Pamirs

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Dar Shai, Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan, October 2008.

Girls – especially at 12-14 when they are curious about life and not yet shy – were by far the more interesting parties to talk to while boys contended themselves to posing as machos, doing and saying nothing. Here a boy rides a mule and looks from afar while this little girl is carrying at least ten kilos of potatoes. As in Latin America, women do all the work to survive while men idle around. What was intended to put them in a dominated position, turned out positive for the women as they have to be more resourceful to survive.Mina, a 52 years old Iranian academic purged along with her husband when Khomeini came to power, explains it very clearly: “I watched the men my friends were married to who had undergone similar experiences, those who had been executives or had held good government positions. Once these men lost their jobs, they completely lost their bearings. Stripped of all their advantages, they became frozen.

“It was these men’s wives who suddenly became the breadwinners, even women who had never worked before. They started businesses from their homes, cooking, sewing, making things, anything, so the family could eat. The women became the core of the family, and held it together. I was amazed how strong and resourceful they turned out to be. Because of the suppression, they’ve accumulated such strength to survive” [Jan Goodwin, Price of Honor, Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World, p.117-8].Noam Chomsky observed the same phenomenon anywhere in the world, “The women’s responsibilities continue no matter how rotten the situation. They’re still taking care of the children, doing all the housework, cooking. Often men, when their usual opportunities are gone, are lost. They have nothing to do. They turn to drink, to crime” [What we say Goes – Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World, p.84]. Male drunkenness is widespread in Central Asia.

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Vrang, Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan, October 2008.

The Wakhan corridor, sandwiched between the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush, along the Panj stream – well, I should be more respectful, it is among the first sections of the grand, 2,400-km long Amu-Darya – marks the border with Afghanistan which is so meandering we passed at one point barely 30 km away from Pakistan, located on the southern versant of the terrible chain called Killer of Hindus. The sweet smile of the elder below, and the wonderful yellow and red colors of the autumn trees against the stark rocky background are quite deceiving. This is also the area where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Juma Namangani sends south the “lines of people coming to see him—Kazakhs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Arabs, Chechens, Uighurs, Pakistanis, and Afghans— [who] wanted to join him and do jihad in Central Asia”, i.e. fight the U.S. occupying forces [Annals of Terrorism, They’re Only Sleeping, Why militant Islamicists in Central Asia aren’t going to go away, New Yorker, January 14, 2002].

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Shitkharu, Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan, October 2008.

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Vitchkut, Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan, October 2008. Harvesting on terraced fields above the valley.

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Kargush, Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan, October 2008.

I got tired of repeating to stunned people how we went all the way overland by public transportation from Europe to the northern tip of Japan, just take a map, look what countries are in the way, spot the cities and the places of interest, then you go to the closest long-distance bus station, ask which bus goes to the next city, and when, and you hop it (buses are faster and cheaper and go to more places, but sometimes, like in China with its enormous distances and very fast and comfortable new trains, these are the only livable alternative). When you get off you look around for a small hotel, and that’s it, you move from one place to the next. Sometimes, especially in Central Asia, there is no bus and no train, only collective taxis. Maybe it’s easier for me as I have always been good with maps, something that runs in the family, at least as far back as my grandfather and great grandfather, respectively colonel and general in the Greek infantry, except these used this skill for war ! Anyway, here we are going through a military checkpoint near a 4344-m high pass in the Pamirs, just across from Afghanistan, and we love the young soldier’s smile.

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Shitkharu, Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan, October 2008.

Young shepherdesses walk on the main street, part of the 120 or so km long dirt road traveling along the Wakhan Corridor.

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