Satar has survived through decades of successive rulers, invasions, wars and famines.

His No. 1 longevity secret? He eats butter by the spoonful.

"It makes me very relaxed and strong," Satar tells Fox News, taking an afternoon break in the spring sunshine. "In the winter when there is a lot of snow, the butter makes me very warm and I am not affected by the cold."

Waving his cane around animatedly, he also attributes his long life and ability to work full time to spending all his years in the high altitudes, sleeping just three to five hours a night, and carving out time for his favorite pastime, which is hunting deer.

"And things aren't always happy, but I try just to be happy anyway," Satar goes on. "I tell people not to stress. I like a lot of organic food from the mountain, but the specific food itself is not important. It's important that people just enjoy it."

But equally as fundamental, Satar vows, is giving back to those in the community. During the Soviet war, he devoted his time to carrying refugees to safety, on the back of his horse. Still now, when there is a death in his Panjshir village of Jangalak -- the Persian word for forest -- Satar is often the first to dig the grave and assist in preparing the body for burial.

The hallowed Panjshiri never learned to read or write, has never owned a car -- just once a friend let him steer from the driver’s seat while the friend operated the brake -- and he eschews all modern technology. Nonetheless, Satar is deemed something of a "wise guy" who locals come to for advice.

"If someone goes the wrong way, I try to help them get back to good," he quipped.

However, the younger generation is proving a challenge.

"If you tell them right, they want to go left," Satar laments. "And the girls now wear too much makeup and perfume. God gave us eyes, ears, hands, beauty. Why cover it up with makeup?"

The passage of time, Satar says, has taken only a tiny toll. Once upon a time, he had more than 100 animals on his farm and collected feed from the most far-fetched mountainous terrain to distribute around the villages, but he had to surrender that task several years ago. Today his skin is carved with deep wrinkles and cataracts cloud his sight. 

Nevertheless he dismisses any aches and pains with a shrug.

"Every day I dance, too, and laugh," he says. "Mostly at myself."

When Satar looks back through the lens of history at his nation, which he has never left -- except one short trip to Pakistan decades ago -- two epochs stand out. His military service in his early adulthood, which "made him a man," and Afghanistan in the years prior to the communist coup of 1978, termed the Saur Revolution, in which the leader, Mohammed Daoud Khan, and his family were killed and Soviet-allied leadership took their place.

"Before that, Afghanistan was a very peaceful and very beautiful place," Satar reminisces.

The situation in his conflict-decimated country now, he stresses, is getting to be the worst he has ever seen.

"I am very happy the Americans came, but every day now there are suicide bombers," he laments. "Why are they not being killed first? We need Americans to eradicate the enemies."

Satar also doesn't underestimate the value of a good woman by his side. He married for the first time at age 35, and had two sons and a daughter -- one son was later killed near their home fighting against the Soviet invaders in the 1980s.

He married a second time at 75, falling for a much younger girl in her 20s in a nearby village amid that same brutal war that bloodied much of his beloved province. He visited her little farmhouse every day, promising to respect her, and finally after she accepted his proposal they were married in a small ceremony eight days later.

The couple had six boys and two girls and his youngest child is a mere 13 years old. Today, just six of his children are still alive.

Satar is certain he can "still produce babies" -- and he does want more children -- only his wife, now around 50, long ago mandated no more.

"Still, I worship her," he adds. "Every day I look at her and want to marry her all over again."

Hollie McKay has been a staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay



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