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Posted February 24, 2012
Dispatch #6
Making a Woman
Project: Pamir Trek
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This is one in a series of dispatches sent from Afghanistan’s Pamir Mountains by photographer Matthieu Paley.

Photo: Matthieu sharing photos
I share photos with Ikhbal’s mother. I call her “Commandant.”

This morning I am rushed out of “bed” early by Malang. “Come quick, they are killing the goat already!”

Since our earlier expedition together in 2008, I have reminded Malang over and over that he must alert me to anything he sees that could be of interest to me. The Kyrgyz have a hard time understanding what I might find interesting and instead try to be good hosts by making sure I just sit by the hearth inside the mekhman khana—the mud “guest house.” So to see things, I must be impolite. I can’t just stick to the guest room! Because I am a foreigner, I am forgiven for my strange behavior as I follow the Kyrgyz around their daily lives.

I enter the yurt next to mine, where a group of women are already cooking the goat. They have arrived on foot from a nearby settlement about 45 minutes away—not an easy walk since the frigid wind has been howling for three days. Two colorfully dressed women gather near the dung fire, chatting and chain-smoking cigarettes. I enter the tiny room in the back of the yurt to meet the girl, named Ikhbal, who will become a woman today. I take some pictures, sharing them with Ikhbal’s mother, whom I jokingly call “Commandant” because she is giving lots of orders. She likes it.

Taking pictures indoors here is always tricky. Usually there’s light coming in from low windows, and people are often sitting against a wall on the floor—completely blacked out. Plus, as a guest, I’m expected to stick to one specific place, on the side of the men—a rule I break regularly, though I’m careful not to push my luck.

When it’s time for Ikhbal to get dressed, I go to a nearby yurt with Malang to wait. All the men are feasting on goat entrails. I’m anxious not to miss the tiny celebration going on next door, though I did ask an old woman to swear she would come and get us. When she arrives, I excuse myself and leave in a hurry.

The room is filled with women. The girl is crying loudly while the women braid her hair. In two days, she will leave her parent’s home to join her husband, and her life will change forever. She protests when the women begin putting the white veil on her head. But once it’s on she sits quietly at one end of the room, her concerned sisters coming to see her. I feel privileged that they’ve allowed me to be here—it’s the reward for having followed this story for so long.

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: “Three Days, Three Goat’s Eyes”

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