Archive for the ‘Khorog’ Category


So there you have it – I went to Haiti.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up writing there. But, I plan on writing at my next posting.  And where is that? Good question.  Right now, I’m in Toronto. I decided to go domestic for a year and see what normal life is like.

I spent the summer lying in parks and riding my bike – an amazing change from Port-au-Prince where walking is off limits for most NGOers.   It’s been 3 weeks since I started my new job and I’m already bored. Not a good sign.  The job itself is great (I work for a non-profit  as a Program Manager – not an INGO so I don’t get to leave the country…)

The problem is me.  I’m different. What I find interesting and engaging has changed. Or perhaps, I’ve always been this way but I am just more aware of it now.  I can appreciate why it’s amazing to be able to work 7.5 hours a day instead of 10 or 12, meet friends for drinks, or grab some sushi, effortlessly stream endless TV shows and download movies, feel safe, feel free, visit family regularly, go shopping, buy stuff you don’t need. 

What I can’t wrap my head around is how I’m supposed to live with not leaving the country more than once a year (and for only TWO WEEKS!), not meeting anyone new in months, not obsessing about my work (It’s engaging but not at the levels I’m used to….), not going on RnR, not feeling deprived of everything I love and then feeling  insanely appreciative to experience it all again….

By the time I left Haiti I was DONE. I was tired, burnt-out, frustrated, confused –  and not sure if I wanted to do this work anymore.  By the end, I was dreaming of normal life and all it had to offer.  Now that I have it. I’m  not sure that I’m going to make it to Christmas. There are moments when I am seriously tempted to pack up my bags and jump on the next plane to anywhere.  

I’m wondering if I’m in a rehab of sorts  – suffering from withdrawal from my old life  and need time to re-acclimatize to normal.                  

As if normal is a place….     

11 months to go….Wish me luck.


Read Full Post »

The job hunt

October 8, 2011 – It’s  been almost 2 years since I last wrote in this blog.   My apologies for leaving so abruptly – it was quite a whirlwind by the end of my internship. Trying to get out of Khorog in February is always an adventure but that trip was once in a lifetime.  Avalanches, mudslides, rockfalls – all the natural disasters that Tajikistan has to offer rolled up in one.  We made it to Dushanbe in one piece but by the time we got there I was dreaming about Turkey.  The food, the wine, the beaches (despite the fact that it was Winter), the men (let’s be honest Khorog is not the most happening place for a single lady)…  

Saying good-bye to my colleagues, my friends really – was very difficult. Particularly, because I knew that I would likely never see them again.  

Anyway, I was checking out this blog and realized that I had forgotten to post my last entry. So thought I’d so so now.


Feb. 23, 2010

I’ve spent the past 8 weeks obsessively applying for jobs.   I have a tendency to go a little nuts when it comes to applying for things.  Luckily, I have friends who are also kind of crazy.  My friend Jeff put together an excel control sheet for me a few months before I left.

Basically, it tracks every job I apply for and documents:   location, salary, application deadline, follow-up date etc…I was looking through it today and realized that in the past 2 months I’ve applied for 32 jobs.


And today, I finally got my first interview.  With a French NGO.  So the interview’s going to be in French….Apparently, I speak that…..  I haven’t spoken a word of French since I left Montreal 8 months ago…..        

I am so happy to have this interview – I was starting to get a bit discouraged.  It’s a well-known fact that breaking into this field is very difficult.  Most people pay their dues for a few years (volunteering, internships etc.) before getting solid paid employment with a good organization.  I always thought that if you put in your time, the job would come…But i’ve come to realize that this field has a lot more to do with who you know.   And aside from the other 23 interns I went through boot camp with – I don’t know anyone. 🙂  I guess that’s not entirely true….if I wanted to stay in Tajikistan I could probably get a job.  The expat community in Dushanbe is small and pretty tight.  But, as much as I’ve loved my 8  months here – I’m ready to hit the next country.   I haven’t seen enough places in the world to want to repeat any at this point….

Wish me luck!    

UPDATE:  I got a job in Haiti!  As an M&E Manager for a mid-sized NGO.  Heading there after a quick (2 week) stop in Turkey with one of my roommates.  I think Haiti is going to be quite an adjustment after Tajikistan but it’ll be nice to be near home again.  Hopefully, I’ll keep this blog going there. Until then, thanks for reading my ramblings and posting comments. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you – it’s gotten me through some challenging times. And of course, a lot of amazing ones.

Read Full Post »

Winter Wonderland

I live in a winter wonderland.

Having grown up in Canada – I know snow.    But never have I experienced the immense amount of snow that has fallen in the past two weeks.  It’s non-stop and it’s everywhere.

And  it’s spectacular!

The temperature in the  mountains is much warmer than  I had expected.   Montreal gets a lot colder than Khorog.  I don’t think we’ve experienced a day much colder than -15  (yesterday it was +5) and with no wind chill that’s fairly comfortable.     Khorog is very well insulated from wind with mountains on every side.   So, you can actually walk around and enjoy the beauty of it all.  The trees especially beautiful, weighted down by all the snow.   In some places the snow on the ground reaches a couple of meters.

On the downside, this much snow causes a lot of avalanches.  So far, there have been 5 or so.    And in some cases the  avalanches have reached homes and the main road.    Sadly, there have already been a couple of fatalities.

Avalanches are difficult to predict.  Although,  they generally occur after a few heavy snow falls  and certain places are prone to them on a yearly basis.  So, driving around at this time of year is a bit stressful.   Last week, I spent a few days evaluating an emergency response training program that we are conducting in one of the villages.   The idea is to build the capacity of community members to respond to natural disasters (to evacuate and provide medical assistance to victims until help can arrive).   These types of trainings are very important in an area as isolated as GBAO.    Getting to the scene of a disaster can take hours and people usually don’t have that long….

Part of our evaluation required visiting former participants in the villages.   The route crosses the path of a common avalanche zone.   In fact, an avalanche had happened in that spot the week before.

The Road Maintenance department had cleared a path for cars through the mountain of snow that covered the road.   Driving through the path,  I could see the walls of snow on either side of the vehicle.   It was a fairly small avalanche….But seeing it, I could easily imagine how an avalanche could wipe out vehicles, homes, and everything/anything in its path…

In any case, the drive through the zone was pretty uneventful .   I was on avalanche watch, which basically entailed sticking my head out the window and looking up.  Don’t ask me what I was supposed to do if an avalanche actually came hurling down the mountain….But having my head out the window seemed to make Roxy and the driver feel better so I obliged.

So why all this talk of avalanches?  Well, we are getting ready to head back to Dushanbe and the 18 hr drive through avalanche hot spots has us all a bit stressed out.   It’s a treacherous trip in the summer let alone in the winter time.   The mountain road is slippery, there are no lights,  sheer 1000 m drops on either side and of course the constant threat of avalanches and rock falls.    Couple that with the fact that we’ve all had some pretty interesting journeys on that road….

I got stuck once in the absolute middle of nowhere at 3am (22 hrs after I’d left Dushanbe:) in a car with no windshield wipers and a battery that refused to work for longer than 30 minute intervals.   Luckily, we were close to a village and someone in the village had a car  and jumper cables.

On  our way back from our trip to Uzbekistan, Rachel, Allison, Persia and I  had to spend the night in a small town about 6 hours from Khorog because a 5.3 earthquake had struck the region and caused a huge rockfall that had blocked the road.  Thankfully, no cars were driving in that spot when it happened.   But the earthquake caused some very serious damage to homes in the Vanj District of GBAO, with  over 6000  people negatively impacted by the disaster.

Long story short, people avoid traveling to/from this  region if at all possible.  But, our time is up and we’ve got flights to catch 🙂  Everyone’s got their fingers crossed that the helicopter will fly the day we leave (the heli can only fly if the weather is PERFECT – which happens a couple times  a month in the winter).    Admittedly,  I didn’t love the helicopter ride here – I’m glad I did it but I really wasn’t planning on doing it again….However, I’d rather take the 45 minute ride of terror through the mountains than face the 18hr drive at the foot of them….

On a happier note, I am getting pretty excited about leaving.   It’s time to go!  🙂    There is no question that I will miss the friends that I’ve made here and the projects that I’ve been involved with….

But most of all…. I’ll miss the mountains.   No matter what kind of a day I am having, no matter what is going on in my  life, I  look up and around at the glorious mountains and I  can’t help but feel their magic.   I see them everyday.  And every single day I am in awe of them.

Read Full Post »

The Death Trap

We’ve moved.

Our 6 mouse traps –  filled with  4 spoons of jam, one jar of honey, a 1/2 kilo of peanuts, countless raisins AND 14 cubes of poison stuffed cheese –  were useless against the insurgent.    Not only would he not  die – he was having himself quite a feast – much to our disgust.

To add to that our house was freezing!  We’d get home at 6pm and jump into bed to stay warm.    Despite blasting the heaters all night, the house refused to warm up.    While I was in Dushanbe on an assignment our only heater in the living room caught on fire.  It was the middle of the night!   Luckily, Persia saw the flames and woke up.   Thankfully, there was no major damage.  But it left our living room wall scorched  and Persia with some disturbing  flashbacks.

The last straw came a couple of nights before I left for Uzbekistan.   The water heater exploded in the middle of the night.   I woke up to use the bathroom and found our electric heater floating in 2 inches of water.  Still plugged in…..

SO we’ve moved out of the death trap and into a lovely Soviet style cement block apartment complete with wall to wall carpeting, central heating (a RARE find) a real kitchen (with a stove and everything!) and a working shower !   I didn’t fully appreciate how bad my living situation was until we moved into the new place.  It’s been a month and I  couldn’t be happier. It’s a pleasure to go home at the end of the day.  Plus, Rachel lives with us now!  An incredible bonus.

Our contracts are up in a month and it’s going by very quickly.   The job hunt is in full swing along with all the anxiety that comes with not knowing your next move….

where to go next..

that’s what I have to figure out this month…….

Read Full Post »

I’m alive- no worries :)

I know. I did it again. It’s been over a month since I’ve written anything on this blog. And the thing is – the longer I don’t write the more overwhelming it becomes trying to express what’s been going on over here.   I think I’ve reached a point in my placement where I’ve slipped into a bit of a routine. It’s harder now to notice things that used to strike me as highly unusual and interesting.  But I’ve missed writing so I’m hoping to get back in the game this week.  In fact, I have to since I’m heading to Uzbekistan on Friday and will have all kinds of new stuff to share with you about that interesting Stan.  And photos.  I’m pretty excited about it.  Ancient cities, lots of jewelry, food that isn’t covered in layers of oil (hopefully). And just being on the road again.  Travelling. Man, I miss that.

Read Full Post »

War and Peace

I really enjoy reading www.Change.org and in particular the  ” War and Peace” blog.  If you’ve never visited this site and you are interested in well…pretty much anything – you should check it out.  There’s something for everyone on that site 🙂

Anyway, a couple of days ago, while procrastinating on writing yet another report, I came across this interesting piece that  I wanted to bring your attention.  It’s a short post  written by Daniel J Gerstle,  where he raises the question: “Is there a well-thought, unified approach for those of us who are both opposed to a Taliban win and opposed a prolonged US-led war to stand behind given that ranking US generals do not believe that the Afghan Army is not ready to survive without the US?”   

Check it out here.

Read Full Post »

Darvaz District, Tajikistan

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.



Bartang Cropped 

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.

Read Full Post »

Aaaannd………………… I’m back!

I apologize for neglecting this blog.   It’s report writing season.   The whole office has been a sea of tension and stress.   Apparently, this happens every fall.  Donors expect reports from Project Managers.   Project Managers expect reports from  Project Coordinators.  Project Coordinators expect reports from staff etc. etc. etc.   

Roxy and I have been up to our ears in M&E (Monitoring and Evaluation)  reports.   Apart from the major one that we’ve been working on for the past 3 months (which has involved evaluating a ton of projects across the region) we got slammed with a few others in between.  

In my last post I mentioned how happy I was to be back in the office. Ya, well that lasted about a day.  Writing this report has reminded me of the joy I experienced while writing my  Master’s research paper.  Those of you who had the pleasure of being in my company during those heinous six months will likely remember it well…. 

This report was tough  but  incredibly rewarding.  C ondensing 3 months of interviews, focus groups, surveys etc. into a 50 page beast of a report complete with recommendations was a real challenge.  In all, we’d consulted over 400 people in the past 3 months for this evaluation, so we had a lot of data and a lot of ideas.   

It took 14 days of writing,  2 jars of Golden Roasted Instant Coffee, an area heater (it’s damn cold here), a kilo of cold schwarma and my top playlist (a little Joss/Asa/Adele/Bedouin/MGMT/Alicia, MJ, Ottis, Barry, Ray and a LOT of motown etc.) on repeat –  but we got it done.   And then collapsed with exhaustion.   

But, after a few days of recovery – i.e. the entire first season of “How I met your Mother” and a couple  bottles of cheap Moldavian red. 

I am back in business 😉

 I’ve got a lot of updates and will likely inundate you with a ton of blog posts  over the next week.   But first, I want to share some of my pics from my field trip to Murghab district.  

Wow.  What a place.  Aside from Afghanistan, this was definitely the highlight of my travels to date.  The vastness of this district, the culture, the people and the sheer sense of wonderment  you feel  in the midst of it all, is truly incredible. 

A little history on Murghab:

With a population of 4,000, Murghab is the only significant town in the eastern half of the Autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan Oblast region of Tajikistan (I live in Khorog in the southern half).   It is the highest town in Tajikistan (and of the former Soviet Union) at 3,650 m above sea level and is located at the junction of the Murghab River and the Pamir Highway.  The Pamir Highway (along the Silk Road) goes north to Osh in Kyrgyzstan (and into China) and southwest to the region’s capital Khorog.    Murghab is home to ethnic Kirgyz people, they are Sunni Muslims and speak Kirgyz (same language spoken in Kyrgyzstan) and Russian.  Interestingly, the majority do not speak Tajik.  They are semi-nomadic and have ancient ties to Mongolia.

It’s a 6 hour jaw-dropping drive  from Khorog to Murghab.    I had my face plastered to the window the entire ride – the scenery was incredible and constantly changing.   At first the landscape was green with black mountains-   the higher up we’d go the drier and more vast it became –  the mountains turned from black to brown and the landscape from green and lush to sandy and rocky, dotted with deep blue lakes.   In certain places, I felt as though I was on Mars or better yet, in a scene from  Jurassic Park – a truly fantastical place (yes, that is a word – I checked 😉  

Check it out:













Two women strolling down the road.

My first meal in Murgab was fried fish with nan (bread), served by this Kirgyz woman in her yurt (house). Delicious.




A lot of tourists bike the Silk Road through Tajikistan. It’s incredibly challenging but beautiful. I met a traveller that had biked from as far off as Italy! He looked exhausted but exhilarated and had a great pair of legs 😉
I stayed with this family while in Murgab. Look at those cheeks!











The majority of Kirgyz have Asian features with beautiful  light green, golden and dark brown eyes .   As much as I was curious and stared in wonder at the people I saw.  I also got stared at a lot in return.    My features and “faux” hawk hair style attracted a lot of attention. But interestingly, people rarely ask about my ethnic background in Tajikistan.  They are generally a lot more curious about my nationality and my relgion.  

It’s a nice change.

Our organization built a debris flow wall in this village. It’s to protect the community from debris (water, mud, rocks) that washes down the mountain during the rainy season (there are no trees to slow down the debris at this altitude). Debris flow is extremely dangerous -especially in this region – it can wipe out crops, homes and buildings such as this beautiful mosque.
Horses are an important part of the culture here as opposed to other parts of Tajikistan.







Modiyon village: it feels as though it is at the end of the world – horses munching on grass by the river, magnificent mountains in the background- a truly idyllic setting. I spent two days in this village interviewing community members. As the Kirgyz are semi-nomadic and the region so vast, there are many villages with only 10 or 15 households (6-7 people per household). In this village there were 12 households.





 I had the pleasure of having lunch at this woman’s house. Not much grows in Murghab (due to the altitude) and the main staples are Yak yogurt, Yak milk, Yak butter and Yak  (and the occasional goat/sheep dish 😉    I had a yak soup (tastes like beef) which basically consisted of water, oil and small pieces of meat with nan (bread) and butter.   Normally, I love yogurt.  But the idea of eating fermented yak milk that hadn’t been refrigerated  defeated me.   By the end of the trip, I knew how to say:  “Thank you but I am lactose intolerant” in Kirgyz. 

This woman’s husband is one of the leaders of the village.   During lunch he kept kissing me on the head and calling me daughter.  At first, I thought it was just Kirgyz hospitalityin over drive…but then some wise words that my friend D* had given me a while back came bubbling to the surface.  He said and I quote:   “If someone’s acting a bit strange, chances are they are drunk.” 

It was lunch time so it  hadn’t occurred to me as a possibility – but once again D* was right on.   Never one to kill a buzz – I rolled with it.    And had a great time.   

I have to say that the hospitality of the people in this district is incredible.   Most people have little to give but you would never know it,  since they offer you everything they have. Guests are truly honored here and considered a blessing.   It honestly puts us to shame back home.   Our grudging hospitality with timelines and restrictions can’t even compare.   


I met this little girl a couple of hours up the mountain from Modiyon (which is a couple of hours from the centre of Murghab town). Very isolated. There are three families that live up there and with the help of an NGO they’ve built a greenhouse (lack of vitamins from fruits/veggies is a big problem here) and developed their hot springs. The springs were amazing!




Check out this hat.  I love it. I bought two of them.  Totally rockable in  Montreal.  The shopping in Murghab was really great. Although, admittedly, I can find great shopping pretty much anywhere.   But the carpets and wool knits are really nice.   The traditional clothing in Murghab is also quite different from the rest of the GBAO.   Aside from these hats, they wear leather moccasins with specially fitted goloshes.  The idea is that when you are going outside you slip on the goloshes and when you come back inside you remove them and have your moccasins to wear around the house.  The protection of boots with the comfort of slippers!   As a lover of  slippers, and all things that keep me warm in general, I think it’s brilliant!  


 Being in Murghab you realize that the people here live and work in difficult conditions and an extremely harsh climate.    In the winter the temperature in Murghab drops below  -35C  –    giving even Montreal a run for its money ( minus the central heating of course).    


As there are no trees at this altitude there is also no shade to speak of.  The sky was the bluest sky that I have ever seen.  The sun was unforgiving and relentless.   The heat was intense during the day but also very dry.  At night, the temperature drops signficantly and the dryness of the air makes it hard to  sleep.   The people here, especially the children, suffer from skin damage from years of constant sunburns.  It gives them the appearance of having permanent rosy cheeks and dark leathery skin.  







This amazing spot took two hours to get to from Modiyon.   And what a ride. 

Roxy, Tohir (engineer), Akbar (driver) and I, loaded into a rickety old relic from the Soviet era – known as a UAZ jeep and hit the road.   As previously mentioned, I have a tendency to get car sick.  However,  my body was too racked with fear to even worry about feeling nauseous.   I honestly thought that I was going to die – at least twice.  

 The gravel “road”- and I use this term loosely- was carved into the side of the mountain.  Apparently, the key to not skidding to your death on gravel is to drive as fast as possible. Akbar, a true professional, was roaring down the “road”   at 65Km  an hour.   Having a professional driver is essential  here  –  and it’s a job that requires  a lot skill (and  a lot of guts).     It’s life and death on some of these roads.  

The scenery – when I ventured a look- was beautiful: green valleys and jagged mountains with the occasional horse or herdsman.   The river was gorgeous (see above), carving its way through the mountains as it has been  since the beginning of time.   

We spent the night here and Roxy and I took advantage of the hot springs.  Tajikistan has a ton of hot springs and mineral water sources.  It’s customary when driving through the districts to pull over to fill up your water bottle with spring water.  Most springs have signs posted next to them that explain what they cure –  heart disease, poor circulation and arthritis are common ones.  But you name it – there is a spring for it.  

It was a beautiful place to spend a couple of days.  And aside from the flea colony that I brought back to my house as a souvenir, I had a wonderful time here.



DSC02977  DSC03022

 The land goes on forever.   A lone house at the base of a mountain will appear out of nowhere  and then nothing for hours.   I can’t imagine what it would be like to live miles away from my nearest neighbor and civilization for that matter.       








The majority of Kirgyz live in Murgab during the winter and move to the pastures in the summer to graze their animals. While in the pastures they live in traditional yurts – which are essentially mobile homes.  These can be collapsed and then reassembled.






Churned butter




The latrine.



  The view from the latrine.





I don’t know if it’s because you feel like you are actually IN the sky, or because there  is almost no light at night….But, the stars shine brighter here than any other place I have ever been….It’s incredibly humbling.

Read Full Post »

 in no specific order:

I’ve developed a love for Golden Roasted Nescafe Instant coffee – an amazing feat considering I rarely drank brewed coffee before coming to TJK  (I’m a tea girl).   I drink three cups a day – sometimes with cocoa – and I’ll probably get an ulcer before I leave.  


I went to visit the doctor last week.  I’d finally had it with the 60 or so bites on my body and needed some answers.  I’d tried self-diagnosing and had determined through a careful process of elimination that I had worms.     Bed bugs just didn’t fit the symptoms: the bites weren’t in a neat little line and they were swelling up.  And I’d read that a possible symptom of worms was itchy bite-like bumps.  Rachel – my go to with anything medical related because she’s the only one on a health-related fellowship  – was not convinced.   So, before heading to the pharmacy for de-worming meds, I decided to put the “Lonely Planet – Diagnose yourself – Healthy living Africa” book down – this was Central Asia after all – and visit the doctor. 

The doctor, a lovely Pamiri woman, took one look at me and said:  “kike!”    Well, she said a lot more than that – but kike was the one word that she kept repeating.  She didn’t speak English so she decided to bring  in a couple of  the doctors that had been lurking in the doorway hoping to get in on the action.  After a second and third opinion it was confirmed –I had something called kike.    Since the other two doctors also couldn’t communicate with me- I still had no idea what it was.   All I could get from them was that I didn’t have to wash my clothes and it would go away.  She wrote me a prescription and I was on my way. 

And what is KIKE you ask?  Good question – it took me another two days to figure out that it was fleas.     It seems that I had brought some souvenirs back with me from Murghab (a remote town six hours from Khorog near the Kyrgyzstan border).   

Apparently in six weeks, one flea can turn into about a hundred billion and take over every piece of fabric in your room. In the land of carpets and yak wool that’s a lot of coverage.    Looking back, it explains why I had woken up with new bites every day.  I’m an idiot for not taking care of it sooner but after my trip to Murghab I’d made another trip to the field – this time to Darvaz (5 hours in the other direction – down the mountains on the way to Dushanbe).  There, I had spent a  night in the village with one eye open, banging my hand against the floor trying to keep the mice at bay,  while cowering in my sleeping bag counting down the minutes until daylight (our beds were located on the floor and directly in front of the kitchen….).   

But that’s another story.  The point, is that I figured I’d just picked up more bed bugs from that evening.   

But after six weeks of being dinner – my nerves were frayed, I was feeling tired (probably from all of the poison in my body) and grumpy (because I wasn’t getting any sleep).   I’d seen a doctor but still didn’t know what kike meant. I’d applied the bright green liquid that they’d given me, but  I was still getting eaten alive.  

I finally went to see a doctor friend of Rachel’s who spoke Enlish and after a two minute examination explained that I had flea bites.  “They call it kike in Tajiki.”


 My landlady – bless her heart – came to my rescue and took everything out of my room.  From the bed, to the carpets (and I’ve got 3), to my slippers.   It all had to go.    It turns out, that through our limited communication, the first doctor assumed that  since I’d encountered the kike staying in  Murgab…the problem would have remained there.  To my detriment – not at all the case.    

I moved in with Persia for a couple of nights.   She was ecstatic to have me…I had to remove all of my clothing and change into a pair of her pink PJs before being allowed to enter her room.  The poor girl could barely sleep for fear of touching me and catching it (fleas don’t live on the human body- but she wasn’t convinced).  I finally moved back into my room this weekend.  I’m still waiting for most of my clothes but I have a bed and no more bites so I’m pretty much in heaven. 


We have a mouse.   We can hear it dancing the mamba in our walls at night. It’s pretty gross.  I envision it crawling all over our dishes and snacking on our food.   So, I’ve laid down a strict –  no food allowed anywhere in the house –  policy which pretty much serves to simultaneously annoy my roommate and give me an ulcer when someone leaves something lying around (including myself!).   I never realized how anal I can be.  I always thought that I was very easy going…..ha.  I’m learning a lot about myself on this journey let me tell you.

In order to rid the house of our new friends.    We – correction – our landlady has laid down a trap.   It’s in the kitchen.  She put bread in the trap.  People love bread here.  It’s  treated with a great deal of respect – you aren’t allowed to throw it away. I dropped a piece on the ground once and there was a collective gasp around me.  I quickly picked it up, kissed it and apologized profusely.  But, apparently, it’s ok to put in mouse traps…I’m still  learning the rules…

Persia and I have both agreed that if we were a mouse we wouldn’t go near stale bread.  So, I’ve since added homemade honey and nuts to the concoction, which aside from leaving a nasty mess, seems to be doing the job.   

We now live is a state perpetual fear and hope.   Hope, that we’ll catch it and fear that we’ll have to actually see it happen.   We can’t even enter the kitchen without first checking from the staircase if there is something in the trap.   To date, we’ve given ourselves at least a couple of heart attacks- thinking we see a dark shadow and imagining that the mouse is there, or washing the dishes and feeling something brush against our feet.   

It’s been quite a drama let me tell you. 


 I’m back in the office and out of the field.  But I can’t complain.   I love the field.  It’s the best part of the job – but it’s exhausting – especially the distances that we drive and the type of work that we do.   We’ve spent the past six weeks crisscrossing the region, hiking up mountains to visit projects, interviewing communities and holding meetings with stakeholders.  It’s really a great job.  But I’m excited to summarize their thoughts and transform the information that we’ve collected into solid recommendations for this project.

The report is due at the end of October and if I can just stop procrastinating  – by doing research on the amazing trip that I’m planning at the end of this fellowship (an epic journey!) – and get to the actual writing, I’ll be happy. 

So much more to tell you but that’s it for now.

Looking forward to some email updates on your lives as well.  😛

Read Full Post »

The Civil War

In 1992, the civil war broke out.  The causes of this war were complex and relate to some extent to the ethnic and regional tensions that emerged from the formation of the new Soviet Republic in 1924 (once again artificial lines on a map – created by outside forces – lead to conflict!) and to premature attempts to liberalize the Tajik political system.  

At the end of the Soviet period, power in Tajikistan was tightly guarded by representatives of the Leninabad district in the North.  Other regions of Tajikistan were demanding:  equal participation in the political process; and the communist party to abandon its monopoly on political power, in favor of a multiparty system.

The refusal to share power coupled with a lack of political maturity on the part of the opposition- led to civil war.

The war was devastating.  

It compounded the economic disruption caused by the break-up of the Soviet system and the people of GBAO  (the Pamirs) and Karategin/Rasht found themselves virtually isolated from the outside world.   People were starving.   The mountainous terrain that protected them from the majority of the violence also contributed to their inability to access food. 

Many had lost family members during the war and the country was crippled economically.  Jobs were almost impossible to find. Public services, like schools and hospitals were in a shocking state and business nearly non-existent.  The feeling of unease was perverse –with gunmen openly walking the streets, murder, robbery and kidnapping rampant.  Gas , electricity and water were often cut and the winters long, dark and cold.

20,000 people died (of a population of 5 million) and around one in ten had fled their homes. 

The organization that I work for is well respected in this region not only for the projects that they currently fund but for the humanitarian assistance they provided during the war.     The crisis was largely ignored by the rest of the international community: few had heard of Tajikistan and many considered it Russia’s problem.   

Help was not on its way.


In 1997, a peace agreement was reached.  And to date, the peace process had been very successful. A result of the war has been a push for promoting cultural pluralism.  

The economic situation in Tajikistan remains the most precarious of all of the Republics, however, the high level of literacy and the secular education achieved under the Soviet Union coupled with the political maturity of the parties since the 1997 peace agreement, offers hope that Tajikistan will prove more stable than its neighbors.   

The People of the Pamirs

The Pamirs has been mostly protected from outside influence and occupation due to its isolated geophraphic location.   This mountainous area, a large part of which is located in Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan, is one of the most inaccessible in the world.  

Local tradition holds that the Pamirian people descended from the leaders of Alexander the Great’s invading army, who reached the area in fourth century B.C. 

This may in part be true but their ethnicity can also be traced to the tribes that lived in Eastern Iran.  Today, the Pamiris live in southern Central Asia, primarily in southeastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan.

The Pamiris are not a homogeneous group.  They are composed of people who speak the Pamiri languages, (some are quite similar, others not easily understood among the different groups) the indigenous languages of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan region and in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province in Tajikistan, and adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam (followers of the Aga Khan).  Aside from the Kyrgyz-speaking people in Murgab (more on this later) most people that live in the GBAO are Ismaili.

The Pamiris share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan, the Sarikoli speakers in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang Province in China, the Wakhi speakers in Afghanistan and the Wakhi speakers in Upper Hunza Gojal region of Northern mountainous areas of Pakistan.

During the Tajikistan Civil War from 1992–1997 the Pamiris were targeted for massacres, especially those living in the capital Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa Oblast.

In the early 1990s there was a movement amongst Pamiris to separate Gorno-Badakhshan from Tajikistan. This did not happen but the Pamirs remain an autonomous region of Tajikistan (you need a visa to get in).


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »