Dog Milk, Yum!

In Tajikistan it's common to have fresh milk available, many families have their own cow that they milk daily. It's a treat, especially when your lucky enough to be offered the fresh cream!

Sometimes our office cook, Venera, brings me a mug of fresh milk in the morning. So, when my co-worker asked me if I wanted some milk this weekend, of course I said I'd like a little.

Ali-jon: Would you like some fresh milk?

Me: Thank you, I'll have a little.

Ali-jon (in English- he  knows a few words and always tries to speak to me in English): I have small dogs.

My internal thoughts: His translation must be wrong, I'll clarify in Tajik

Me (in Tajik): Dogs, the milk is from a dog?

Ali-jon (in Tajik): Dog, yes. Only two puppies are alive, the others died. (He mimes milking) We have gotten a lot of milk, 5 liters.

This was a first for me. I reflected on why my internal response was not one of excitement. I drink cow milk, I drink goat milk, why wouldn't I drink dog milk? I drank a little and surprisingly it tasted just like milk, but maybe a little more like skim milk than whole milk.


Ladies...Yeah Ladies...

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, March 8th, иди занхо! This is a big holiday in Tajikistan with a lot of build up. During the past week it has been common practice for both friends and strangers alike to congratulate me on my womanhood. An email from my coworker Bobobek is a great example of the holiday’s sentiment: “Dear Ali, I congratulate you and your female families with international Women’s Day. I wish all the bests of the world, good health, and a long and happy life!” It is a day of rest for the whole country.

Madena, Makhlio, and Farzona are some of the women I spent the day with. 

Our lunch at work on Monday was a special treat. Osh, a favorite national dish was prepared and our male coworkers recited poetry to us about how wonderful women are as we ate. There was an awkward silence from the male contingent when I asked if they helped out with housework on women’s day. An older gentleman broke the silence by stating “well, that doesn’t happen in every house.” My female coworkers joked that it might not happen in any house. 

 Madena stokes the fire to cook dinner.

The novelty of this new holiday was a wonderful experience. I’ve never before felt so glorified for being born with two X chromosomes. I spent lunch in the company of my female friends, midday was a time reserved for females to spend together in celebration and appreciation of one another. Dinner was a family affair, with more food than we could consume, and lots of toasting to women and womanhood. 

 The dinner spread. There wasn't enough room on the table for all the food!

In a society where men dominate everything, except maybe childbirth, it was a special day and perhaps a needed one.

Cross Border Market in Ishkashim

Ishkashim is the gateway to the Wahkan Corridor in Tajikistan. From the Wahkan a person in Tajikistan can see both Afghanistan and Pakistan; it’s a place with overlapping geography and cultures. Other than its remote location, it’s an ideal place to have a market.

The Ishkashim Market is located on an island in the middle of the River Panj between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. To get to the market we left our passports at a folding table that the Tajik military manned and walked across a bridge to the island. From Khorog it costs 60 Somoni ($13) round trip to travel to this market. It’s a high price people are willing to pay because the goods are cheap and unique, and can be resold at higher prices. The market is a place where people come to do business, tourists are less common. We were novelties and attracted a lot of attention; we were both people watching and being watched.

Goods being sold included: rugs, clothing, opium, spices, soap, makeup, handmade and second hand shoes, juice boxes in bulk, cheap (really cheap) Chinese goods, fruit, baskets, and many other things that I’m either forgetting or aren’t worth listing. No market in Tajikistan has the same abundance of second hand western clothing, digging through piles familiar labels jumped out at me: Old Navy, Gap, Levi, and Patagonia. The second hand boots had soles that were worn past any I’ve ever seen before, it was clear many marathon distances had been walked on tough terrain by the previous owner(s).

The Afghans at the market had a few striking traits that distinguished them from their Tajik neighbors. Their skin was more weathered, their sense of style more conservative, and their eyes a variety of colors- piercing greens and blues among the most distinctive. Mikey found that many people were eager to have their photo taken, and a few of his wonderful pictures can be seen in the new slide show.

When we were ready to return to Khorog, we walked back across the bridge, retrieved our passports with ease, and looked for our driver. While we were enjoying the uniqueness of the market, our driver had driven into the Wahkan and loaded his Tengen (mini-van like vehicle) with soap from Pakistan. He returned to the market where large Kamaz trucks were waiting to be filled with his soap and other goods to take to other markets through out Tajikistan.

Over mountains, rivers, and borders, it was interesting to see some of the more extreme terrain goods pass over on their way to markets. It felt like I was witnessing a beginning stage of the entrepreneurial process, but in reality it was far along. We left the market with some cinnamon, pomegranates, a noodle maker (for Mino, see previous blog post Women in Barcheed 12/2010), and photos as souvenirs. It was a good day!


Tengen Tough

To tell this story I must first explain what a Tengen is, in the Pamirs it’s the most common form of public transportation. It’s kind of like a mini van, but looks more like a septic tank on wheels. A simple metal box with a go-cart sized engine that acts like the energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going. Well, until it doesn’t go anymore; we’ve been told one Tengen costs around $6,000 and can endure approximately 2 years of consistent work. The roads take a toll on cars and passengers.

The Tengen is rumored to be named after a character in a very popular Korean Soap Opera of the past. The character was abnormally small and was always working hard…just like all the motorized metal boxes in Badakhshan. If this story is true, the name is honoring the function the Tengen fills in a very harsh environment. Although it is easy to both love and hate the Tengen.

Mikey served as our tour guide in and around Khorog. He’s spent a lot of time in Tengens. He has a strategy: “Whether right or wrong, I always try to sit in the middle bench seat in the middle seat, if there is a wreck I think I’ll have the highest chance of survival if I’m sitting in this seat.”

On the day we traveled to the cross border market in Ishkashim, four of us were traveling and only one person could have this seat, and that was awarded to our guest Myles.  Katie, Mikey and I piled into the back seat and Myles sat in the safest spot in the Tengen, so we thought. As our Tengen was pulling out of Khorog another passenger was picked up. This resulted in 4 full grown men being squished in to the middle bench of the Tengen.

3 hours later we arrived at the market in Ishkashim. Initially, Katie, Mikey, and I were the only passengers able to walk with out a severe limp as we stumbled out of the Tengen. On this day Myles demonstrated his tolerance for uncomfortable situations, this is a good quality to have as a tourist in Tajikistan. To love and hate the Tengen is part of visiting Badakhshan.