Disclaimer: This is based completely on “Life on the Roof of the World” in the February 2013 issue of National Geographic.
The Kyrgyz of Afghanistan (1700s- ) live in the Wakhan corridor, the north-eastern panhandle of the country. It is way up in the mountains, over 4,000 metres up. A beautiful but unforgiving land with mountains always in the distance.
A land without:
- paved roads
- playing cards
- peace (unlike much of Afghanistan)
- opium (smoked, many are hooked)
- electricity: solar-powered car batteries
- mobile phones without service – for playing music and taking pictures
- verses of the Koran
Language: The same as in Kyrgyzstan.
Religion: Sunni Islam.
- Men: herd sheep, goats and yaks.
- Women: cook, wash, clean, make clothes, take care of children and milk yaks (twice a day).
Wealth: their animals. Once a year they go over the moutain pass into Pakistan to sell some to buy supplies.
- 1 mobile phone = 1 sheep
- 1 yak = 10 sheep
- 1 high-quality horse = 50 sheep
- 1 bride = 100 sheep
Sport: buzkashi (played on horseback with a headless goat as the ball)
Transport: Horses and donkeys. For heavy loads, like stoves: unwilling yaks.
Food: Mostly bread, cheese, yogurt and milk. Meat on special occasions. And endless cups of tea! They drink it with salt and yak milk.
- Men: in black and dark colours.
- Women: in red with necklaces, bracelets, buttons, rings (but not on the middle finger) and two or more watches. They sound kind of like wind chimes when they move.
Housing: They move two to four times a year so their animals do not run out of grass. Three to ten families live together in a camp. They live in mud huts in winter, yurts in summer. A yurt is a round house made of felt. Inside: colourful carpets everywhere and tea on the boil!
Infant mortality: Half are dead by age five!
- 100s: They appear in Chinese records. They come from the Mongolian region.
- 1200s: Marco Polo and the Silk Road pass through the Wakhan on the way to China.
- 1700s: Kyrgyz arrive in the Wakhan, where they spend their summers.
- late 1800s: The British give Afghanistan money to buy the Wakhan corridor so that British India does not directly border the Russian Empire.
- early 1900s: The Chinese and Russians shut their borders, making the Wakhan the way to nowhere, a lost corner of the world. The Kyrgyz are forced to live there year round, winters too.
- late 1900s: They flee to Pakistan when Russian communists take over Afghanistan. They fear the communists will take away their freedom and religion. In Pakistan many die of disease. Some come back home, some go to live in Turkey.
Those in Turkey live in cookie-cutter houses. They have cable television, paved roads, cars and Turkish family names. They like their video games and flush toilets.
Those in Afghanistan know about the outside world:
There are people who think riding in cars will make them happy. But this place is very beautiful. We live with love and family. This is the most peaceful place in the world.