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July 14, 2011

Afghanits is not a disease, though it sounds like it could be. It is a dust storm that hits Southern Tajikistan every moth or so travelling from Afghanistan (bet ya couldn’t have guessed that one). But I am getting a head of myself slightly. This post is about a famous dust storm, but it is also my account of the Afghanits weekend.

It was my first 3 day weekend in Tajikistan. Monday June 26th was the day of reconciliation, celebrating the end of the civil war when the rebel groups and the government signed a treaty in Moscow. Niels, the Youth Employment Intern from the Nederlands, Nuriddin, the local Financial wiz kid, and myself were left in the Shaartuz guesthouse “alone”. Up to this point there had been trainers and outside help staying there with us in addition to Cara, the Monitoring and Evaluation intern. Cara and our boss John, left to visit Khujand and Gharm for 2 weeks and the 2 boys and myself were left to our own devices. And what plans we made! That is until Saturday morning when Afghanits reared its dust-ugly head.

We woke up early to see Cara, Melissa, and Muhayyo off, as the three girls were heading to Dushanbe together. We bid them farewell in the cool morning (it was only 85 at 10 AM, record low for the summer so far).

Then the wind began to pick up and brought with it tons of dust. We 3 loners watched as the air filled with dust and sand, ruining our planned hike in the steep rocky  hills outside of

after 30 minutes of Afghanits

Shaartuz that day. Instead, we hit up the gym. On our way there the streets were nearly abandoned except for a few brave (or maybe just naughty) children. This alone was strange. Add to it the sepia-colored air and the eerie feeling that “we weren’t in Kansas” anymore and that sums up our uneventful trek to the gym.There was no hiding from this dust. So gym it we did. After that it was about 2 in the afternoon. We napped and decided to stay inside until the Afghanits was over because there is really nothing else to do in a dust storm except hid inside and hope not too much dust comes in.  The pictures don’t do it justice, but literally everything was covered in dust after 30 minutes of the “storm”. It was fine and silty and got in through window cracks and under closed doors. We decided to bunker down until everything had blown itself out, which didn’t happen until the next morning!

At 5:30 AM we woke up to get our Sunday hike on. Nuriddin lined up a taxi driver for us and after  little naan and tea we were off for the hills. Unbeknownst to Niels and I, Nuriddin had grown up as a  ‘Sheeper Man’ (his English is brilliant but words like Shepherd become Sheeper Man, I personally like his version better). This means this kid has literally no fear of mountain heights and tumbling down a boulder strewn 85 degree grade to his death. Niels and I do possess this fear, and as the morning progressed this made our hike interesting to say the least. Terrifying to say the most. And enjoyable to describe it in hindsight.

Nuriddin and Cliff

This may be a perfect time for me to more fully introduce Nuriddin, our only permanent Tajik roomie for the summer. Nuriddin is from the northern part of the country and is a devout Muslim. He also speaks impeccable english and is a financial wiz kid. At the beginning of our hike I was a little unsure how things would go. I was ready for some rough trails and kicking some tough ridge ass. Instead I got my ass kicked. Niels and I told Nuriddin to go ahead and lead the way. Our first stop was a cave that was a pretty technical climb to get to, and then about an 85 degree slope down from. I was terrified every time a little pebble skittered out from under my foot. I had visions of me bouncing down the mountain side, finally stopped by a nice, cushy…..boulder. I was sure I was going to tumble myself into a broken femur and a trip to a 3rd world hospital.

After that harrowing experience I turned into a wuss and refused to climb anything. But I got to watch Nuriddin gracefully meander his way up rock walls, down cliff sides, and into caves. While I scrambled, clambered, and crawled my way along and Niels bravely took everything in stride and followed Nuriddin.

At 9:30 we had hiked up our mountain and down it, and started back into the village we had been dropped off at, all in one piece, and miraculously scrape-free. By the time we got back to Shaartuz we were beat and we spent another day in the house. This gave me the time to finish reading “The Magus” by John Fowles (awesome read by the by) and all of us time to rest up for our next adventure:  dinner at Hiriddin’s house.

Hiriddin is quite the character. He was a refugee during the civil war and fled to Afghanistan, where he lived in a refugee camp for 5 years in the barren desert. And no, you are not falling asleep. People fled TO Afghanistan. That’s how brutal the civil war was here. Hiriddin is hilarious. He learned a little english at the refugee camp and he loves Niels. He told Niels that he was his brother, anything he wants, Hiriddin can get it for him, to which Niels replied he wanted a wife ( a kind of inside joke because Hiriddin has 2 wives). Hiriddin responded to this with his raucus laughter while I awkwardly stand around and pretend I’m not a girl during these “Man Moments” (which so far have included a funeral, a wedding, and a couple of moments during football matches). After dinner we all went home and passed out again, ready for Reconciliation Monday.

We slept past the parade (which started at maybe 6 am because we were out of the house and by the park at 9 am) but we did decide to indulge in some Shashleek that night after Nuriddin and I visited the holy Hoji Mashad, a 9th Century school for Muslim scholars. Niels was spared the experience because he had gotten his first bout of “Delhi Belly”. I however went from loving Shashleek (think meat only kabobs) to hating Shashleek in 2 bites flat. I wasn’t sure at the time if the fire it was cooked over was just greasy or if the meat wasn’t cooked right, but I choked down a couple of pieces and continued to chat up Nuriddin and Hiriddin.

Mistake #1. If something in a 3rd world country doesn’t taste right stop eating. No matter how rude you feel by refusing offers of more.

Mistake #2. Not immediately purging my system once I figured out that I had eaten basically raw hamburger.

Mistake #1+Mistake#2= Food Poisoning fn(sleepless night, bowel movements, ralphing 5 times in 1 hour the next AM, and missing a half day of work)

This is how my first 3 day weekend turned into a 3.5 day weekend. And is the story of the Afghanits weekend.
**Update Afghanits number 2 has struck, though this time the electricity has remained intact as well as the internet**
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