An auspicious statue of Lenin casts a long heavy shadow over Khojand, the furthest eastern outpost of Alexander the Great. Although both gentlemen have a notorious and blood thirsty history, the story of Alexandra’s rise and final demise was chosen for display in a meticulous mosaic at the citadel museum. It is a shame with his track record of conquering other noteable nations he is not alive to become the next England football manager.
Khojand is a relaxed historical city embracing the banks of the Syr Darya River and huddles in the shade of the low mountain range. The lowlands are the quarry of the white gold – cotton, but like all precious metals its value plummeted in price during the economic turmoil. However, the ‘panjshanbe’ (literal translation fiveday, English – Thursday) bazaar continues it trading despite the collapse of the worlds banks and gently bustles across the square from the Islamic 21m minuet and 13 Century mosque.
The drive Dushanbe-Khojand is like Mario Kart, you must first pick your machine to navigate the obstacles. The choices appear to be; a soviet niva driven by a British Novice, a stolen European Opel driven a Eurotrash fanatic or flying Firuz in his overloaded Pajero taxi. Once through the first toll the track begins climbing along the Chinese road construction sites, then passes through the 5km exceedingly wet tunnel of ‘certain death’ constructed by the slap happy Iranians, before descending to the foot of Zerafshan valley where you fill the radiator with glucose before ascending 3330m on a dirt track over the Shariston pass. If your brakes don’t burn out and you have change for the mandatory police checks you should pass the finish line, dusty and sweaty, in around 7hours. Thankfully, due to our prolonged stay in the town we were we recovered in our upgraded six room presidential suit in the Hotel Vadaht where the furniture stays hidden under dusty white sheets, the shower remains cold, and the mosquitoes breed in the dripping bidet.
In Khojand, I had a short assignment checking out women’s ovens, whilst Carly was supporting Pam (VSO) in Degmoi children’s home. The home is the home to 85 children, all of which are in need of support, stimulation and sustenance. In an attempt to inject some enjoyment to the hot summer months Pam invested in several paddling pools, a ball pool, and a sand pit, but our inflatable friends were no match for the multi coloured parachute. The children, staff and volunteers grabbed the rainbow silk sheet and danced around the lawn shading the girls and boys under an everchanging multi-coloured sky. Check out Pam’s blog for the ongoing trials and tribulations at Degmoi.
Apart from a baby boom of mosquitoes, Khojand is worth a visit, and the surrounding towns such as Isfara offer a small glimpse through abandoned rusty factories of the former soviet power house. One man stated that ‘if you said in 1992 that we would be in worse situation in 2010, we would have laughed and said you were crazy.’ Now people are scratching a living to support themselves and their families, leaving little hope, and support for the abandoned children in Degmoi.