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Posted February 20, 2012
Dispatch #4
Feeling at Home
Project: Pamir Trek

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

Photo: Washing hair
A mother washes her son’s hair in front of a mud house.

We need to charge our batteries. We’ve had overcast weather, and after a few difficult attempts to charge the solar panel battery tied to the back of the yaks, we are almost out of power. A car battery is brought in. Malang, wanting to help, plugs in the equipment. Nothing is working. In fact, he blows two fuses, which are hard to come by around here. Bootoo calmly asks for the fuse. I am very nervous. He makes a tiny hole at the top of the fuse, inserts a wire scavenged outdoors and wraps it at the other end of the fuse. I hold my breath: It works! He doesn’t seem surprised. For me, it’s a miracle.

To please the crowd, I get the computer out, nicely plugged into the car battery, and we watch some images from my previous trips in the Afghan Pamir. They can name almost every person in the images. It’s great additional caption info for me. I have also printed some images from my last trip. I give a lot away. Of course there is the complaint about portraits: “Why did you cut off the top of my head?”

Next morning at camp, two Wakhi have come to trade goods they bought in Kabul. They have cloth made in China (ironic since we can see China from where we are), cigarettes, candies, ropes, tea, and sugar. After much discussion, one roll of red cloth is bought with a large sheep that will be picked up in summer. There is no exchange of money around here. I photograph the scene and then wander off. A mother is washing her kid’s hair in front of a mud house. This kind of intimacy is what I am after. They go in and I join with a smile. The father will shave his boy’s hair. The boy has been complaining about a headache and this seems to be the solution around here for headaches. The yaks are returning, pushed by Abdul Qayum, and the kids are sliding on the ice. Malang asks for my hand, kisses it, and brings it to his head. He has just spotted the new moon and this is the Wakhi and Kyrgyz custom to thank the new moon by kissing a friend’s hand. I am feeling at home.

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

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