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Posted February 8, 2012
Dispatch #3
A Bath at Last
Project: Pamir Trek

This is one in a series of dispatches sent from Afghanistan’s Pamir Mountains by photographer Matthieu Paley.

Photo: Matthieu on horseback
I took this self-portrait on my horse with the wind blowing hard.

We are in Kyrgyz territory, so we must rent Kyrgyz animals onward. Ergich is our yak driver. There is an endless blue sky. After 30 minutes, we reach Mullah Abdul Kassim’s settlement. I’ve known him for a long time. We are huddled into the guest room. We are all worn out. After more than ten days on the road, I give off a distinct perfume of dung fire mixed with sweat and sour yak butter. I have one dream: to wash. Getting water is a problem. It must come from ice that is taken with a pick from a frozen source 15 minutes away, carried back on donkey, and melted. Luckily there are about ten liters left at Mullah Bahik’s place nearby. We are determined to wash; it’s a matter of sanity. In the 10°C room, we each perform a quick cleansing while the others stand guard at the door. It would be a very uneasy situation if the old and traditional Mullah found us half-naked in his guest room.

I cooked for Malang and Mir Ali, my two Wakhi friends. We have miso soup with a side of Tajik cheese. Malang is an old friend—we were together on my two previous winter expeditions. He knows how I work, and cracks up at my jokes about the cold. Malang is the dreamer. He has lost a few things since the beginning of the trip and I have to constantly watch him. But I wouldn’t want anyone else. Mir Ali is on his first trip to the Pamir. He is younger than we are and a bit shy. He is the first Wakhi to have graduated from the Kabul University. In the evening, lying side by side, zipped up in our sleeping bags, I try to improve my Wakhi pronunciation, to the laughter of my companions. It’s a tough, ancient language and I love it.

The camp in front of us is the second biggest one in the Pamir. Seven families live there. I meet with Bootoo Boi, the leader of the camp. He has just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca. It cost $5,000 USD per person (that’s about ten yaks). Bootoo’s brother is off to gather the yaks down in the valley below. Of course I want to join! Abdul Qayum is using a one-way radio in one hand and a slingshot in the other to gather the yaks that are spread over a very large area. He tells me: “In winter, we don’t gather on horseback. We would freeze. So we walk.” I complain about his fast pace. He says, “It’s not me who runs fast, it’s the yaks!”

Matthieu Paley has spent more than a decade documenting the Afghan Kyrgyz of the Little Pamir. Learn more about him and his work at www.paleyphoto.com and http://paleyphoto.blogspot.com. His book Pamir: Forgotten on the Roof of the World will be published this year by La Martinière in France and Knesebeck in Germany.

Previous • Next dispatch: “Feeling at Home”

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