I spent 4 days in the district of Darvaz meeting with communities in focus groups to discuss our disaster mitigation projects and awareness raising trainings. Darvaz is 6 hours from Khorog en route to the capital, Dushanbe (in the opposite direction of Murghab). It’s a Sunni region, as opposed to Ismaili, and people speak Tajik not Shugni.
As usual the drive was beautiful. I’m used to driving up through the mountains but Darvaz is in the opposite direction of most of the places that I have visited. This time we travelled down and through gorgeous valleys along the river that divides Tajikistan from Afghanistan. It’s always riveting seeing the Afghan side. The style of the homes and even they way they cultivate their lands is quite different from Tajikistan.
Below is a photo of homes on the Afghan side of the river. You can see that the roof tops are flat and the houses are built on the edge of the mountains. Roxy explained to me that building homes this close to the edge is very dangerous (due to earthquakes) but people prefer to build homes on land that cannot be used for cultivation.
Cultivated lands on the Afghan side of the river.
The drive down the mountains.
There were a number of check points along the way (visitors require special GBAO visas to enter the region from other parts of Tajikistan). The security guard was sleeping in this tent when we arrived.
There are a number of “beaches” along the river. The water is ice cold! At this altitude most of the water comes from the glaciers and mountain lakes.
A lot of roads on the Afghan side are reinforced with stones. In this mountainous environment it’s a real challenge to build roads.
Cows sunbathing. You can also see the road on the Afghan side carved into the mountain.
This photo was taken in Shirg town in the district of Darvaz.
This is a typical tea-time meal: nan (bread), choi (tea), nuts, cookies and candy (they LOVE candy here – especially chocolate). As I’ve mentioned the hospitality is amazing. When you arrive at someone’s house you are always offered tea and bread/snacks. And if you arrive around meal time you are offered lunch/ dinner (even if you arrive unexpectedly).
Our focus group ended late and a local family insisted that we spend the night with them. It was a rough night. We slept on mats on the floor in a bedroom above the cellar. The wall between our room and the living area was hollow in the middle with built in shelves. These shelves were used to store food.
I woke up in the middle of the night to what sounded like a hundred mice crawling around me. I didn’t have the heart to wake up Roxy – she hates mice more than I do. And she was peacefully snoring beside me. Instead, I turned on my head lamp and started banging my hand against the floor every few minutes to keep the mice at bay. Roxy eventually woke up to the sound of my banging. I explained the situation. She shrieked and proceeded to bury herself in her sleeping bag, while I spent the rest of the night with one eye open, banging my fist against the floor, praying for sunrise. It was pretty brutal, but I really appreciate having these experiences. They toughen me up. Plus they make for great stories
Mother and daughter, listening to Roxy explain the purpose of the focus group.
Women’s participation in this region is a real challenge for my organization. It’s a more conservative area, girls have a lower level of education, and the women here get married younger than in the other parts of GBAO.
We built irrigation canals in this village to redirect the water that was causing under flooding of homes. Under- flooding seeps water into the ground of houses causing constant dampness (and illness). It also wastes a great deal of water that could be used to irrigate lands. The organization built several canals to collect and redistribute the water to households and lands. This particular section of the canal actually runs through this outdoor kitchen.
Cooking in the outdoor kitchen.
We drove through the Bartang Valley on the way to Darvaz (see above). Looking at this photo reminds me of how lucky I am to be here and why I truly love this field of work.