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Posted February 22, 2012
Dispatch #5
My Nickname is Eye-Eater
Project: Pamir Trek

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

Photo: Smoking opium
I had never seen a Kyrgyz woman smoke opium. Abdul told me she started when their first son died at the age of two.

I am feasting on leftover goat’s head soup while writing this. We spent a couple of hours in Tchelap with a Kyrgyz man named Abdul Metalib and his wife. They have both been addicted to opium for over 20 years. Before meeting them briefly on my previous trip in 2008, I had never seen a Kyrgyz woman smoke opium. Abdul told me he started when his first son died at the age of 2. He’s lost ten more kids since then ... unbelievable. His wife has been pregnant 11 times and yet they are childless. Somehow all this is taken fairly lightly. It is another world here.

Leaving Tchelap, we walk behind the camel caravan of a trader named Karim, passing the mud domes of an old Kyrgyz cemetery. I ride a horse for a while—a grand feeling in this vast place. It takes four hours to reach the four-family camp of Ech Keli, where we are greeted warmly by Er Ali Boi—an old friend. He calls me by the nickname he has given me—Koz Jede, or “eye eater.” I once ate the eye of a goat and that impressed him.

Decades ago Er Ali returned from exile in Pakistan with only one donkey. Now he is one of the richest men in the Pamir, signified by his name ending in Boi (“rich” in Kyrgyz). He has a great sense of humor—a rare thing around here. He likes to hit me occasionally with his walking stick.

After we have spoken for a good 30 minutes, sitting on the floor drinking tea, Er Ali mentions in passing that he had a son born just five days ago. The newborn is lying beside the fire covered by a red cloth. The family is tending a sick lamb inside the house to keep him warm. The older daughter feeds him twice a day.

Er Ali tells me about a small celebration that will take place the next day: A Kyrgyz girl will exchange her red veil for a white one—the sign that she has become a married woman. I always thought Kyrgyz women changed the color of their veils on the day of the wedding, but apparently it takes place about a month later.

In the evening I show the families photographs that I took last year and give them some prints. As I travel, I find photographs I’ve given on past trips nailed to wooden boxes in various houses. It makes me happy that the images seem to mean something to them.

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.

PreviousNext dispatch: “Making a Woman”

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