Yaks & Yurts

October 3, 2021

While I am not as consistent as I need to be, journaling has been something I encourage everyone to do. This helps to get the voice in my head out and, for a moment, be honest, even if it's with myself. While I am a big fan of analog (good old pen and paper), I'm a pretty big fan of using an app. I use one, and today and resurfaced some old memories. That led to me looking at old photos, which led to my photo album sharing an astonishing headline: 12 Years Ago.

This was during one of my deployments to Tajikistan - next to a small tea house in Murgab. I would spend the next week or so exploring this fascinating region. It would come to be a place that I hold very close to my heart. In part, because deep down one valley, I said my goodbyes. I was sure I was not making it out. And for another, the lessons that these incredible people taught me.

A Bit about the Pamirs

The Pamirs make up the eastern region of Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan borders to the north and china to the east.  The famous Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan) and the incredible Hindu Kush lie to the south. While I call it the Pamirs, I am referring to the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. This region makes up about 45% of Tajikistan but is home to only 3% of the population. For nostalgia and simplicity, I'll refer to it as the Pamirs. Most of the Pamirs are here works for me.

Looking south across the Pyanj River into the Hindu Kush - How did Alexander the Great's army feel facing this wall.

This Life is Not Easy

The entire region is beautiful. Just stunning. It ranges from desolate plains to incredible peaks to lush valleys. While there are a few small towns, my love comes from seeing the rural areas. The places where life has not changed much in the last 200 years. Livestock is where you will find the family's wealth tied up. A yak or two is most likely. Where the yurt still reigns. Albeit with a satellite dish for those that can afford it.

Unemployment is above 50% here. There is no doubt that there is deep poverty. Mothers and fathers worry about feeding their children here. A place where Yak dung drys for burning in the winter. Not to mention the smuggling of drugs and weapons. This place has its scary corners. Some of those corners are not so hidden.

I'm sharing this because it is an extraordinary place filled with very special people. Part of me is so fascinated with this region because of all that it has been. I imagine Chengis Khan's brother making his way through here. On his way to his famous encounter in the Rasht Valley a bit farther west. Or Alexander the Great moving through an older version of Khorugh. His army was on their way through the Hindu Kush and into India. They would leave in their wake, still observable today, red hair, green eye descendants.

I have burned into my memory the views. The valleys. The people. The children. I will never forget the hospitality. The poverty. The joy. All mixed up in a place that sits on a 12K foot plateau. A place where people are trying to survive. Problems are ones of life and death.  Healthcare is, like parts of the economy, still in the 19th century or non-existent.

To our 'standards,' there is so much to do here to help. Education. Healthcare. Crime. But on the other side, maybe they can help us. It's safe to say that the family in the yurt that saved my a$$ one day spends zero time worrying about what we worry about. They spend zero time worrying about what college their kid gets into will reflect on the family. They don't have the luxury. The little girl spends zero time worrying about her outfit. She has one (maybe two).

I am forever grateful for my trips to this beautiful place. The culture. The languages. The views. The mountain air. The simplicity. And most importantly - the lessons.

Here's to focusing on what is truly important in life.


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