Can you see Dushanbe on the west side of Tajikistan? That’s the capital. Our town is due south of Dushanbe, shown here as Kurgan-Tyube (that’s the Russian name, the Tajik name is Kurganteppa). Our journey started in Kurgan-Tyube (for the sake of the map) and we headed east from there to the city of Kulyab (or “Kulob” in Tajik). We were with a driver in his big 4×4 car (one of those “I-mean-business” kind of Toyota Land Cruisers). From Kulyab we kept going east til we hit the border, which is a river, “Darya y Panj”. We followed that river all the way up and around and down again to the city of Khorog, which is where our friends, Zack & Mary, and their four precious girls have lived for 6 or 7 years.
This is the Panj River, with Afghanistan there on the other side of the river.
Upon arriving in Khorog, we got to enjoy an evening with our friends and their team mates but had to say good-bye to Zack and Mary the next morning as Zack had symptoms of appendicitis for a few days. Not writhing in pain, but the doctors in their town called it “light appendicitis” and we all agreed that it would be best for them to head to the capital and get some answers and be in the safest place possible should he need surgery. So Rees and I (and our kids) stayed with their oldest three: Hannah Renee, Nadiah and Isabel in Khorog. People have asked us if it was a lot harder watching six kids, but we say that it was more work logistically (feeding, clothing, washing, cleaning) but more happy and peaceful (happy kids, entertaining each other, fewer sibling fights). These children were FANTASTIC.Here, the girls are introducing us to their beautiful City park – complete with a bounce house. I love Emmett’s face. He’s trying to make me laugh.This is a view of the city of Khorog.We went to the Botanical gardens and the girls showed us all their favorite fruit to pick.Of course, there was also some flower picking too.One of the kids’ favorite activities was building this bridge across the canal behind their property. Their construction was good enough for one of them at a time to stand on the bridge. They had the labor divided into “mudders” “landers” and “sea-ers” and called themselves “Team teamwork.” These are the kinds of things that make you optimistic again that they are going to turn out okay – despite the tons of mistakes we make raising them. I think that’s grace again.The more they built, the more it started to tip. But that’s pretty normal for bridges in Tajikistan. By day number three, with Zack and Mary still in a waiting game, nothing being conclusive for appendicitis but surgery still not ruled out, we decided to just drive back to Dushanbe with all the kids and bring their three to them. If you look at back at the map – go back west from Khorog to Kulyab and from there NW up to Norack (a lake) and from there to Dushanbe. For the map-loving folks, we were going to go NE from Khorog up to Morghab and from Morghab north past Karokul to Osh, Kyrgyzstan and then fly from there to Bishkek to try to go to the Tajik embassy and get longer visas. There were other reasons that combined to make it clearer that driving back to Dushanbe was the better choice. I won’t go into all that, though. Nothing exciting.It made us a little nervous when we stopped at a check-point on the way back to Dushanbe and the driver popped open the hood and climbed in there and started taking out tubes and such. I have no idea what was going on there, but after 30 minutes or so, we were on our way. It was good to stop because three of the six children were puking a lot. I only brought three extra plastic bags and they actually had to be emptied out the window, which resulted in a pretty thorough puke-plastering of this guy’s car. We were glad he was a friend of our friends (or maybe we embarrassed them?). Eventually he stopped somewhere to get more plastic bags and told me to just throw them out the window. This was good because there were 13 pukes. He also stopped underneath a small waterfall once the road got smoother, and the puking seemed to stop, and we opened the windows and all got cleaned off along with the car.Here’s a look across the river at a tiny Afghan village.What did I say about these children being FANTASTIC? This is the lunch stop and they are all smiling – despite some of them vomiting so much. The rest, uncomplaining, sat in the very back the whole 13 hours to Dushanbe without complaining. We let them all smash in the middle once we were 30 minutes from Dushanbe. Hey – don’t judge, there weren’t any seat belts to begin with so what difference does it make if they are evenly distributed or not?After spending two nights with our friends in Dushanbe, we parted ways and flew up to Bishkek. Here’s another map to help you see where that is:
Bishkek is actually a beautiful city and very inexpensive (as long as you aren’t buying things imported from the states). We made the most of being there, even though we would have preferred to not have to go anywhere at all! We found sushi – made fresh when you order – and it was GOOD. I never imagined I’d say that about sushi in a land-locked country.We also found a good Pakistani restaurant – YUM. Very similar to Indian food if you are wondering what kind of food that is. We were a bit downcast at this point in time because Rees found out from the embassy that we now need the same document for a three month visa that we’ve been unable to get for a one-year visa. I’m skipping a bunch of details, but the long and the short of it is that we are headed back as tourists – again. We’ll have to pop back out of Tajikistan again in 30-45 days depending on what length of visa we can get at the airport.These three are always doing their best to make us laugh. What grace to have them, even if it makes traveling more tiring and stressful. They bring a lot of joy and frankly, don’t provide us a lot of time for pity-parties.We continued to explore Bishkek – enjoying the beautiful parks and gardens.Some friends even took us to a park with rides – including Annabel’s favorite – teacups! Like how they are more Middle Eastern in theme? The mad-hatter didn’t show up here.When we left Kurganteppa, we told the kids that they would each get $5 (equivalent in local currency – very important clarification) when we got to Bishkek if they had good attitudes, no complaining spirit and didn’t ask a bunch of times, “when will we get there?” They were happy to cash in and Emmett got some Legos (generic brand) and had some good building time with daddy. I feel the need to clarify that they had marginal attitudes at times and let a couple of complaints slip and Emmett at one point asked three times in a row, “when will we get there?” but their attitudes, on the whole, were pretty stellar. We aren’t aiming for perfection here, just a more enjoyable travel for everyone – including mom and dad.This is the view from our Air BnB apartment. Typical Soviet-style apartments that have been around for a while and the mountains off in the distance. Too distant, in fact. We decided we had to change that so we spent a day at Ala Archa National Park – just an hour south of Bishkek. I love this view. All my favorite little hikers. Wish our dads could have been there. They would have LOVED this hike and seeing these grandkids put some miles (or kilometers more like) on their shoes. How can you not stop and take a break on such a nice flat “rock bench” as the kids call it.This girl is getting blisters on her heels, but she’s still going. Annabel eventually ends up on daddy’s shoulders.Where we stop for a picnic. Kids were tired but still in a good enough mood and we’d been hiking an hour and a half. We’ve learned a tiny bit as parents – stop while you’re ahead and bring chips. Rees and I have employed a tactic to hike til the kids are tired and hungry but not throwing full-blown-nutties, tell them there will be chips if they can just make it to “that rock,” then start feeding everyone and give them loads of encouragement and praise for what rock-star hikers they are. Then Rees and I take turns going up another 15-20 minutes or so, unencumbered. I don’t know how high this is, but it was chilly and we ended up wearing sweatshirts. Something I’m always so thankful for during the summer. There are 4-5 months of the year that we have no need for sweatshirts so when an occasion happens during those months that requires a sweatshirt – these Seattleites don them with thankfulness and even glee.Can you see the horses? The black streak in the distant rock face is a waterfall. That’s where we were headed, but once again, we went with the stop-while-you’re-ahead philosophy.One of the many graces I’m thankful for today is for healthy bodies that can hike, walk through city parks, lift and pull luggage and put a three year old on shoulders (well, I’m thankful Rees can do that). I don’t know why we get to be healthy and mobile, when there are so many who aren’t, and we recognize that it’s just grace. Nothing we did to deserve it, but something we’re thankful for today. Truly a gift.