Sunday, August 12, 2007

July 18, 2007 Ghunde Valley: Returning to Friends and Family

The TDI team set out in two “Russian Jeeps”, (a fond term for the little 4-wheel drive Russian Neva cars that are the unsung heroes of the Pamir roads) to return to the Ghunde Valley with plans to visit with the family of singer Sultonazar and others. This visit would be an opportunity to renew the strong ties formed by team members during 2006 with a family who has greatly influenced many of the most popular traditional performing artists to emerge from Badakhshan in our time. For Tajik team member Maruf Noyoft ,whose family lives in the Ghunde Valley and is a nephew of Sultonazar this would be a homecoming. A visit to the sacred site, Mazar Imam Boqir is on the itinerary, it is hoped that we can get the opportunity to meet with one of the local Khalifas (religious and community leaders) who is an expert on the history of the region.

Communications being a bit of a regional challenge, no reliable phones outside of the main town, the team has adapted various tactics for setting up visits in remote regions, a two pronged approach…........ 1) Inform any friends/family of the intended hosts that you may happen to meet during the week, (perhaps in the bazaar?), of your intended visit. 2) Drive there a day ahead of time and let them know that you will be back. And always bring gifts of food.

The plan was made to inform our future hosts on our way up the Ghunde Valley to its uppermost reaches, and stay the night at the hot spring/spa at Jellandy. A plan that met with much enthusiasm from the team, especially in view of the fact that hot water, (or any water at all for that matter) had been making only rare appearances from the tap at the team’s Khorog house this week. So the journey went well….. Jellandy is an interesting place all in all, since phone service is nil, one never knows if there will be rooms or food available, or who or what other surprises might be in store. This visit was no exception. Although rooms and beds were eventually found for most of the team, some did sleep (or tried their best to sleep) in the lobby. The hot springs are also at a relatively high altitude, and this had its effect on several of the team members who suffered uncomfortable symptoms during the night. A cleaner, but slightly dizzy, team headed back down the valley the next day.

The warmth of the greetings at Sultonazar’s home are palpable. The welcome we receive is testament to the trust and relationships that were nurtured during previous visits from team members. We are made welcome and are asked to convey greetings to the missing 2006 team members. The short student films made during last years visit, edited by the team at DomKino films during the winter seminars, are shown on DVD for the family and enjoyed by all. Sultonazar and his daughter then accompany the team to the Imam Boqir sacred site nearby. They tell us stories and legends about the site at the beautiful chashma (spring) up on the hillside. The chashma itself has been a pilgrimage site for generations and has some very interesting stories connected to it. One of them says that it was once believed that if you were to follow the spring into the mountain one would eventually come out in the next valley, Shokhdara and by following that spring in the mountain in Shokhdara one would find themselves in Ishkoshim, and so forth until one came out in Afghanistan and perhaps then Iran. So it is said that the Imam Boqir could make this journey through the mountain and appeared to the people. In a way one might see this as a wonderful metaphor for the interconnections of both the water sources and the life of the region. Inside the shrine at the bottom of the hill Sultonazar led a dua (prayer) for the team.

As it happens Sultonazar has been performing his duties as a Khalifa the night before our arrival. There has been a recent death in the community and he has sung Maddoh (spiritual poetry) songs and sat awake with their family for the entire night.Although tired he is in fine form, and back at the house after a period of Maddoh songs his daughters, niece and several other nieghbors get up to dance. His niece in particular is a very talented young woman and her gift is completely spontaneous. Although she has not trained formally her talent is recognized immediately in her confident showmanship, and the effortless strength with which she interprets the movements. Many of our team could not help but think that she would be an asset to any professional touring ensemble. This young woman had also danced for the team in 2006, in a memorable presentation of Raqs-e Aspak (the horse dance), a highlight of last years Ghunde visit. This year immediately after her dance she again vanishes, like Cinderella at midnight. Thus her personal story once again eludes our team’s questions in 2007, and she remains a bit of a mystery.