We had some encouraging news about our visas recently. At least some hope. Our teammates just got a year extension for their visa. It is through the same means that we have been trying (but have recently take a bit of a break from) but some things have changed and it looks like it is now a possibility to get an extendable visa. We’ll try that in August, on our way back from a conference. We can hardly believe it, and frankly won’t – until we have those stamps in our passports ourselves.
We still needed to get a new 45-day visa at the end of June so we decided to do things a bit differently. Hurry-up-and-wait gets really tiring, especially with three active kids. Going by plane feels like a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait. We traded hurry-up-and-wait for “how much longer til we get there?” and took a road trip.
I’m more of a planner and try to foresee problems and be prepared for them. I’ve heard this referred to as “crisis-oriented” – oriented toward preventing and preparing for crisis as opposed to just taking things as they come. Central Asian living has really beaten this down in me. You know Murphy – of Murphy’s Law? Well, I’m pretty sure he lives here somewhere. You do your best to plan for things but you actually assume that things will turn out different than you planned. It’s more like you are aiming in a certain direction, hoping that in the end, you indeed end up in that general vicinity. We were planning our trip, which would include three nights up in the Fan Mountains of Tajikistan, one night in Batken, Kyrgyzstan and a night in the largest northern city, Khujand. We borrowed a tent and sleeping bags and packed food and some warm clothes (which is hard to imagine needing when it’s 115 degrees in our city). We also at least looked up hotels and AirBnBs in Batken – of course, none of them had a website or contact information, but we at least wrote down their names. The thing we were able to do was book an AirBnB in Khujand – but that was the only thing we were able to truly confirm and reserve. We decided to drive our own car but knew we would end up needing a place to leave our car at a couple junctures, as well as a couple taxis along the way. We attempted to get some phone numbers of people and asked around about how much we should expect to pay for different legs of the trip so we’d have an idea. But that’s as far as we got. Something that has been difficult to adjust to here has been the fact that if you line something up – say a taxi – with someone specific for a specific time, you often end up waiting longer (because that person is inevitably late and will tell you, “I’m on my way” even if they have no intention of coming – because that somehow preserves their honor more than just flat out telling you that they can’t come). It is frequently more efficient to just show up at the taxi place at the time you want to go somewhere, negotiate a price on the spot, hop in and go. We experienced grace in being able to set off on a six day road trip, with very little of it “ironed out,” and just trust that we’d figure things out on the way. There was extra grace in this as it crossed our minds to bring our kids into the process. I found that my gut-reaction was to keep everything secure for them, not tell them that we don’t know where we’re staying and the like. But, the thought crossed our minds that we should share our needs with the kids and together ask God to provide for them and then see what happened. Sometimes I want to protect my kids from potentially being disappointed by God. Heck, I want to protect myself from that too! But God has been allowing us to experience his help and thoughtful provision in so many areas, we are slowly growing to trust that even when we’re disappointed in this life – there is a future hope that he’ll make all things new, without sorrow or brokenness and that we’ll see redemption in places and ways we never expected. By the grace of God, we wanted our kids’ faith to grow and this seemed like a good opportunity for it.
We told our kids that we were going to head to the old Soviet camp at Iskandarkul (Lake Alexander) and we asked the Lord to provide a place to sleep and dinner to eat that night (it was Ramadan, so we weren’t sure how it would go on the food front). We had been to that place three years previous and planned to spend one night there and ask some locals if they knew anywhere we could leave our car for two nights and anyone with a jeep who could drive us up to our next destination. The man who runs the camp immediately recognized us! After three years! He hooked us up with a place to sleep that night, killed a goat for dinner that night and put a watermelon in the lake to chill. The kids and Rees went for a polar bear dip in the glacier fed lake and we went for a hike to a nearby waterfall. When we got back to the camp, dinner was all ready – at the exact time this man said it would be! That in and of itself was miraculous. He even got us in contact with a man who would meet us at the main road in the morning and take us somewhere we could leave our car for two days and then bring us up to the next place. We had a rough night sleep (due to some hooligan boys who showed up at the camp in the middle of the night – I’ll spare the details on that) but woke up to perfect weather, the smell of alpine wilderness (my favorite smell!) and more adventure ahead of us. At least the kids slept.
The jeep driver was waiting for us at the main road, just as he said (yay!), and brought us to where we could lock up our car. Then we set out on a 32km drive (20ish miles) that took 2 hours due to the primitive nature of the road. Annabel went from laughing and saying it was like a roller coaster, to crying that she just wanted to get out and walk the rest of the way. We got higher and higher, with tall jagged peaks still covered in snow peaking out and passed meadow after meadow of wildflowers and tiny villages – even crossing over rivers and streams. We arrived at the next old soviet alpine camp and were amazed. The family who looks after that camp had been asked by the previous camp guy to just let us pitch our tent there for free. It was glorious. Alpine paradise. We had two really fun days of exploring the Alauddin Lakes area on foot. The second day, one of the daughters of the man looking out for the camp and her 6-year-old nephew went for a hike with us. We hiked to the four lakes that compose Alauddin Lakes. Each was so beautiful and since we had kids with us, we couldn’t be very destination focused. That was a gift. If it had just been Rees and I, we would have covered a lot more kilometers but I don’t think we would have paused very long at any one place and just taken it in. But with Annabel only being four and with us wanting our kids to have a positive association with hiking in the mountains (so we can do it for our whole lives together), we had to go slowly, stop and drink from every spring, throw rocks in each lake, pick flowers and pat little cow calves that got to call the area home for the summer. It was such an amazing feeling to not be rushed at all. To not have anything we had to get anywhere for. I’m not naturally very present-minded and I felt so much grace to just ‘be.’ At the fourth lake, Guitar Lake, there was not another soul around. Rees, Hannah and Emmett jumped off a rock into the freezing water and Emmett made up the “hit the volcano” game where everyone tried to throw rocks into a little rock crater-looking thing that popped up from under the surface of the water. We played that game for a few hours. We stopped at the third lake, Alauddin, on the way back down to our tent, for a cup of tea and some nuts and then slowly made our way back. We noticed some black clouds hanging heavy over the mountains, dragging themselves toward our camp and picked up our pace to make sure the tent was rainproof enough.
After giving an extra pound to the tent stakes that were holding our tarp in place, we huddled inside the tent, enjoying the cold breeze preceding the rain. In the city we live in, in the southwestern part of Tajikistan, summer temperatures are routinely between 105-120+, so we savor any chills we experience in the summer, knowing they are short-lived. At first, we were all thrilled that it was raining. After an hour or so, however, we noticed little rivers of water starting to make tracks for our sleeping bags. Uh-oh. We pushed all our sleeping bags, pads and warm clothes into the middle of the tent and dammed up the edges with our beach towels and dirty clothes. The rain kept driving down. Rees and I looked at each other and he said, “Well, I think we can withstand another hour of this, but I do not think we can withstand two more hours.” We looked at the kids and said, “Let’s pray.” Now, it wasn’t really an emergency situation. There were three old cabins at this alpine camp and we knew that if we needed to, we could sleep in there, but we’d probably get wet along the way and our kids wanted to sleep in the tent. Well, twenty minutes later we heard a loud whistle – the kind that somehow says, “come out and see this!” We put on our rain jackets and boots and came tumbling out of the tent into the drizzly evening light and there was a bright double rainbow in the sky. As we beheld that handiwork, the rain stopped completely, the clouds continued on their way and we got a little dose of the sun before it set. The kids were all smiles, enjoying God’s answer to our prayer.
There was a big boulder behind our tent that even Annabel could climb up from the back and Rees and I would sit up there in the early morning, coffee in hand, drinking in the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of that alpine wilderness. I love that kind of morning. So our last morning there, I soaked up some time on that boulder and then we packed up, the kids getting some last bits of playing time in the meadows and creeks, and we headed back down to our car with the jeep guy. At one point we stopped for him to allow one of the park rangers to catch a ride on the back of the car. So that’s what that little ladder back there was for! When the jeep guy stopped to let the park ranger off, the park ranger asked him if we were tourists who had come to visit the mountains. He told them, “No, they’re Tajik! They’re part of us.” That made me feel really good. We don’t look like part of the group, but they counted us as part of the group and I guess it always feels good to be included.
Our car was right where we left it, safe and sound, thank God. We ran to the closest pit-toilet (right on the edge of a cliff hanging over the raging river – egad!) and were on our way. Again, we were reminded to invite our kids into our needs. This was going to be the day with the most unknowns. Where would we leave our car? Who would take us over the border? Where would we spend the night? Where would we even eat dinner? We asked God to lead us and help us find all the resources we needed and thanked him for the ways that he’d already helped us. It was another high drive going over an 11,000’ elevation pass – again feeling like tiny sugar ants compared to the scale of the great mountains around us. It was a good six-ish hours to Isfara and amazingly, Google maps got us there without a hitch – even with not-so-great cell service the whole way. Rees found a guy who knew where we could keep our car and who would not only take us to our hotel (still uncertain of which one that would be) but would pick us up the next day and bring us back to our car – heck of a deal!
Land-border crossing seem so much easier than airport passport control. We take a little longer than most people just because there are five passports to check but it was very uneventful and relatively quick. Our taxi driver took us to the middle of Batken, Kyrgyzstan (referred to as “Bopkin” by Annabel) and asked what the address of our hotel was. Uh, we don’t know. But we know the name! No problem. He started asking people where this particular place was and after a few turn-arounds, we found it and, praise the Lord, they had room for us. Not only that, but they cooked food right on sight. No need to find a restaurant (which, if you’ve ever traveled in the developing world you know that isn’t a straight-forward thing to do). We were dirty, hungry and tired so this place was like a little oasis for us. We ate, showered and went to sleep – with a little drama thrown in on my part when I realized I hadn’t packed our toiletries, but had left them in our other bag in our car. There were tears involved and they weren’t the kids’. My gracious husband, ever worried about his wife having a nervous breakdown, told me, “No worries! I’ll run back out to the store. It is not a problem at all!” It’s so nice to have a husband who is a run-right-out-and-find-what-we-need type of guy. SO nice. So grace came in the form of Rees – as it often does.
After a great breakfast, we were headed off back to the border – again, uneventful – and to our car. Our plan at this point was to go to the big reservoir, Kairakoum (or “the Tajik Sea”) and swim for the afternoon before heading to our Airbnb in Khujand. We were getting a little concerned because we had not received a single response from our host, but we figure he was maybe operating in Central Asian fashion and would get back to us last minute. Hopefully. We rented a cot (Like a platform with a fence going around it and cushions to sit on) and swam, swam, swam. For four hours we could hardly get the kids out of the water – comparable in temperature to Lake Washington. We even ordered shashlik (shish-kebabs), watermelon and RC Cola (which, I swear, tastes way different here than in America. I’m not even a soda drinker but it suddenly tastes sooooo good in the July & August heat here). I love to swim too and what a gift to have all three of our kids like it so much! After a while, still having heard nothing from our Airbnb host, we figured we should head into town and try to track down our place. The complete address wasn’t even listed on our confirmation email, so we figured we might be searching for a while. We searched for a good hour or so, eventually finding the right building, but no one knew our host or had an idea of which unit might be his. The internet is just so helpful for this kind of thing, isn’t it! So happy Al Gore invented it. We discovered that what Trip Advisor said was a good hotel was only 5 minutes away. You can imagine the situation – once again, hot, tired, hungry people in a hot car in the hot summer. Once more, we asked God to help us find a good place to spend the night again and he did! The Armon Apart Hotel – complete with a real lawn in the front. The kids ran to it and flopped themselves down on it yelling, “Real grass! Real grass!” It’s the simple things, isn’t it? They had a beautiful room (more like a mini apartment) for the same price as the Airbnb we had booked. Ironic how the ONE thing we had planned, had reserved, was the thing that fell through.
We drove home without any trouble the following day – six+ hours – once more enjoying the chilly air at the tops of the passes, before descending to our steamy-hot town. We were even in time for Emmett and Hannah to go to sleepovers with their friends.
We put somewhere in the realm of 1200km under our belts and grew as a family in our capacity to remember that God cares for us and ask him for help in everything.