Along the Pamir Highway 1 – Tajikistan # 8 – July 2014

February 11, 2018

As we left the village of Morgh we had to wonder what would happen to Sheroz. This young boy, mute & deaf, was so intelligent but so handicapped. He knew how to write. What if he could learn brail and sign language? 

As you travel overland through third-world countries, you most likely don’t have hotel reservations and you have no idea which fast-food restaurant you will stop at for a burger. Using our standby motto, (from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie), “We don’t take the trip. The trip takes us”. A lot of that is about feeling, like, this is a good place to camp for tonight. Why? Because it feels right. That’s just how we felt one afternoon in the middle of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan when we stopped where we did—or maybe it was convenience — or maybe it was something else beyond explanation. Maybe destiny?

The Pamir Highway was finally better so we could enjoy some of the majestic views.

The Pamir Highway was finally better so we could enjoy some of the majestic views.

The Pamir Highway was definitely better now and we could take time from concentrating on the road to marvel at the glacier clad peaks on both sides. As we entered a wide valley we saw the perfect place to have a late lunch on a grassy spot just off the road. No sooner had we stopped that some people from across the highway, (I use the term loosely), came over to see what we were doing. Everyone was very friendly and fascinated by the world map on our truck. It was afternoon and we decided to camp in this idyllic spot. There apparently was a village nearby and it felt safe. The shallow stream in front of our camp widened out, a perfect place to back into and wash off some of the dust from the Wakhan Corridor.

We had just started to wash the truck when this young girl walked into the water, took the brush from my hands and started to help. We were amazed.

We had just started to wash the truck when this young girl walked into the water, took the brush from my hands and started to help. We were amazed.

We had just started the process when one of the young girls who had been studying the map on our truck, walked out into the water, took the brush from my hands and started washing the truck with me. Monika and I looked at each other in amazement. What did this little girl think she was doing? We were total strangers from a strange country in a strange vehicle. We would later learn she was only 11 years old.

We both knew immediately that there was something different about her. She had a look in her eyes that said, “No fear! I can do anything”, “Who are you?” Her angelic smile, full of wonder, was captivating. She wanted to talk to us, but we had no common language and yet, she had found a way to communicate without words. It worked!

Kids are crossing a crude bridge over the side creek.

Kids are crossing a crude bridge over the side creek.

Later we were invited to her family’s home for chai which in this country usually includes more than just tea. We crossed the bridge and wandered up the dirt path. Villagers were bringing the goats back from their daily grazing and some boys were playing soccer in a dirt field. The house of the girl’s family was very simple, an example of the classic style homes we saw throughout the Pamirs.

Monika was presented with a traditional pair of socks fashioned with a hook and not a set of needles.

Monika was presented with a traditional pair of socks fashioned with a hook and not a set of needles.

In case you wondered—I did—the Pamiris profess to the Nizari Ismaili Shia faith. They are followers of His Highness Prince Shah Karim al-Hussaini, Aga Khan IV. More about him later. Ismailis are seen as a reformist sect and more liberal in their interpretations of the Qur’an than other strains of Islam, guided in part by a tradition of tolerance embedded in the injunction of the Quran: There is no compulsion in religion. They have no mosques, minarets nor calls to prayer. Their house is the church. In 2015, His Highness, the Aga Khan IV, made it optional for women to cover their hair in public though many women still wear a beautiful scarf out of tradition, practicality and style.

The oldest sister studying to be a nurse insisted on a photo with Gary. He was flattered.

The oldest sister studying to be a nurse insisted on a photo with Gary. He was flattered.

The inside of their home was clean and tidy with beautiful carpets on the floor and built-in benches along the sides where people sat or slept. Two uncles showed up with a bottle of vodka to accompany the tea and plates of cookies, candies and fresh vegetables that were offered. Mom and the kids all joined in the party. Monika had brought her computer and some non-verbal children’s games and everyone was entertained. In the background the young daughter with the mysterious smile was still absorbing everything and wondering. (We have avoided using her name at this point to protect her security as you will understand later.) The next day we wandered across the highway to watch the father working on a small addition to his garage. His technique was similar to that we had seen in other villages along our way, basically one handful of mud at a time on a framework of sticks and rocks. Sorry, no Home Depot or Lowe’s home improvement centers nearby.

Monika’s laugh was contagious for mom and dad.

We took some family pictures outside the home and made prints with our portable printer back in the truck. (This is a wonderful way to share and repay kindness since country folks seldom have the opportunity for getting a photograph of them or their families.) It was interesting that these people, like in many parts of the world, don’t usually smile for pictures, but we managed to get everyone in the mood. Monika’s laugh is contagious. Now we were no longer strangers. We were connected in a strange way. Yes, it felt good. People are such an important part of overland travel.

There was no escaping the magic of this smile of wonder, of confidence and self-poise, and only 11 years old!

There was no escaping the magic of this smile of wonder, of confidence and self-poise, and only 11 years old!

This young girl had magic in her eyes. Only she, of all her family, wanted to sit in the truck. With a sly look, she seemed to know our hearts had been captured. As we drove away, the spirit of “The Magic Girl of the Pamirs” followed us. We had heard of a wonderful private school in the city of Khorog, three hours away on a road that is often closed by rock falls or snow. And even then, could her poor schooling to-date even allow her to pass the entrance test in math, writing skills, English and Russian? And where could she live for 10 or 11 months of the year so far from her family and friends? There were many problems to solve and we were thinking as we drove. There will be a lot more to this story.

 

Leave a Comment




Answer this (to show you're not a robot) *