Skip to main content

The Victory of The Sun

Today is a day for celebration (yes, another one). Ancient Persians marked the first day after the winter solstice as the victory of the Sun over darkness. I can relate to this. BUT, apparently we slept through the lunar eclipse, a rarity when it coincides with the winter solstice.  We'll have to wait another 80+ years for the next one!! On a more pragmatic level, for us it means that from today the sun crests the mountains earlier, and heats up the valley for longer each day. Hooray! In three months, winter will be over! As yet, we haven’t seen any snow, nor had REALLY, REALLY cold days. We are told that from the 5th of January, for a period of two weeks, it will be bitterly cold. Everyone here is a walking ‘Farmers Almanac’. When one lives at one with nature, we suppose that’s just the way it is.

Icing on the Pamiri Cake - No 'Frosty The Snowman' here
It’s almost two weeks now since our short four day visit to Dushanbe. Called to meetings there, we dutifully complied, took a flight (Jelte) and a ‘chopper' (Christine) and dropped in on the Capital for big city living. We remember when we arrived in Tajikistan in early October we were pretty unimpressed with Dushanbe, its restaurants, shops, supermarkets, etc., etc. Two months of living in Khorog and we have a totally different attitude. We behave in the same way as we did when we first saw Manhattan. The lights dazzle, the stores make us dizzy and the restaurants make us salivate (not quite). It’s amazing what a few weeks of isolation can do. So for four days and nights we dined and ‘shopped till we dropped’. Found a great new Indian restaurant, the Ashoka. Bought Lavazza coffee, Cheddar and blue cheese, Spanish virgin olive oil, what we thought were two different types of soy sauce – one turned out to be mushroom sauce (not bad) and the other, beef sauce (it will gather dust at the back of the kitchen cabinet). We collected a ‘Red Crescent Package’ put together by our wonderful friends Adele and Martin. The Belgian chocolate bars are long gone but we’re making good use of the Cold/Flu medication, the Marmite (just Christine), the winter woolies, M & S underwear, coffee, hair conditioner (!), moisturizers….. Christmas has started early for us.

Santa Claus has come to town.. thanks for HO HO HO soft TP!
And talking of Christmas… the Russians introduced the concept and the Pamiris continue to acknowledge the season by putting up Christmas trees, decorations and lighting fire crackers. The 25th is not a holiday here, although the 1st of January is. We will bring in the New Year at the Serena Inn over a nice quiet dinner and a few bottles of vino, looking out over Afghanistan. Most expats/volunteers have high-tailed it to Hong Kong, Britain, North America or other parts of the world. Probably, there are a handful of us left here now. We anticipate that we will be the only guests at New Year’s Eve Dinner. But, we are thankful that we’re not snowed in somewhere in Europe or have to cope with those intensely annoying tunes that are passed off as Christmas Carols in stores and restaurants all over North America. So, ‘Frosty the Snowman’ may you melt in hell!

Leaving Dushanbe proved a bit of a challenge. Currently VSO’s safety advisories do not allow us to drive between the Capital and Khorog. So we are limited to Tajik Air’s unscheduled flights or the helicopter if we can cadge a ride and if it is operational on the required day. Bright and early, we were at the ticket office near the airport; the travel guides advise one to get there early in order to be ahead of the queue of passengers clamouring to get the Dushanbe/Khorog flight. Eight-thirty and there were just four of us waiting for the office to open. Nine-thirty, with just fourteen of us, we were told to try again the next day…. Not enough passengers for the flight, nor enough passengers wanting to get from Khorog to Dushanbe. Sunday, we finally made it and this time it was a jet, which flew over the Pamir mountains (rather than through the passes which the prop-job does) and then dipped in to the valley for the last ten minutes of the flight to land in Khorog. Home, Sweet Home!

The Intrepid Mountaineer sporting his Pamiri Jirib
Last week we were busy preparing for the first of our ‘Service Providers’ training courses. Tourism, being in its infancy here, training at its most basic is key to successful product development. Our class included owners of home-stays and guest-houses. We took over one of the local Khorog home-stays for 30 of us and spent two days on basic training from visitor expectations, site inspections, safety, hygiene, healthy cuisine (what is the REAL meaning of vegetarian) and cooking demonstrations. Over 80years of Soviet occupation has done this country few favours. People here have been living in a virtual bubble, isolated and insulated from the real world. One consequence of this is that the Tajiks are among the friendliest, kindest people on this planet and also, are totally lacking in any concept of rudeness or nastiness. On the minus side, a fundamental lack of understanding of initiative, self-help and responsibility for one's own destiny is endemic here in the Pamirs.

In tourism development terms, this is a huge challenge but the training was satisfying, nevertheless. Seminar attendants are selected based on earlier accomplishments from their side and they are paid to join (so it's never entirely certain whether they are there for the free lunch or our smart remarks) but over-all, we thought we did an OK job in explaining how we thought things should work.
Of course, this is always a challenge and a number of things must have been lost in translation (our Tajik and Russian not yet up to par) but we realized, there is a great willingness to learn and to understand, which is what can not be said about most of the seminars we have attended in Europe or the States. You can't blame them for being blase although the big cultural divide is an issue.


  1. C&J, great to hear from you as the days get longer. And interesting how in such a short time Dushambe looks like THE CITY! When the snows come, you may have a serious case of cabin fever. Jelte, the leg warmers (or tatoos?)look wonderful -- and is there a beard in the offing?
    Southern Cal has just had six days of heavy, heavy rain -- mudslides and floods, but PV and your old SP home are on high ground. We, too, look for longer days and warmth as we struggle to get over 60 F in the day. Lew sends his greetings; doing well. but still on chemo.
    Steve and Manjula parked the boat in Australia and will be here until March -- they have some of the same troubles you do with consumerism after six months on a boat.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year --
    Bill and Sherry


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Beyond the Rupununi

Today is a day of celebration for us;  exactly a year ago we landed in Georgetown.  We can still remember the excitement in the pits of our stomachs when we saw the advertisement, inviting interested applicants to respond to an invitation to work with local Amerindian communities in the south of Guyana.... one of the three Guianas  - the other two being French Guyana (still a part of France, so no visa necessary for Europeans, and Suriname, which the Dutch (like the British did to Guyana) happily returned to their rightful owners.  So, here we are and apart from the fact that one is not tripping over wildlife and primary forest at every step, we have certainly not been disappointed. 
John Gimlette's book 'Wild Coast' brings this part of the world to vivid  and at times, shocking, life.  Since our arrival in March last year, we have visited Suriname (Paramaribo), where one can live the life of the Dutch knowing that summer really does last longer than just one day in the ye…

Cross Border Markets and our First Tajik Wedding

It's Friday afternoon, 4:30 pm and a colleague mentions, by-the-way,  that Monday is a holiday as Constitution day falls on Saturday, 6th November.  A long week-end with places to go and things to see!!  To hell with a two week pile of unwashed clothes!   Here in Khorog, every Saturday morning  there is a cross-border market, which is the closest we can get to actually visiting Afghanistan.  
At 10 am Jelte, Rod and I hail a 'cab' and for the price of  just one Somoni each (the equivalent of 30c or 20p) we share a 'golf cart' - commonly known as a Chinese van - with 4 other passengers to take us to the site of the cross-border market.  When we arrive, things are just beginning to come alive.  
We wander around the few stalls of fruits and clothes and odds and ends. Jelte and Rod sit down to breakfast of 'choi' and bread with Halva. Christine is too busy watching one of the stall owners cook 'pilav' on an open fire.   
Within half an hour the mark…

A Presidential visit

For the past few months, Khorog residents have been busy repaving roads, completing unfinished buildings, walls, park boundaries.  We’ve never seen such frantic activity, nor Khorog looking so ... spruced.  President Rahmon is on his rounds... he’s visited Penjikent, ........ and now it’s the turn of the capital of the Pamirs.  The response to this ‘State Visit’ is mixed.   Some people shrug their shoulders in resignation, others plan what they are going to wear and how they can finagle a ‘ring side seat’ for this parade.   And us?  We’re going fishing.  Well, we might wait until the weekend, when all the fuss is over.
On his visit, the President opened the new Lycee, a gymnasium, amongst other notable activities.  The speechifying took place in Central Park, and of course, no-one but invited guests were able to get anywhere near the area.  The PECTA office, located in the Park, just yards from the centre of activity, was closed for the day.  No access.  Jelte did try to get in via an…