“Pamir will be better…. Pamir will be better….” – Dudkhoda
My first impression of this 39 year old Tajik man was really not so good. this man tried to hug me and kiss me when I was sleeping next to him under the same blanket on the floor in the Kyrgyz restaurant in alichur packed by the Kyrgyz drivers. He also made me to pay his bills in the restaurant. But later I found that he had story worth to tell.
He arranged for me a seat in the Kyrgyz truck, along with him, who returned to his home in Murghab. He was actually a passenger of the truck, not being able to pay the ride with money but offered the drivers a dinner in his hosue in Murghab. I came along with him, sitting along the way to Murghab (100 km) for free. Just near Murghab, there were two military checkpoint. The Kyrgyz drivers failed to do registration and they became easy target of the military man in the small dormitory. “Hey, brother, you should follow the rule of Tajikistan!” angered the military man, slapping the table and threw away the Kyrgyz passports in front of these giant Kyrgyz men, who were now as quiet as naughty boys in front of their angry teacher. The military officers gave them a long speech about Tajikistan law, and it ended up the Kyrgyz had to pay 20 Somoni each. One of the Kyrgyz men couldnt help crying. 20 somoni meant a lot for him. While they were fined ‘only’ 20 somoni, I spent total 90 Somoni to do the registration in proper way. Bureaucracy devil and corruption virus was still epidemy in Tajikistan, where lonely military officers in the middle of nowhere need something to support their living.
For the free ride, Dudkhoda in turn provided dinner for the Kyrgyz drivers. He just came from Shegnon with a sack of potatos and some bunches of firewood. Dudkhoda’s house in in a complex of ‘ghost houses’. a fenced complex of a dozen of small broken houses and a devastated factory. The atmosphere was very awkward in this abandoned ‘ghost town’. Dudkhoda’s house was in one of that ghost houses, and was actually half a house. The ‘house’ was only a room of 3 x 4 m, where the whole family of 4 people and a cat lived together.
It was the same room for them to sleep and cook. “Murghab is cold, so we took a small house,” excused Dudkhoda. There were in total 6 Kyrgyz drivers plus some local women who hitchhiked the trucks up till Osh, whom Dudkhoda had to serve. It was the potatos to be filled to their mouthes, which Dudkhoda’s 9 year old daughter prepared. Dudkhoda’s wife just came late from the bazaar and she then handled the cooking. Today there was no electricity, the guests were sitting around the small table lightened by a small candle. The guests were divided into three shifts, first drinking tea without sugar. Dudkhoda couldnt afford sugar. It cost 4 somoni per kilogram. The smashed potato then served, which the starving guests didnt spare any second to digest. Dudkhoda, along with his wife and starving kids, watching. I offered Safar Muhammad, the 8 year old son, to eat with us. “We have eaten earlier,” he refused. He lied. The Kyrgyz drivers also offered the poor family to share the food. The woman and kids just smiled, while watching the drivers enjoying the smashed potatos. The food was finished less than 5 minutes by these hungry drivers. It was only the soup left on the plate, which Dudkhoda’s daughter then licked by her finger and little tongue. The family’s cat just watched with its innocent eyes.
Dudkhoda was geologist. Like most other people in Murghab, he was unemployed. He got wages though, directly from the glorious capital of Dushanbe. The wage came once a year, only 250 Somoni. As a geologist, there was no work far here in poor Murghab. He got free accommodation though: the small room half a house in this ghost town complex.
The arrival of foreign NGOs like Acted from France was greeted happily by Dudkhoda and other poor families in Murghab. The NGOs offered many programs for the poverty reduction, and the most significant one was microcredit program. Dudkhoda took 200 dollars credit to start a business. But then he realized 200 dollars was nothing. His business failed. Now his credit had increased a lot due to the 2.5% interest per month. The credit was used by Dudkhoda’s wife to sell bread (nan) in the bazaar. Every night she prepared the flour and in the morning she baked the bread, helped by her daughter. She could make up till 10 nan per day, often less. In bazaar it worth 1 somoni per bread. Then if she sold out all of her breads, she would earn 10 Somoni that day. The flour to make 10 nan weighed 5 kilograms and it cost 1.5 Somoni per kilogram. So her net income was only 2.5 Somoni per day, less than 1 dollars, to give live to the four people in the family in a country where everything is expensive. No money to pay the credit. The interest increased every second.
Living in Murghab was difficult, especially in harsh winter like this. Dudkhoda had to bring potatos and fire wood from his family house in shegnon, and begged sympathy from the truck drivers to take him home. Murghab was a Russian settlement, supposed to be a city, where most houses had no land or garden to fulfill the daily needs. An unemployed in Ishkashim could live from his own garden, but one in Murghab should buy everything from the bazaar, and it was not cheap at all. If you were penniless in this wild town on the roof of the world, you were finished!
Dudkhoda was an Ismaili. For him, being poor shouldnt stop one to be hospitable. That was the reason of suffering huber by himself but still gave the best to the guests. The hardship of life didnt stop him to serve guests.
“Pamir will be better… Pamir will be better…” he was optimistic.
“The life under the Soviet was good. Everybody had job, everybody was fulfilled. But we became stupid that way. Everything was decided from the central. We just needed to do what was said. Our mind didnt work. Now it is democratic. Lif is harder, but now our mind works. We have to think how to sustain life. This is better. Even now life is difficult, but I am sure that slowly, someday, Pamir will be better. Pamir will be better.”