Hei, Lachie here.
I’d arrived into Sweden to find Paige’s glandular fever relapsing and the supermarket prices making the contents of my wallet evaporate. It was all a bit sad. But Ana was arriving in a few days so maybe things would turn around. They didn’t. Within 5 minutes of getting into Paige’s room Ana had already thrown her drink bottle at my face and split my lip, leaving a bloody mess all over the sink. Clearly she hadn’t done enough damage with the snowmobile the last time we’d been together. Luckily Uppsala had a big event going on that weekend, Valborg. The town was alive and all the students were out and about partying. We did some nice forest bike rides and watched the annual rafting of the river through town.
Relishing every last mouthful of tofu in our last ‘western’ meal, we absorbed all the nutrients we could before heading into the Stans. From what we’d heard there would be a lot of meat, and not much else. Touching down into Misk Airport of Belurus for a sneaky stopover the reality of the impending language difficulties finally sunk in. I’m pretty sure we were the only English speaking foreigners in the airport and the Russian wasn’t really coming as naturally to us as we’d hoped.
Landing into Almaty at 4am in the pouring rain was another reminder that things might pan out differently to our expectations. But true to the rumours of extreme generosity we’d heard about, our host picked us up from the airport, took us to his house, and prepared a traditional Kazakh breakfast. The local bread was delicious, the dried apricots amazing, and the fresh camel and horse milks not far off the worst thing we had ever tasted. Pretty much a warm, sour, slightly fermented milk. Aka, a cultural experience you only really need once. The rest of the day was spent sorting out our gear for the next 2.5 months hiking through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The next morning we found ourselves standing on a random corner at 7:30am. We were taking shelter from the bucketing rain in a university entrance and desperately hoping a friend of a friend would show up to collect a few bags with things we wouldn’t need until we came back to Almaty. Thankfully he did and we made it out to the airport in time for out flight to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. It didn’t take long before the massive snowy peaks started to break through the cloud and the true nature of the endless mountains and valleys of Tajikistan took hold. Roughly 90% of Tajikistan’s land is mountainous and seeing it from above got us just a bit excited for lots of awesome hiking.
The sun and heat in Dushanbe was like a slap in the face. Obviously being respectful of the muslim culture here we wore pants but it was a struggle to suppress thoughts of how amazing shorts are. Especially when you join the kids out on the street to play soccer.
Even though it’d only been less than two days in this new part of the world we were already noticing some pretty stark differences in the culture. Particularly around gender roles. In almost every situation I would be the person being addressed, never Ana. I was always expected to be the one making the decisions and be in charge. There was never any discrimination or rudeness towards Ana, it just seemed as though it was the man who had the power in the relationship and therefore was the one to be addressed. The other interesting aspect was the expectation around marriage. People who barely knew any english would usually be able to ask if we were married. It comes up with every new person you meet because there is such an expectation for women to be married. Being 20 is no exception. We have met a few girls our age who aren’t married and they say the are in a tiny minority, they say it is very weird for them to not be married and they are looked down upon. However they have risen above the culture and said they aren’t married because they have dreams and goals they are working towards.
We’d managed to get our permits to visit the Pamirs and started to settle in to this new culture. But we very quickly learned that we’d arrived at least a month too early. Snow had arrived late and heavy this year and pretty much every hike we’d planned wouldn’t be possible for at least another 5 weeks. Feeling a bit stuck it was time to action Plan B. The only hiccup was at that point in time Plan B didn’t exist. We’ll let you know what we came up with when we figure it out.