8 police stops, 5 car break-downs, 1 flat tire, full-blown resurgence of Giardia, pregnant lady throwing-up 17 times, 2 mixed tapes, 3000 m pass, 16 hours of driving on a dusty dirt road with 8 other people + baggage = the first and last time for me thanks.

I’m traveling to Bishkek from Dushanbe today, but I had to take some time describe the adventure of driving from Khorog to Dushanbe. Saturday morning I went to the small airport to find out if I could get on the plane. However, after waiting an hour, nobody was sure whether or not a plane was actually coming, and since the previous days plane had not flown, there were a large group of people with dibbs waiting. So I decided to take the ‘sure-fire’ car route. After shopping around at the ‘car market’ for a few minutes, Askarsho found me a seat among 8 others in a land-cruiser type thing. So I was packed into the middle of the last row. Great, now I can’t see a thing with my backpack between my legs on the floor in front of my and my oversized purse/computer bag on top of me. I was open to the idea of driving since it would allow me to see much of the Tajik countryside. But alas, all I could see were my travel companions (all extremely lovely people) and occasionally the glimpse I stole out a window would reveal a bunch of dust. At the beginning of the trip, before it came to dark and dusty, I saw children in the villages, standing on the side of the road extending bowls full of plums. An image that particularly struck me (of course, I don’t actually have an image, because it was impossible to take photos from my position), was of a little boy, no older than 5, extending his little arm with all his might as high as he could, showcasing a fish from the nearby river. The young man sitting next to me, stopped in his home village to pick up 30 kilos of apples. Now I also have 30 kg of apples beside me, behind me, on top of me, and of course I ate a bunch too. This poor pregnant woman started being sick almost straight away, and the first few times the car stopped to let her do her thing. But the third time, the car didn’t start again. So after popping the lid, fiddling around for 15 minutes and finally taping two pieces together, the engine revved and the driver told her, no more stopping.
Lunch was deemed important enough for stop, so on a tapchan in Vanj, I got to know my companions a bit better. Two of the women were on their way to Dushanbe for a 6 month trainer of trainer nurse course. The other woman was a doctor, working with an AIDS organization, the young man of course, selling apples, and an older gentleman who worked with UNICEF (those are the only ones I figured out).
Mostly because I’m lazy, I’m not going to recount the entire story in painful detail. In brief, there were a few more car break downs, plenty of police-stops (they always wanted to see my passport and search the suspicious foreigners bags). We also drove over a broken metal-plank bridge and the front tire fell through and popped. That was fixed in a relative jiffy, after which we stopped for dinner.
One of the highlights was passing over the Sagirdasht pass. Incredible flora (and any of my bio friends will all know how much I love plants…), there was a shrub that looked like a skeleton of a tree, the colour of a late evening shadow with dried flowers on the end. The top of the pass was breathtaking, despite the police check, rolling pasture sprinkled in snow, sharp peaks and lush-ish valleys below. Also interesting and jarring to the landscape are the remnants of soviet tanks.
Ah yes, not to forget. The 16 hour trip was of course made more pleasant by the 2 mixed tapes the driver had, which skipped everytime we went over a large bump.
Well by the time we rolled into Dushanbe at 1 am, my bags and my body and hair were absolutely covered in dust. My hair actually looked grey, and thank goodness I had my scarf to breath through when the dust was really bad.
In the end, I survived. But I’m sore, tired, and giardia is ___well… look up the symptoms.
Thank you Ninoska for staying up and saving my wretched body with a place to crash!

Death by hospitality

I really have no idea where to begin.  I am in Khorog, and the helicopter ride here was definitely one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I actually enjoyed the helicopter ride itself, really quite smooth, I could hardly tell we were taking off.  The scenery from the roof of the world is too hard to put into words. The peaks were so close I felt that I could touch them at some moments.  Coming out of Dushanbe, I saw a water reservoir  which was extremely beautiful. After leaving the flat, fertile lands of Dushanbe behind, we quickly entered the more mountainous regions of the already mountainous country.
The mountains were all so different. Beginning with some highly patterned sand-dune-like structures—to giant glaciers. On some of the mountain sides were attempts of cultivation, but they were all very small scale.  So many streams were trickling from the glaciers to the river in the valley below (I think the Panj—which means five). We flew over Afghanistan for quite a while, which seemed much more cultivated and populated than the Tajik side. I took over 150 photos, and I’m not usually that compulsive, it was truly mind-boggling and the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Arriving in Khorog, I was met by some unfriendly officials at the airport, who were extremely concerned that my permit to enter GBAO had the wrong passport number on it. The officials copied down Denise’s passport number instead of mine. So they kept trying to tell me that I had to be sent back to Dushanbe, but I put my foot down. I traveled with a police escort to the police station, where the matter was cleared up with the help of the financial manager of MSDSP—an awesome and funny man.
After being held in the police station for a while, I arrived at MSDSP, people seemed rather surprised that I was there.  The NRM department had no idea that I was arriving. I also feel rude because I never made it back there today because I spent the rest of the day hunting for apartments.
Allison and I looked at 6 different houses/apartments… and only 3 were in our price range.  The one was a house in UPD. It was a traditional Pamiri house, with one really really large room. It was a square room and had sitting room all around.  It would have required a long way to walk though… and was poorly insulated.  We by chance stopped at the AKF hotel, which was $30 a night, and a woman told us that there was a house she could show us.
So here we are, in the house of a local Ms. Doctor. It’s a beautiful new house, two bedrooms, living room, bathroom and small kitchen.  The house is nestled into the mountainside, on the outskirts of the small city, right under a high altitude graveyard.  We have a nice view and a potentially nice patio, if the pile of gravel is removed.  The host was extremely hospitable. Her sister and daughter prepared cookies, tea, chocolates and eggs and sausages (maple leaf hot dogs) for us.
The sister, Lola, is a nurse, secretary at the court and university professor.  She and Sofia said that doctors and other such professionals are severely underpaid. Sofia now works for AKF health services in Afghanistan because the local hospital didn’t pay enough to get by.  While we were having tea, some neighbours came by to be checked up by her.
The family is moving out of their humble home, so that we can move in.  We are extremely grateful, and hope that the monthly rent will help them out.

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