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'Dead! Dead! Dead'! I call out every morning on the walk to work. He lifts his head wearily from under his tail, looks at me as if to say 'Not again!' curls into an even tighter ball against the bitter cold and returns to his favourite game of playing corpse. Jelte just doesn't like the word "dead". He'd rather I use 'canis mortis'. Whatever; 'dead' is 'dead' is 'dead'. When we arrived in October, the sun was shining; we walked around in light sweaters and jackets and the ever-present, countless dogs played 'dead' in the autumn heat, refusing to move as much as a hair, so that one was forced to manoeuvre around them. So, as far as I'm concerned, all Khorog dogs are called 'Dead'. Our nearest 'dead' neighbour guards the home next door to us. He's a big, blond mix with ears intact. The only use the Pamiris appear to have for Man's best friend is for 'burglar alarms'. Those dogs on which there might be a very vague claim have their ears and tails clipped short to ensure that they are not handicapped in a dog fight. Up to now, we have never come across the faintest whiff of an organized dog-fight, thank heavens. There are tons of impromptu ones (yes, we are up-to-date with our rabies jabs). That's inevitable with so many strays around, fighting for their territory. Most of them appear to be a mix between Alsatian, wolf and' bitsa'. Now, at the start of winter, there are a fair number of puppies between three and six months, roaming around, grubbing for food. Their coats are thick, in anticipation of the rough, freezing months ahead. We wonder how many of them will survive through to the spring. Also, now, in anticipation of the warm summer months, the females are in heat; one can tell that they are still nursing their current litter. The never-ending cycle of survival of the species. Where are the NGOs to address this issue of stray cats and dogs? Is it a dog's life?

'Dead' , guarding our neighbour's home

Cats too, are common (and strays) here in Khorog. Lots of them around, keeping the rat and mouse population in check. They hang about outside one's door or window, begging to be let in but we don't think it's fair, given that we will only be here for a short time and there's no guarantee that the next volunteer occupant will want to adopt a live rat-trap. We have one little guy who persists and wails outside our window. When he sees us move, he scurries to the front door, in anticipation that we're going to open it for him. He does this five or six times in the morning, while we are getting ready to go to work. So far he hasn't given up! It's -13 C outside today. We hope he finds a nice, warm spot to see through the winter. We're so relieved that our 'Clarence' has a warm, loving home in Temple City, with lots of cat friends and Haley to keep him happy, well-fed and comfortable. We get regular updates on how he's getting on with O'Reilly, Bootsie and Sweetheart. Haley, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. We cannot say it often enough.

Who's guarding who?
Birds! There aren't many left now that the winter is with us. We thought we had left the magpies behind in Canada, but they are a noisy, squawky, ubiquitous bunch, alive and well in Tajikistan. The sparrows too have pecked out a niche for themselves here in the mountains. They are ever-present, scratching two feet from one, searching for the overlooked seed or insect. Pigeons, doves, crows and eagles have also made permanent homes here in Khorog. It will be interesting to see what other birds arrive come April. We were lucky enough to see four golden eagles when we hiked in to the Gisev valley last month. What an incredible sight! In Dushanbe, which, interestingly, is north of where we are currently, the most common bird to be seen is the common Indian mynah. And they're aggressive little things too; dive bombing the local canines that trespass on their territory.

Does anyone want to know what we had for Christmas dinner? As currently, we are cooking on three hot plates, putting a turkey into the oven would have been a challenge... anyway, we like turkeys and are all for ensuring that yet another one doesn't hit the hot-plate. We feel less strongly about the chickens, especially when they are already frozen, in pieces and hail all the way from some unreadable country in the Middle East. So it was Christine's special chicken curry, lentils with tomatoes and green onions (we actually found fresh tomatoes and a shred of green in the market), cabbage with potatoes and coconut (desiccated, in a packet brought all the way from Dushanbe), tomato rice, beetroot salad and to top it off (no, no Christmas Pud this year), a fruit salad of local, incredibly sweet persimmons, apples, pears and pomegranate and wonder of wonders, fresh grapes all the way from Urumchi, China. Our volunteer friend, Jamil (Canadian from Southgate, Edmonton), bought up the only decent consignment of wine a few weeks ago and we were the lucky beneficiaries. One learns very quickly here that if you find something available in the stores or market, you buy the lot. Last week, Jelte managed to buy 'the last tomatoes in town' and Jamil seems to be the master in securing large quantities of luxury items, so common in the West but very rare here.... Single Malt Scotch, good wines and unedited American and English movies. Perfect for these, long, cold nights... and the winter is only five days young.......

3 January 2011.  HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE.  As usual, we've had challenges with our communication channels.  Today was the first day in weeks that we managed to get through to friends and family, for a couple of hours.   New Year's celebrations were fun.  Lots of invitations from our Khorog friends.  So we spent much time sitting cross-legged, enjoying incredible Pamiri hospitality, sipping tea and helping ourselves to a wealth of food cooked in the local tradition.  If the Pamiri table were a four-legged one, it would be in constant 'groaning' mode.  From the time one arrives to departure, there is food constantly being replenished.  Cold cuts, cheese, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, bread, tea, fruit juices, fresh fruit (pomegranates, mandarins, lemons, apples, pears), bhoj, fried chicken, soup, so many different types of salads, french fries, all fill the 'table'.  People sit around for hours, enjoying the company and celebrations.  We had some wonderful conversations about life in the Pamirs, politics and the the Ismaili Muslim lifestye.   More about this in our next blog.


  1. Faltering sympathy! When I read about the -13C I began work on my best facial expression of sorrow, concern, and worry. THEN I read about the single malt Scotch, the good wine, and the unedited movies and (1) my face relaxed and (2) my sympathy level fell precipitiously (sp). And the Christmas dinner and all of the feasting with Pamiri hospitality does make me worry a bit about your weight -- but probably necessary to fend off the extreme cold ahead.
    We had dog experiences similar to yours in Bhutan, except that it warm and they were awake and barking all night.
    "It's a dog's life" fits there -- certainly not with the pampered pets here.
    All is fine here -- except minor things such as the Repubs taking charge of the House today and the $28 billion dollar deficit facing Caifornia.
    Calls for some JD.

    Thanks for your phone message, try again some time.



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