Friday, May 28, 2010

Slippery Slopes

We spent a lot of time on the road from Dushanbe to Garm. The road back from Garm to Dushanbe took far less time. It always happens that way.

The time we spent on the road was epic. We were a dozen Habitat volunteers, plus our three new Tajik friends: the local affiliate coordinator of our trip, another translator, and our hilarious driver. I'm rather glad our driver has a sense of humor, now that I've seen the road. Even though I went in fully expecting a treacherous mountain and dangerous curves, I was blown away by some of the stretches of this particular dirt road, or should I say mud road.

With much hilarity, we bounced and jolted along, the four of us who sat across the back seat of the van clinging and bouncing and laughing as each hairpin brought us to yet another perilous perch. What could you do but gaze at the muddy river below, trying to guess how deep it was, and trying to estimate how good your chances were of swimming out of it once the van inevitably crash landed there?

Then after a couple of hours, with the promise that a couple more hours remained, we came to a grinding halt. A mudslide had blocked the road ahead, and we pulled up alongside the line of cars waiting for it to be cleared. Of course, being totally foreign and not understanding the language, we didn't know at first what was happening. Most of us disembarked from the van, joining the other passengers from other vehicles who stood around gazing at the blocked road. Men were the majority of the chatting crowd, but our group had more women, so we added a little gender diversity to the mix, not that anyone really told us what was going on. The stares were somewhat friendly, though.

Eventually we learned that "a machine" was coming to clear the blocked road. When? Who knew? Visions of staying the night on this mountain pass danced through my head. We all had snacks in our backpacks and layers to wear, but try as I might, I couldn't really come up with a way for fifteen of us to sleep in that van, unless we just sat in our seats taking airplane naps.

Lo and behold, while some team members found a friendly hillside resident who allowed the use of his bathroom, language barrier negotiations and all, the promised machine arrived and our path was cleared. Of course, we still had kilometers to go before we could sleep.

After winding our way along this highway, the rushing muddy currents below us, I had a much better understanding of the village in Three Cups of Tea that told Greg Mortenson, "No, for reals, a school would be awesome, but we actually totally need a bridge first. Then a school."

Mud continued to be a theme of our trip, but later on it would be us doing the slinging, in more ways than one. Stay tuned for those tales of dirty deeds and heartbreak.

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