Megan's Photos

Rahima and Tajikbai
ALICHUR, Tajikistan
July 27, 2009

Before I left on this trip back to Asia, Megan asked a favor of me. Back in 2006, between our meetings in Ulaan Baatar and Urumqi, Megan made a jaunt of her own through the Pamir Mountains.

"If you happen to pass through the Pamirs on your trip through Tajikistan would you deliver some photographs to people I met there?", she asked in an e-mail message.

This sounded like a reasonable request. I didn't know for sure, but doubted that anywhere throughout Tajikistan--let alone the villages along the Afghan border--would have reliable postal service. People in areas as remote as the Pamirs probably wouldn't have many--if any--family photographs. I was already planning to pass through the Pamirs--why not try to deliver a few photos to friends of a friend?

So, before I set off from Seattle, Megan sent me a thick stack of photos. The hardest part of the task turned out not to be tracking down people I'd never met before throughout a remote mountain range. It turned out that I had to again send e-mail to Megan to get the names and locations of just whom I should hand off each batch of pictures to. When leaving China earlier this month customs officers tore my bags apart, going through each and every one of those photos. They mixed all of them up.

Out of several dozen photographs I managed to hand-deliver all but one. Here's what I found:

Khorog Bazaar
The first three shots were meant for the driver Megan hired to get her through the Pamirs. To track her driver down, Megan suggested I go to an area just off the Khorog Bazaar: a place where drivers gather to pick up fares. When I went there, I found three drivers standing out on the corner. I whipped the photos out and asked whether any of them knew where I might find the man pictured.

None of the drivers recognized the man in the photo. A nearby policeman strolled up to see what the issue was. He recognized the man:

"He... he died last month," the policeman informed me.

"Oh, no... really? Was it in a car accident?", I asked.

The policeman shook his head and patted his heart a few times, I assumed to indicate that Megan's driver had instead died of heart failure. When he tried handing the photos back to me I asked whether there were any children or relatives who survived the driver in Khorog. The policeman nodded; I told him to please pass the pictures along to family members whenever possible. I wasn't certain that he understood my every word--but he did hold onto the photos.

Afghan Bazaar
I delivered the next set of photos at the Afghan Bazaar in Ishkashim. The Afghan Bazaar is held every Saturday on a large island in the river that separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan. Nobody from either side needs papers to step into this large no-man's land between countries. That particular day it seemed that most of the traders were coming from the Afghan side; most of the shoppers from the Tajik side.

After touring the bazaar and feasting on a lunch of Afghan kebabs and nan, Friederike and I began looking for a ride along to the next village. Not far from the bridge to the bazaar we found a Jeep bearing a sign with our destination in its windshield: Vrang. I confirmed with the woman sitting in the seat next to the driver that the Jeep was indeed Vrang-bound. After she said that it was, I took the second set of Megan's photos out:

"My sister!", she exclaimed upon seeing the first photograph.

"My mother!", she exclaimed upon seeing the next photograph. The woman continued flipping through each print, excitedly sharing them with the man in the driver's seat, shouting out names of the person pictured in each photo.

Friederike and I took that Jeep on to Vrang where we easily found a homestay to spend the night. Absolutely everybody throughout the Pamirs is so friendly and welcoming...

Ishkashim Shop
I delivered the final batch of photographs here in Alichur. We spent two nights lingering in the last village along the Afghan border: Langar. We found yet another welcoming family who were happy to take us in and feed us. But, remote even by Pamiri standards, it took us two full days to find a Jeep to take us out of Langar. Not much traffic takes the shortcut over both the Mats Pass and Khargush Pass back to the main road.

When our Jeep finally arrived into Alichur it was late. We drove up in utter darkness. Our driver asked us if we were looking for a homestay. He seemed to have some particular place in mind. I considered showing him one of Megan's photos to ask around: it would be more convenient to find the very place where she had stayed three years prior. However, I decided that could wait. It was too late. It was too dark. We were all too tired.

So, we stepped inside the home of the family the driver knew. A huge kettle of soup was already boiling on a wood-fired stove. A kerchief-clad woman welcomed us; she understood my Uzbek/Uighur mish-mash perfectly: "Do you have room? Would it be okay if we spent the night in your home?"

"Of course you two can stay. Please... sit and have some soup."

We sat cross-legged around a low table and got to talking. After half-an-hour of chit-chat whilst slurping soup I finally asked our host her name. She replied that her name was "Rahima". That happened to be the very same name that Megan had written on the final envelope.

"You're Rahima!", I asked. "I think I have a letter and some photographs for you," I told her.

Rahima made a puzzled face... followed on by a broad grin once she scanned through the photos and letter that Megan had sent her.