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Sanaba. Our Mother from Isfara

If you recall, our first day in Kazakstan was spent with Kashin, a very generous man who fed us and let us stay at his house for the night. Our first day in Tajikistan was much like that experience.

We camped about 40km from the border the night before entering Tajikistan. Jared was sick that night and we were both still tired from our 6 day sprint from Bishkek to Osh. It was hot and we had trouble finding good drinking water that day but we were excited to finally be getting to Tajikistan.

The ride into Tajikistan was less than self explanatory. There were a number of borders between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and we had to figure out which one was the international border. It took us a few tries and a few kilometers on dirt roads to find it but once we did it was stamp stamp, and into a new country.

Our first task was to get some Tajik money. We rode into Isfara, a city 10km from the border and started asking where we could find a bank machine. We were directed into the city and sure enough found an ATM right away. Next task, food. There was a shashlik kebabs (grilled ground meat on a stick) restaurant right across the street so we decided to get some food. The tables were outside and once we got situated I started cleaning my hands with a wet wipe. A women sitting nearby noticed what I was doing and motioned to the sink around the corner where I could properly clean my hands.

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Once I returned from the sink, I thanked the woman and sat down to eat. Jared was away ordering the food and came back with drinks and bread. As we started eating, the woman asked where we were from. We told her and she kept asking more questions. She was very sweet and after a few more questions, she had invited us to come and sit with her. We had a great conversation, once again through body language, our Russian phrase book, and doing our best to communicate with each other. After 20 or so minutes of conversing with each other, Sanaba, which was her name, invited us back to her house for food and a place to sleep. This invitation was also communicated through the little Russian we knew and hand signals by Sanaba.

To make sure she got her point across, Sanaba called her son who was studying English in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and had him explained to me what she was saying. Sure enough, he told me that his mother was inviting us back to her house and we can rest for the night. It was only 11am at the time and we had only gone about 40km so we weren’t sure if we wanted to stop so early. After a quick discussion between me and Jared, we decided to take her up on her offer.

She was thrilled that we accepted her offer and after we were finished eating she walked us back to her house. On the way she loved talking to me, which was a nice change since most people only talk to Jared since he’s a guy. She wanted to tell me everything about everything, it was great.

We got back to her house and immediately she cleared out her room, laid down sleeping mats for us, turned the fan on, and gave us a spread of bread, candy, water, tea, and fruit. She showed us where to clean up and then let us be. Jared was quickly passed out on the floor and I cleaned up with an actual shower. After cleaning up, I joined Jared and took a nap in the coolness of her home.

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After a 45 min nap, I woke up to the sound of Jared and Sanaba making dinner/late lunch in the kitchen. I stumbled my way in to see fresh salad and homemade Plov, a traditional Uzbekistan dish. Sanaba was teaching Jared the ingredients and having lively conversations. He learned about her family, she had two daughters and one son, was a pediatric nurse, and makes amazing Plov!

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The food was delicious and she kept insisting we eat more and more. The serving of Plov was more than enough for 6 people but we did our best to make our way through it. After our meal, we went on an excursion, Sanabas word for a walk around town. Since all the clothes I had were shorts and t-shirts, and women in this part of the world don’t dress like that, Sanaba gave me a traditional Tajik dress to walk around town in.

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We walked down to the bus stop and caught a ride to the edge of town. We got out at a park and started walking around. Sanaba was explaining where we were and we think it was a retirement area with a nice park but we still aren’t sure. We walked around talking and enjoying the peace of the park for a while. As we were leaving we stopped at a shop to buy some ice creams. Jared sneakily paid for them which Sanaba was not happy about.

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We boarded the bus back into town and went to yet another park. This one was not as peaceful so we only walked around for a bit and had yet another ice cream. I’m pretty sure we had to have another one so she could pay for them but we weren’t complaining. After lots of walking and ice creams we headed back home.

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There we met Sanabas mother and sister-in-law, they both lived across the street. We also met her 3 nieces and nephews, who were quite cute. After some conversation, pictures, and fun with the kids, we all called it a night. Sanaba gave us her space for sleeping and she slept outside. It was a great nights sleep, one we wouldn’t of had if not for the kindness of strangers.

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We woke early to a busy Sanaba in the kitchen. We had planned on just heating up some water for oatmeal and hitting the road for Khojand, a city 100km away, Sanaba had a different plan. We had fresh tea, bread, chocolate, walnuts, apricots, and fried eggs waiting for us. We ate like kings! We enjoyed our last hour with her chatting and thanking her over and over. She told us we were like her children and was sad to see us leave.

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Before we left she gave us both a towel, I think one was handmade, and a whole bunch of walnuts and dried apricots, which lasted me through the Pamirs. She then walked us to the road we needed to be on and gave us both a big hug good-bye. She didn’t want to let go and as I pulled away I saw tears in her eyes.

Once again the kindness of strangers blew me away. We didn’t know this woman for more than 20mins and she was inviting us to her house, making us food, and treating us like family. Even our goodbyes were like family. Like Jared has said many times these past few months,

This isn’t cycle trip, it’s an adventure.