Call me Tom Topography. I am a long time avid reader of the National Geographic magazines. My mother began subscribing to the NG for me as a birthday present more years ago than I care to remember. Now BW does.
Come with me now on a magical journey to a little known location on the roof of the world in Afghanistan. The Kyrgyz nomads live in a land described by the NG as a heavenly life -- and a living hell. About 1,100 of them live in a barren valley called Little Pamir and depend upon their livestock for survival. Livestock dung is burned for fuel, sheep, goats, yaks and camels provide milk, meat and wool and are used for currency. One lamb buys 110 pounds of flour. Imagine shepherding a herd of sheep into the parking lot at Kroger and leaving with your arms full of groceries -- perhaps a year's supply of food.
Forget about a car because there is no road near them. Forget about having medical care and having a doctor nearby. They do not exist. They live in the valley where much of the landscape is above 14,000 feet elevation or the height of Pike's Peak. I could hardly breathe when we drove up there. They cannot grow vegetables. The people there have never seen a tree. Some of the men take an annual trek to the nearest village which is five days away.
They must move two to four times a year to follow the skimpy grass for the animals. The temperature can drop below freezing 340 days a year. How does that sound Snowbirds? It was part of the Silk Road centuries ago. Marco Polo passed through the area in the late 1200s and did not stop. If he rejected a place I believe I would also.
The nearest road is three days journey on a mountain trail so treacherous that one misstep and you will be snowboarding down the mountain without a snowboard. The nearest town with a basic hospital and some shops is four days journey. The Krgyzs have no doctor, no health clinic, few medicines. A sniffle or headache can swiftly turn virulent and bring death. The death rate of children is staggering -- fewer than half live to their fifth birthday. And as you might expect women die at an alarming rate while birthing children. They know how to produce children as it seems every society has discovered but not how to provide medical care. One couple told how they birthed 11 children but only one lived to be five years. Sadly he also died soon thereafter. The parents turned to opium to numb the pain.
Kyrgyzs are led by a man called the Khan who has traveled a couple of times to the outside world. Merchants occasionally travel into the Pamir and animals are traded for jewelry, opium, sunglasses, saddles, carpets, cloth, some food staples and other things.
Get ready, grip your chair arm, get your smelling salts ready, there is a picture of three men using cell phones. They are charged with solar powered car batteries and are not used for communication but to play music and take pictures. Cell phones are everywhere.
Larry grew up north of Calvertville on a farm and graduated from Worthington High School and Indiana State University -- four times. He can be reached at Goosecrick@aol.com or (317) 839-7656.