Avj – a tiny village in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Majestic nature, welcoming people, dangerous roads, colourful culture, delicious plov, juicy apricots and sweet mulberries. In 2019, I went back to Avj to interview the locals about their lives and memories.
This is Bahti.
How old are you?
17 years old.
How are you connected to Avj?
I was born in Avj, my grandma and grandpa raised me here until I was six years old. After that I have come back each summer.
So, you were actually born in this house?
And your grandma delivered you? I know that she used to work as a midwife.
Yes, she was my mother’s midwife.
What places in Avj are important to you?
Important? The mountains, of course. The sanatorium where we take baths. There are many important places.
Why are these places important to you?
I climb the mountains. The White Mountain is very important to me. It is located next to the soldier’s post. In my childhood we went there very often. It was very interesting there. You could go in through one side and come out through another. It is very noisy there, the wind blows shhhhhhhhh! In my childhood I thought BabaYaga lived there. It just looks like a house belonging to someone horrible like Baba Yaga. The sanatorium is important to me as I go there often, I used to go there with my cousins. When I was a kid, I went there with my grandma, she worked there, grandpa as well. When they stopped working there, I didn’t go there every day, but once per week or so.
What did you do there?
I used to just run around and play – after all, I was a kid! And, of course, I went to the bathhouse as well.
What memories do you have of these places?
Memories… Oh, there are so many of them! Once my cousins and I took our dirty sheep and started to wash them in the river. I think Grandma didn’t want us to , but we started washing them anyway. Suddenly, they ran up to the mountains, so we needed to chase them. Stones started falling down, it was very scary. But that makes memories… Besides, everything ended well.
What else… My cousins and I went to the White Mountain. It is really close to the soldier’s post, I think it is forbidden to go there. At first, the soldiers started to scream at us: “Go away! You are not allowed to be here! Go!”, but we didn’t hear them, as there was a strong wind. After that they started to shoot in the air with their rifles. Our grandma thought that something bad had happened, she was very worried. When we came back home, we said that everything was fine, but Grandma scolded us and said that we shouldn’t have done it.
What do you miss the most from Avj when you are somewhere else?
I really miss the nature, fresh air, clean and delicious water – very, very delicious!
I agree, it is delicious, indeed!
I miss the garden, we have a big, big patch of land here. I can walk around a lot. And the fruits! Yes, they are free here! In a city you have to buy them.
When you are here in Avj, do you miss anything?
Right now I miss my cousins. It is very boring without them.
How many in total are you?
Oshur, Zevar, Avjiya, Adis, Jamshed, Anais. I hope I didn’t forget anyone.
Were you often here all together?
Yes, in childhood very, very often.
What kinds of events have you experienced in Avj?
Oh, I remember how Avjiya and I were sitting in the winter room, she was watching TV, I was listening to music. Suddenly she said: “Bahti, don’t you think that something is moving behind us?” I looked and noticed a tarantula! It was one o’clock at night.
I started to scream: “Aaaaaah!” Everyone was asleep. I started to panic: “Oh, what are we going to do? How do we kill it?”
Avjiya took the phone and called her brother Oshur in Dushanbe and asked: “Oshur, what should we do?”
He said: “Go to bed! Why are you torturing yourselves?”
But Avjiya said: “I’m afraid to go to bed if I know that there is a tarantula in the house! We won’t go to bed!” Later we were sitting and sitting, thinking about what to do. Finally, we took a jar and caught the tarantula in the jar. We didn’t kill it. In the morning we went to our grandpa, who was eating breakfast. We said to him: “Look, Grandpa, what we found!”
He said: “Uhhhh, you scared me!” We explained to him that we had found it at night, he said that it is a tarantula, and if I remember correctly, even a poisonous one!
What? There are poisonous tarantulas here?
Yes. My dad said that he found a lot of them in the attic yesterday. They have their nest there.
Could you tell me any legends or stories about Avj?
Do you know our neighbours who live in the house on the way down to the village? Yesterday we saw their son Olim, a guy with very thick glasses.
Yes, I remember.
So, Olim had a younger brother. Once, they were hiking in the mountains. Suddenly, his brother noticed something very shiny on a sharp and steep rock a bit further away. You can find rubies and other jewels in our mountains, he probably thought it was something valuable.
He said to Olim: “Look, there is something shiny!”
Olim answered: “Are you crazy? You will die if you go there! It is just an illusion! Besides, it is too dangerous to go there!” His brother didn’t listen to him and tried to get to the shiny place. Unfortunately, Olim was right… His brother slipped and fell off the rock. Do you see that sharp edge over there?
That’s the place. When my grandfather arrived there, it was already too late, he couldn’t help him anymore.
When did it happen?
I think nine years ago. At that time, Olim’s brother was in tenth grade at school. He had a dog, the dog kept going to his grave every day after the funeral.
After this conversation, I shoot her portrait, and we go to see Bahti’s garden and khonachek [hut], which turns out to be a piece of land surrounded by a stone wall. The garden is full of apricot trees, but there are no fruits yet.
See, this is our “house”, our khonachek! I think Oshur and Zevar were the first to play here, later they invited us as well. It even has two floors! Some years ago it had stairs which led to the second floor. See that big stone? That was our TV!
Over there we had swings. We could even swing into the garden! Yes, memories… Here we had a long rope between trees, and we could slide from one tree to another with a wooden stick. From here, till there. That was fun!
I think… Over there something was carved into the tree. I think Oshur or Zevar carved it with a knife. I don’t know if it is still visible. Let’s go try to find that place…
I can’t really tell what is carved here… Oh! It is “hurray”!
Solveiga Kaļva originally from Riga, Latvia, is a student of Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies Masters Program at the University of Tartu, Estonia. Her interests include writing, photography, art, music. She also runs a travel blog.