Back in 2015, when I was cycling from Germany to Pakistan, you were the first country where I experienced pure wilderness. In your grand landscape, I felt so vulnerable. But, as I struggled to survive each day, you freed me from myself.
In awe of your grandeur, I lost my ego. Your majesty made me forget my identity and coloured me in your colour. It was no longer me cycling in Tajikistan, but you circling in admiration of your own beauty.
Those mountains roads of yours were strings pulling me towards your heart. In your tall peaks, hot springs, and rushing rivers, mother nature carried a divine message that there is a beauty in mortality and that life without death has no value. Yet, I was so afraid to step foot off the road of the fear of land mines.
I didn’t know the language or the manners of your people. But I could knock at anybody’s door, and they would give me a roof to stay under and feed me Palov and sheep meat.
When I was cycling along the Panj River dividing Tajikistan and Afghanistan, I received two marriage proposals. That’s how you tempted me to settle there.
It’s been five years, but I haven’t forgotten a thing about you— donkeys chewing grass along the river, kids running to school, shepherds herding hundreds of sheep, blown up vehicles, innocent faces of a Pamiri people, and meeting with a Mujahid who had killed a hundred Soviet soldiers in the Soviet-Afghan War. I remember everything.
The Ishkashim border market where Afghans came to sell all sorts of items, clothes, old shoes, and pirated CDs, and where an old bearded man told fortunes from a Jantri book, how I checked labels of every product. The Urdu speaking Afghans selling Pakistani soap, biscuits, vegetables, Pakol hats from Peshawar, they all made me feel home long before I was home.
Your long dusty roads stretched on the roof of the earth taught me that in moments of deep vulnerability, we find the strength that we didn’t even know existed within us. You taught me that when we venture into the most inhospitable places, we find the most hospitable people.
For all those lessons and memories, my dear Tajikistan, I will always love you.
Happy Independence Day!