Skip to main content

Navruz Muborak

Navruz Muborak...Or HAPPY NEW YEAR to those of you who are not familiar with Tajik! Yes, we have another four days of official holidays, all strung together. And for a bit of light entertainment, we are back in the office on Friday this week ( Friday, March 25). It gives the term 'Long Weekend' a whole other meaning.
We were back in Dushanbe; meetings with VSO for reviews on how our programmes have been going over the past year. It's interesting to be part of the Central Asian New Year celebrations. For four days families have been celebrating by joining in on official gatherings and concerts, just walking the streets in their finery - usually national dress (with a lot of glitter for the special occasion) or participating in various games and competitions. We don't know about the food or family gatherings ; being in Dushanbe, we were not invited home for 'a cup of tea' by any hospitable strangers. The rule of the big city prevails even here in the Capital of Tajikistan. There are crowds and crowds, just enjoying the start of spring, which in this city, has come bounding in. When we arrived, we were greeted by hail, snow and sleet. Then, just short of a week later, it is 19 C and cloudy.

The reason we have been so uncommunicative recently is because we could not access our blog from Khorog. We thought the Government might have blocked access to all blogs in fear of a contagion of the North African and Middle East revolutions but a local wryly advised us that the authorities did not care enough. And she was right! Happens that it is just a 'cookie' hiccough. But, just in case, we plan to post this update before we return to Khorog at the crack of dawn on the 24th. It's going to be yet another 16-hour juddering ride on the wonderful Pamir Highway. Home Sweet Home!!

So, there's a huge amount to share with you since our last update.

Safety is a big issue here in Tajikistan. When we were preparing for our departure (now almost half a year ago) the main concern was terrorism (whatever that means). The close proximity to Afghanistan and the fact that upon our arrival a couple of religious leaders had made a succesfull prison break might have added to that point of view. However, the truth is less poetic if that's the proper term in this context. Our employers take the volunteers' safety very seriously (we are precious goods after all) so the first lessons you learn during your ICT (In Country Training) is about safety and security. Very low security risk in Tajikistan; terrorist attacks, highest security risk; car accidents and electrical fires.

We were forwarned.... . Even though accidents can happen anywhere in the world, here the chances of a fall, a car accident or a fire are probably 20 times more likely. We still don't understand why all the steps of the stairs are uneven, but they are, roads and pavements (sidewalks to our US friends) are obstacle courses (one of our co-volunteers , a day after her arrival, had to be repatriated after a bad fall, fortunately she is back with us now ) cars are often only vaguely road-worthy, and the electrical systems in homes and offices are alarming to put it mildly. All water has to be filtered or boiled for at least 10 minutes before consumption.

So we put out a fire the other night. We had just returned from our trip to Egypt and Turkey. Our house, built of stone, was cold and we had all the heating (plug-in oil radiators) going full-pelt. The wiring for these appliances are fixed directly in to the wall (we have no clue why). We turned down the appliances to 50% and went to bed. At 2 am the sound of fireworks in the bedroom woke us. Against the wall, behind the furniture we could see the red 'dancing' lights of a happy blaze. Within seconds we had the furniture pulled away, and were beating out (with clothes conveniently dumped earlier that night) an electrical fire. The entire incident must have been half a minute long. The smoke fumes from the burning insulation tape (cheap, Chinese junk), and wood furniture (more cheap, Chinese junk) lasted hours. We did not get back to sleep that night. The Landlord made good the electrics - until the next time. VSO does provide a fire alarm for each volunteer household, but unless it's close to the source of the fire, we suppose it's not of much use!

More about Chinese imports. The Pamiris don't buy Chinese junk for the fun of it; they just do not have an option. They still rave nostalgically about all items with the 'Made in the USSR' stamp on them. Our theory is that all the Chinese discards end up in the Pamirs (we learnt the hard way that even plastic bags can't be trusted, they often tear open before you have made it home). Here in Dushanbe, the situation is very different, with goods flooding in from Turkey, The Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere. We are isolated in more ways than we realized.
Nuggets: We want to share some little nuggets - small incidents, both funny and sad, that have stayed with us ever since they occurred over the past few months......

Dead IS dead. So when we returned from our 21 day vacation in Egypt and Turkey, where, unintentionally we languished for two weeks, we found little change in Khorog. Yes, much of the snow and ice had melted; the sun was higher and bathing the valley in much more heat and there were the same winter veggies in the markets - carrots, potatoes, beets, cabbage and giant radish. What we did notice was that there were fewer cats and dogs roaming around. Our co-volunteer, Rod, mentioned that he had encountered petrified dogs seemingly running for their lives for no apparent reason, until one noticed the beat-up cars and occupants dragging howling animals into car boots. At the time, we thought that perhaps January was the time of year when the round-up of strays occurs. In some ways it made sense; the females are carrying new litters in anticipation of the spring, the previous years' pups are roaming the streets, hunting for anything edible; the perfect time for a clean start. Dead had disappeared, as had many of our other 'friends' and the young ones from the many litters. But we believe their disappearance links to a strange and unnerving incident that occurred on our drive to Dushanbe in January. At one check-point high in the mountains, there was a large contingent of army guards. With six inches of snow on the ground, much of it turning to ice, we were required to enter their cabin to show our passports and documents. While standing outside, waiting for them to complete the process, I noticed a litter of weaned pups, one of which was gnawing on a rabbits leg, or so I thought. It kept guarding its meal and moving from place to place to avoid its litter twins. It suddenly dawned on me that it was not a rabbit leg it was making a meal of but a dogs paw, cleanly severed from an absent body. At the time I thought it was the mother that had been butchered by the soldiers, for reasons known only to themselves. But, having talked to a few people following the disappearance of so many local strays, it appears that illegal dog-fighting is well and thriving. Local governments do not have the finances to fund programmes to reduce the stray dog population. So the rounding-up that other volunteers had seen were the dog-fight aficionados, collecting their next victims. Ghoulish as it reads, our take is that the poor animals that lose their fights are chopped up and used as fodder for future fighters. Sick world!! Hopefully the absent cats just moved on to other homes.

Hitch-hiking is a common occurrence here in Tajikistan. With the majority of people depending on public transport, it's acceptable and safe. In Khorog and GBAO, where the only 'public transport' available are the privately run 'tangems', waving down the first available means of transportation makes a lot of sense, especially in the winter months when the distances between towns and villages are considerable and the cold is sometimes terrifying. So can you blame us for taking pity on a 75-year old Turk, asking for a ride on a country-road close to Izmir? He got in the back seat and when we asked him where he wanted to go he just mumbled something and waved us on. We told him that we were going as far as Kusadasi and that we would drop him somewhere along the route (in expert Turkish of course). He sat there, enjoying the ride. The next three villages came - and went, and he kept waving us on. We must have travelled @ 40 km when finally we stopped at a village and asked a couple of the locals to ask the old man to shift himself. They got into a heated argument; and finally the old hitch-hiker was prised off the back seat by the helpful villagers and we left him standing in the square looking pretty pissed off that he had lost his ride to nowhere. We think he just wanted to warm himself up in a comfy place and hapless foreign drivers were the best solution. He had a long walk home, though!!

A huge THANK YOU to all our 'Red Crescent Package' donors. We have been overwhelmed. Diana and Eric: Great read - A Reliable Wife - even though she came marinated in a litre of soy sauce. Parchment cooking sheets, choccies, coffee, and tons of it, zip lock bags, batteries, moisturizing lotion.

Mady and Pat: cookies and biscuits, macaroons, Herbes de Provence, lavender honey, mustard, Toblerone, thyme, dried legumes, cranberry bars, tomato paste, lavazza, lavazza, lavazza, pesto (now scoffed), fresh ginger.

Adele and Martin: You are responsible for our good health. We have practically finished your boat-load of cold remedies of halls, fishermans friends, paracetamol, vitamin bombs, defence boosters. I must admit, the Marmite is still going strong!

Gavin and Denise: every time we use the tea towels and table cloths we thank you! Not to mention all the other Indian goodies!!

Paula and Dip: We arrived in Dushanbe to rain, sleet and snow (having decided that spring had arrived there, we had no warm clothes), so your package, with winter woolies were severely used there and also now that we are back in Khorog. Jelte looks like a big, juicy olive in his new sweater!! Thanks too for all the Indian mixes, soup packets and jelly - Jelte's favourite dessert. Can't wait to use them. update:  jellies, one down; one to go.  Good breakfast nosh!

Ma: Great Parmesan all the way from Holland. It had a beautiful green blush on it and tasted all the better for it. The bed sheets are so wonderful to sleep on compared to the Tajik cotton. The sun-tan lotion is so necessary at this altitude. Christine fell asleep in the mountain sun, with the leg of her hiking pants unzipped and is still suffering the consequences.

Hazel and Chanakya: Jelte is still enjoying the fashion show every time Christine prances around in her Spring Collection. And for those cold, unheated offices, and those long drives to and from Dushanbe, Susanna, your knitted poncho is perfect.

And if you are wondering whether we have too much coffee; please don't! Apart from the litres of tea that we drink, the coffee is pure nectar and disappearing fast. So, thanks to all of you, we are not going to lose any more weight while we are here in the Pamir mountains, nor are we going to freeze or die of influenza (fingers crossed).

Talking about diseases; we have largely been spared over the last months (some colds and some food poisonings, no biggies) although the kind, but unhealthy customs of the locals to shake hands and kiss every morning don't add to a healthy or germ-free environment. Colds are ubiquitous, when one office colleague has one, everyone gets it and there is no real remedy to stay away from it (working from home might be an option but that is not an accepted practice here yet). We came well prepared with a lot of medications from our private GP but most of those have gone to our new colleagues and Pamiri friends, who self medicate with abandon.

In return, we have been the happy recipients of home-made cherry jam and full fat milk, the age old local recipe for a quick recovery when out with a cold. Guess the path toward great health here is somewhere between cherry jam and paracetamol....

Finally, apologies for the lack of images.  Now that we think we've solved our 'cookies' problem, we should be able to upload some recent pics.... watch this space....


  1. Hello lalawoman and consort,

    this is a much delayed response to your last post (unless you got my email as a follow up substitute)
    I had a bit of a problem with my response due to a clumsy effort to start a blog for some pics. I chose the name Billpics on a Google site for blogs, thinking, of course that is straightforward. After a quick process to enroll, I then check it on the web and discoveed that there are three or four billpics -- two or three of them are PORN sites. Thru assistance from daughter Karen at Google, I finally got the problem solved.
    In case you didn't get my email, I said
    Lalawoman and consort,
    This a belated response from Bill. I composed one, but had sending problems so I am using Sherry's system.
    We are getting a fuller picture of life in Khurog- and the contrast to big city life in Dushambe is interesting. Cities are cities.
    The mountain weather,the electical fire (sounds common), and dog round up for fighting all gave some flavor, as did your hitch hiker who just wanted to keep warm! (I'm with him)
    The electical fire was the most alarming -- awakening the middle of the night to flames!! Fortunately the dwelling is built of stone, but sound sleepers might have had a different end to the story.
    We had multiple stray dogs in Bhutan, but we heard nothing about round ups -- I think there was a kind of Buddhist live and let live.

    Despite some of the hardships in Khorug, such as the one day work week, you probably made the right choice for you. Certainly the problems in Japan, the situation in Libya, and the continuing unrest throughout the Mideast capture the world headlines. Here, though, what the repubs are doing in cutting services in state after state -- taking collective bargaining from public unions -- and really slicing program support in Washington would appall you. A fed govt shutdown on April 8th is possible, but the real fights will be (a) increasing the national debt limit and (b) the 2012 budget. The Tea Party is holding the feet of represenatives that they elected to the fire and cuts are being made in education, social services for the poor, unemployment support, Medicaid -- and the horizon, Medicare. Social Security might be in some jeopardy as well. It would be impossible to have a reasoned discussion about the whole thing if you were involved Jelte -- so may be the slim pickings of radishes and other winter crops is better for you right now.

    Please send the address for your Red Crescent supplies -- I will see if I can whomp up some Peets for you.

    Always delighted to hear from you.


  2. It was a great thing to ponder the memories in Tajikistan. I had stayed here for a year. Salomatboshed!


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…