Saturday, August 22, 2009

Firsts at Last

I had the first tomato from our garden today. It was almost red. I touched it. It fell off. I ate it. It was delicious.

I held my first university lecture. "The power of the visual message". 28 people did not fall asleep. That was my goal. Matthieu said 'he was impressed'. I didn't expect that. Put a smile on my face.

I finished the first day of my "intensive design and layout workshop for small business owners, most of which have no clue". The room had space for four. We were six. At 4.30pm the electricity went off. I should have told them to save their projects more often.

I spent the first night alone in my gigantic Pamiri house. Worked. Made a big plate of 'Bratkartoffeln". Watched a movie. Woke up at 3am from some noise. Maybe the dogs. Maybe a mouse. Maybe the magpies stealing walnuts.

Today, is the first day of my last week in Tajikistan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Pass a day...

A pass a day keeps the headache away! At least that's a recommendable receipe when planning to climb a 5000m pass. With Iluka gone and well taken care of in France, we managed (quite well, I have to admit) to forget our role as parents for a while and took advantage of the situation by 'coughing our lungs out' as Matthieu likes to put it. 'A nice, serious trek with just the two of us' is how I would describe it.

After studying the map for a few days, Matthieu picked for us, what he assumed to be one of the harder treks in the region - the crossing of 5,080m Vrang Pass, which connects the Roshkala Valley with the Wakhan and crosses the Shokhdara Rande. Close proximity to peaks Engels and Karl Marx (6,507m + 6,723m respectively) promised for some panoramic views.

As one might get bored just trekking along a valley, crossing over a glaciated pass and then trek down the next valley, we included some diversions along the way. Two additional passes (4,600m, then 4,800m) made the approach to the Vrang Pass varied and exciting and proved to be excellent acclimatization opportunities.

Check out our exact route here. (I know, the picture is a bit confusing...If you really want to know: our route was the furthest one one the left...oh ok, fine! Next time I draw my own map again!)

In short, the trek was amazing, just what we needed and had wished for. Some pathfinding, some snowcrossing, full moon lit nights, a few bear tracks and otherwise...just us and the mountains. The rest is best told in pictures:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Home sweet Home

Who picked the music? Have a guess... It reflects the mood. Big house. Empty house. Pamiri house. Wonderful. Glu glu in the garden. Carrots and cucumbers as well. We love it and it's almost a shame that we are just taking it for one month...

Our Tajik time is slowly coming to an end. We've booked our flights to Nice (Aug 25th) and Munich (Sept. 1st). Iluka must be landing in Paris as we speak. He'll spend a fantastic summer with his grandparents in South of France, while his parents weep (and sleep ;-)).

Iluka (while walking towards the small plane taking him, Isabelle & Dominique from Khorog to Dushanbe): "Iluka geht mit Baba und Babi ins Fluuuuuugzeug! Mama Papa arbeiten. Bye Bye Mama Papa."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Evicted in Tajikistan

Was I complaining about an uneventful routine? The tides have changed, believe me! Right now I have so much to report that I have a backlog of at least five evening filling blog entries. Family trip to the east. Horse festival in Murghab. Roof of the World Festival in Khorog, Multimedia workshop at the University of Central Asia and... oh yeah, we got evicted! Und das kam so:

After 10 days of dust and mongolia type lunar landscapes (*insert blog entry #2 & 3) the entire Paley clan (Dominique, Isabelle, Matthieu, Iluka and myself) finally returned, dirty, yet happy, to their respective apartments in the heart of Khorog. Little did we know that unpacking and finally taking that much-needed shower was not on the agenda – our landlady had decided that we need to leave. Now. Immediately. No, not next week, no, not after tomorrow, no, not tomorrow morning. After 3 hours of pleading and discussions, her gracious deadline was 8pm that same day.

Sounds like there is something missing? Well, yeah, of course, it's a looong story... let me think how to put this in a few words: A] our landlady was a lying, evil person and B] cultural differences and maybe a tad bit of overreaction from our side did the rest. Despite us having one of the more luxurious apartments in town (eg. working toilet flush, no broken windows) we had dared to complain. The shower was spraying water everywhere, but on your bodyparts, the toilet door would not close, the kitchen chairs had broken into several pieces when we first had sat on them (Iluka, not Matthieu!) and door handles would regularly end up in our hands. "No problem", exclaimed the landlady when we moved in 3 months ago. "I will send someone tomorrow".

One month later...

The landlady comes to collect the rent. We take the occasion to point out that nothing had been fixed yet. Suddenly, we find ourselves in front of a fluttering, screaming wild animal. We gather from the bits of understandable sound bites that it must be terribly difficult, if not impossible to find a handyman in Khorog. "Fine.", we try to calm her down. "Just keep on trying. And maybe next time don't say you'll send someone tomorrow..."

One week later. 7am.

A knock at the door. Matthieu opens and a guy with a plastic bag full of tools storms into the flat. He identifies himself as the 'ustad', the master, and inspects toilet door and shower. He'll be back at 9am, he says and leaves his tools behind. We never saw him again.

Three weeks later...

The landlady comes to collect the rent. Since she never (except on the day she kicked us out) shows up on the agreed time, a few days pass where we miss each other or the rent money is with Tanja (who's at work), when evil bitch suddenly shows up and vice versa. When she starts accusing us of not wanting to pay, we dare to mention the repair works. By now we sense that it's difficult to have a normal, common sense discussion with her. Eventually we manage to get her her money.

Around July 15th (Tanja is alone at home and possibly in a bad mood?)

The landlady comes to collect the rent. Tanja is prepared: "Here is half the rent. You will get the other half when the stuff is repaired." A fight breaks out (details omitted due to their sensitive nature). The outcome: 3 homeless foreigners + child, looking for affordable place to live. Prefer not to share Russian apartment with family of 8. Will accept broken shower.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Cherry Picked Routine

It seems that after two months a daily routine and uneventful everyday life infiltrates even the most exotic of places. Work, eat, sleep. Talk, think, play. The usual combinations. Mix as you like. For evening entertainment try throwing chickpeas out of the window...

But just as we were getting used to the 7-10, a long-planned visit snapped us out of it: Matthieu's parents arrived last week for a little mountain holiday. We found them an apartment to stay (close to ours, but not too close) and some important tasks to do (Shopping in the bazaar, teaching French to Iluka, cooking dinner...). As a reward Matthieu had planned a 12-day jeep-tour trip East, down the Wakhan and on towards Murghab. Off they all went on Sunday and I... I found myself alone. Alone with Tanja. Alone with my printing deadlines. Alone with sleeping in. Alone with time for Pilates and movie editing and making jam and meeting friends for a beer and watching Desperate Housewives - all in one day!

But now, the days have moved on. The brochure is with the printer and the DVD box set is finished. I miss my family and look forward to being on the road. Tomorrow I'll hop in a bus towards Murghab and hope to find my favorite group of 2 blondes and 2 grays somewhere in a guesthouse in the dusty East of the country. Can't wait. We shall be back with fresh stories and adventures on July 23rd.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

In Reality

Just to clarify – we are NOT JUST on holidays here all day long, we DO do work. Or, like some more envious people like to put it: We just come here, have a good time and make lots of money.

Today then, a little insight into the reality of things. I'm currently working (my head off) on the preparations for the 2nd Annual Roof of the World Festival in Khorog. My job is to do all the graphics, advertising & promotion for the festival, which will take place on July 25th. Well, actually my job is to do the art-direction and training of a local designer, Rasso. This means that in addition to staging an express logo job to consolidate the opinions of all 15 festival-committee members and to laying out & editing a 12-page brochure in 3 days, I also speak a lot...and explain, share, show, delegate, correct, critique and most of all: try to get those Tajikis a feel for 'organization'! (Lots of nodding and uhms and ahs > but no results).

Admittingly, I feel just ever so slightly stressed (3 weeks to the festival) and all material has to be sent down to Dushanbe to get printed and make it back in time. I'm thinking landslides, power cuts, sick grandmothers, a cousin's wedding... so many possibilities to screw up my deadline. Oh well, feels a bit like work back home, just that the client is even more incapable here...

But I do enjoy it. I actually love it. Training people. Talking design all day long. The frustrations are part of the deal, they come with the job. Plus, the worse is almost over. I still hope that now that the groundwork is done I can actually hand over some of the remaining tasks to Rasso and go back to 'having a good time'. (Note: parents-in-law are on approach and due to arrive later this week)

There's more ahead down the line, including a multimedia workshop we are conducting, some lectures at the University of Central Asia and hopefully some work under the ominous title "cross-border initiative".

Thursday, July 2, 2009

That Litte Nook

This one goes out to all parents. To those that travel with their kids, to those that would and to those that should. Also to those that wonder...

During our recent second outing into the Pamir mountains - this time to Bartang Valley I suddenly realized something quite essential when it comes to the question whether it's possible to 'travel with your child': The question is not whether the child can handle it - the question is whether the parents can handle it. And I don't mean handling the kid, no, I mean handling the traveling itself and, more importantly, the mode of travel.

I pondered over all this as I was squeezed between two (very caring and sweet) truck drivers - shift stick between my knees, holding sleeping Iluka with one arm, gripping the dashboard handle with the other - in the front of a big Russian 'Gaz', bobbing up and down some treacherous mountain road. Despite the discomfort I was truly enjoying the ride, knowing that I had one of the best seats in the house. Matthieu was standing in the blazing sun on the rusty, empty back of the truck together with some fellow hitch hikers, hopefully employing his best Pilates posture in order not to break his back over the next unexpected bump in the road.

We had started our trip in a public mashrudka from Khorog and at the end of the 6-hr ride our driver insisted we stay with him in his village Basid. We had a lovely time with him and his family and so did the fleas, who enjoyed an unexpected sumptious meal, feasting of me and Iluka (yet not of Matthieu, who suggested that I maybe just imagined the bites - hairy French bastard!).

The next day we opted for a little day-hike up the valley to a small hamlock situated in a lush green 'jungle', an unexpected oasis in a desert of rock and stone. The fact that the hike took 4 hrs instead of 1 as suggested by the villagers didn't surprise us much - but I do have to admit that I was happy that we had left out tent and gear down in Basid and Matthieu carried Iluka almost all the way in his little backpack.

And on we walked the next day - no plan, no goal, just down the road, deeper into Bartang Valley. Fetch some water from the spring... oh, I hear a car. Shall we? Let's...

Back to the cockpit of the old 'Gaz'. And here I am, thinking: We are doing exactly what we've always done when we travel. We have not changed. It just happens automatically. Only difference is that now we are three instead of two. The realization was so clear, so wonderful and so comforting...

So what am I trying to say? We can travel like this, in these places, live in these countries even with a child, because we want it and because we love it. And whether you like to spend your holidays on a cruise ship, lazing at the beach, rock climbing or ski touring - if you have a child/when you'll have a child, just continue doing it - the kid will fall right into its little nook in the middle.