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Cross Border Markets and our First Tajik Wedding

The kids (here at a wedding) are all right - always
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.  

View from the bridge in our village towards 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.  

Standing out in the crowd
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.   

Preparing the pilav: rice, meat, broth, carrots and onions on an open fire
Within half an hour the market-place is teeming with vendors and shoppers; Afghanis and Tajiks and the odd smattering of foreigners (apparently in the city of Khorog  - pop: 30,000, there are a grand total of 20 odd 'expats') .   Also present, but not in any way threatening, are Tajik police, busy taking photos of themselves and each other.  We suspect they are there to keep an eye on the Afghani merchants, who, by the way, look distinctly different from their Tajik neighbours.  Beautiful, strong faces and distinctly different clothes, many barefoot on their 'stalls' which are just pieces of canvas or cloth laid out on the ground with their wares displayed.  The Afghanis are the ones who sell the exotic spices and used American boots. 
 
Setting up shop
So, our American friends, you know where your tax money goes!!  Funny thing; Tajik food is not a culinary delight so we look  across the border to be supplied  with turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, screw-pine (bet you've never heard of that), ginger root, pepper corns and a host of other totally unrecognizable spices and ground minerals.

Driving a hard bargain with critical on-lookers
On the way back we stopped at the regular 'bozor' and stocked up on the usual Tajik staples, dried fruit, dried nuts, lentils, rice, beans, and cheese and bread for the next day's hike.  The local cheese here is the North American equivalent of cheez whizz which I had never tasted until arriving here in Khorog.

Ready for a hike, catching some rays
Since we arrived, with the exception of just one day of rain, each day has been much like the previous - blue, blue skies, with bright sunshine.  The valley traps the heat and by mid-day it's in the high 60s.  Beautiful!  And perfect for hiking.  Sunday, we are off to Bogev, a neighbouring valley just 15 km away, which has been recommended by expat 'Bo' an avid mountaineer and climber. 

Gassing up the good old Lada for the trip to Bogev
The culmination of the climb is an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple, probably @ 2,800m above sea level.  The climb was steep and more challenging than we thought.  So Christine chickened and hung out on a convenient ledge while Rod and Jelte scaled further to the top of the mountain.  Their reward was sighting a couple of grey foxes and incredible views.  After our lunch of bread, cheez whizz , dried apricots and pears we made our way down into the valley, to a little village and stumbled upon a wedding party.

 bride to be, next in line
The Tajik hospitality is legendary and after introductions to the family of the bride we found ourselves in a traditional Pamiri House,  celebrating our first wedding, surrounded by  friends and family who were preparing for the evening's celebrations.  In spite of this, they took time to spread a feast for us and provided us with live entertainment to which we all danced and celebrated. 

Hold your hands up high for the bride and groom....
We can't say we were not warned about the proliferation of Tajik weddings.  Our co-volunteer, Jeremy, who we met in Dushanbe, said he clocked up 72 wedding attendances in 18 months of living in this country.
So far, every outing has been full of wonderful surprises, especially the Tajiks.  We have never felt so safe and welcome in a foreign country; and we don't even speak any of the languages ... yet. 
There's more to the long weekend but, we'll leave that to our next blog, when, we suppose, we should write something about our work.....

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