By my estimate it would be four or five days before I got another chance to take a shower. I was waiting in the small Pamiri town of Khorog, Tajikistan, to find a driver to take my friends and I across the Pamir Mountains by way of the Wakhan Corridor bordering Afghanistan. We were sure it would be worth all the frustration in the end but after two days of negotiations weren?t any closer to finding a driver who felt like taking us. I was dirty from walking through the dusty streets and it was only going to get worse when we left town to drive through dirt roads and stay in homes with no electricity or running water.
When we arrived in town the previous day we were ambushed by a sweet little woman named Gulnara who pulled us up a small dirt track and into her home. We didn?t speak Russian or Tajik and she didn?t speak English but it was made clear that we would be staying with her. She had a traditional house centered on a large square five-pillar room with raised platform seating and a skylight framed by four rotating concentric square insets. Outside was a large grassy courtyard filled with pear trees, a small creek, a few goats and an angry dog.
When my two travel companions left in the late morning to scour the market, once again, for a driver I decided it was the perfect time to wash up. The only problem was that Gulnara?s house had a lot of character but no shower or bathroom. A three-sided wooden shack next to the goat pen served as the toilet and I wasn?t confidant I wouldn?t get more dirty than clean washing in there. I decided that washing my hair would still be possible and I headed for the creek.
When Gulnara saw me collecting water from the creek she ran toward me with a horrified look on her face and snatched the bucket out of my hands. Her granddaughter ran into the house with the water and gestured for me to wait. After a few moments Gulnara motioned me into the house. I noticed the small stick in her hand but before I could register what was happening the stick was near my eye?too close to put up a protest without risking a horrible accident. I stood still and waited while she moved the cold, wet stick over my eyebrows. She painted her eyebrows as well and placated my worried expression with a pat on the back and the motion to wait. After she left I peeked in a mirror to see what sort of damage had been done. Although I did look like a clown with my new eyebrows she hadn?t gone as far as to give me a unibrow, as is customary in Tajikistan.
For five long minutes I sat, wringing my hands, waiting for Gulnara to appear. I could hear the water coming to a boil in the next room when Gulnara pulled me outside where we washed our eyebrows together. Hers looked the same as before?black!?and I was worried until she handed me a mirror and I saw my slightly tinted eyebrows.
With a newfound trust I followed her into the house while all the remaining men were being ushered out. The kitchen had been prepared with a stool topped by a large metal cooking pot. The granddaughter struggled to pour steaming hot water into a bowl at her feet while Gulnara began to pull at my t-shirt, perhaps thinking I wanted to strip down and wash in the family kitchen. Confused, she ran into the other room and came out with her own ruffled nightgown for me to wear. She just couldn?t understand why I would keep my shirt on! Finally I kneeled over the pot and the little girl began pouring warm water over my head. Quickly grabbing my shampoo, I lathered up before Gulnara had the chance to order the poor girl over my head again.
The water felt wonderful and I knew my clean hair would help to get me through to the next week. Once I accepted her hospitality I was treated like family. Gulnara got to pamper me like a daughter and I got to keep my clothes on?everyone was happy.