Overlooking the Pacific Ocean from a deck of a friend’s house in San Pedro, CA (where we have set up camp for a two months) we can see the pelicans soaring over the Pacific and blue whales frolicking in the Bay. We contemplate life in general and our last ten months in particular. Very quickly, we have returned to our old Southern Californian days and ways. We catch up with old friends, drive the notorious freeways as old-timers again and revisit all the great places of this incredible city. Life is a beach and San Pedro, LA, is as close to home as it gets. It's now mid-August 2012 and it’s been roughly a year since we made our last blog entry; we feel compelled to share our adventures again with friends, family and followers (FFF ??) but where to start ….
Via former colleagues, papers and Google News we hear of violence in our former home, Khorog, the administrative center of GBAO in the Pamirs, which we left September 2011 after a year of volunteering. Drug lords are fighting the central Government, something about old bills not being paid and settled.....We always thought and felt, the place was ultimately peaceful and quiet but looks deceive(d) apparently and now, we are reminded of the words of one of our former co-workers, who used to tell us that things were always bubbling under the surface, much without our non-local knowledge. How much we do, and did not know. We gain new appreciation for the safety regulations we were asked to obey when we were in Tajikistan and often thought these edicts were over-cautious and too stringent but now, we know better. It seems that most of our old co-volunteers (all foreigners), have been air lifted out of trouble but it seems that our local friends and former colleagues are isolated in Khorog, cut off from internet and mobile phone access, devoid of enough food and fresh water….. How quickly things can change.
(part) of our exploits in Khorog.
(part) of our exploits in Khorog.
Here’s our (belated) story of change, we go back to mid September 2011
A little ‘lump’ on the road
My good old friend Ivan from Holland (we have known each other since high school) has promised a long time ago to make his way down to Khorog and he has just arrived. I have to give him tons of credit; many people promised to visit us but in the end, only Mady and Pat and Ivan came through. Together, Ivan and I share a passion for travelling and doing that, then ending up in some kind of trouble of different sorts (we once found ourselves in a bread revolution in Tunisia and years later managed to get stuck in the deserts of the Salton Sea for a very long and hot Sunday).
The plan is to hire a dedicated driver (the choice falls on the highly regarded Yussuf, head of the local driver's association and owner of the best Toyota Landcruiser in the Pamirs) and then travel the rugged valleys of GBAO hiking to some of its mountainous villages. There is just a month to go now, before Christine and I finish our placements and return to North America. It looks like there might be two volunteer placements for us in South America, Guyana, beginning January 2012.
Sum-total of the village population... no males to do the dishes
Ivan, river-crossing Tajik-style
After having collected our hiking gear at the local PECTA office, Yussuf picks up the two of us (Christine has wisely opted to stay behind) and we set off for the Bartang Valley. Although it's September, the reports of the roads are bad and it's not really known how far we will get. We stop at an old river-crossing to start the hike up to Gisev.
We have a great old time; we manage to stay out of major trouble, the weather co-operates and after Gisev, we move on to another wondrous community high up in the Pamirs. We visit the incredible unprotected petroglyphs of Shurali, but we have to travel back to reach the Eastern side of the Pamirs because the Bartang Valley road has collapsed (a too heavy truck caused the road to cave in) and the only way to reach the Murghab is to go back via Khorog and then continue into the Wakhan Corridor.
Afghan trader at the Cross-Border market in Ishkashim
But that is not to be. Shortly after Ivan and I left, Christine found a lump on her breast. We have to high-tail it out of Tajikistan, is our employers' advice. No time to waste. The travel plans will have to change drastically and quickly. Ivan continues solo to the Murghab for three or four days, Christine and I prepare for an early departure.
A couple of frantic days follow. The good news is that we are at the end of our postings and that most of our projects have been finalized and wrapped up. Our local friends make sure that we get two seats (one for Christine, one for Ivan) on the Khorog - Dushanbe flight, which is a miracle. I follow, for the last time, by car and arrive in Dushanbe the next day after 18 hours on the road. Leaving Ivan behind, we fly to Holland where Christine is quickly thrown into the medical system. Due to help of another really good old friend (Roelof, GP) timely appointments are set up and Christine gets instant care. A day after we have arrived in the Netherlands, we are sitting in one of the many efficient hospitals (recommended by our GP) of the Netherlands and await the verdict.
Although the cultural differences are incredible (there were no reliable hospitals in Khorog) we don't have a lot of time to think and talk about them; the news is not good. We have to prepare for a forced 10 month stop in the Netherlands. Christine is in for surgery, then radiation and chemo therapy.
A litlle lump on the road we call it....
Ivan, testing the 'goods' before purchase in Dushanbe
Hiking in the Gisev Valley
Our ten months in Holland were interesting for many reasons. We had the time to catch up with good old friends and make new ones. Jelte kept busy – and fit – with a part time job delivering mail. Christine was never so inactive in her entire life…. Not much that one can do with surgery, radiation and chemo to navigate. But we took time to stop and smell the roses, rediscover gritty Rotterdam (we love this city where Jelte lived most of his younger years, with its kooky art, eclectic lifestyle and busyness), experience the damp, freezing Dutch winter, the long, endless spring and just as summer arrived, we boarded our plane to return to North America. In the next post Jelte will shed some personal light on our 10 months in The Netherlands.