I left from Dushanbe at 6 a.m. Monday morning to head to Garm. No one could say exactly how much time it would take to get there; the range was anywhere from 4 - 10 hours. That's quite a range! Once I got on the road I understood why it would take some people 10 hours to get there. Most of the way was over bumpy, rocky, sandy, unpaved road and there were lots of twists and turns and in some places it was quite narrow and only wide enough for one car. Luckily I was in an SUV but I saw many small cars trying to traverse these roads; it would have been faster for them to ride a donkey, but much more dangerous of course.
The road to Garm and the scenery through the mountains and valleys was quite beautiful. We were driving past rushing rapids and could see herds of cattle grazing on plateaus. The scenery changed dramatically in a short time as we drove farther into the mountains. The Chinese are building a road for the Tajiks so some parts of the road were really smooth and freshly paved, but that for about 10 minutes of the nearly 4 hours it took me to get to Garm.
I'm staying in the only hotel in town and the views I have the snowy mountains refreshing. Most mornings there are dark clouds covering the mountains all around and it's dropping snow and some rain, too. The surrounding mountains are about 15,000 feet high (or higher).
Garm is a small town of about 50,000 people, but not all those people are in the center of Garm; there are surrounding districts included in this number. It's pretty much town with one main street that's paved and most of the streets that branch out from that are dirt and rocks. There aren't houses like we know in the U.S. but they're not huts either. They are made of rock and wood with tin roofs. Imagine a shed or a barn and that's what the poorer people's houses look like. The director of the program, Firdavs, took us to his house for lunch and his house is not a hut nor a shed. He is fairly wealthy and has a fruit and vegetable garden and many cows.
Firdavs has not let me out of his sight too much since I've arrived. I am either with him, or Mr. Sharbot, another teacher. I am rarely alone in the street, although I could be if I wanted to. Firdavs has brought me fresh pears from his trees and fresh milk from the cows every day. It is Ramadan now so there are no restaurants open at all in this place and the canteen at the hotel is closed also until September 22, when Ramadan ends. Firdavs arranged for a cooker lady (as they say) to bring me lunch and dinner every day. We arranged a menu (it's a surprise what I'll be getting every day) and I pay something ridiculously cheap like $3.00 a day for authentic, traditional meals. Yesterday was my first day of meals and damn were they good! I had peppers stuffed with beef and rice for lunch and a vegetable soup for dinner. Today I will have a traditional dish called plov which is rice and chicken. Now don't get me wrong...I'm only getting a private chef right now because it's Ramadan and I basically don't have any access to food. Thank GOD my JAG dads gave me water and food because I've been snacking on those things often.
I'm glad I had a chance to come to Garm to see this place for myself. There was so much hype about this place and it was all negative. Yes, it is the seat of opposition for the government, but I don't feel unsafe and I have been introduced to enough people here and the town is small enough that word would get around quickly if something happened to me. Really, I'm not worried at all. I also feel safer coming in as a teacher because that's a profession that's non-intimidating and quite harmless. If I were associated with the military then I would probably feel differently.
I have lots of photos but they are really slow to upload. I had to wait 90 seconds just for Facebook to upload. There are also only 4 computers in this town that have internet access and we're really far away from any kind of signals...so it's slow. I'll upload photos when I have some time to kill or when I get somewhere with a faster connection.