By Dora Ohrenstein
The next morning I was able to see the stunning mountain setting in which the Pamir House sat. We had breakfast on the outdoor “bed” that serves as a combination sleeping and eating area in most households, different pieces of cloth and pads placed upon it as the occasion arises. I drank, perhaps too amply, a bowl of milky tea with melted butter. After breakfast Alisha, the lady of the house, showed me her crocheted socks. The women of the region have been making these socks for many generations, though the modern form has changed from the older ones I later saw in the Khorog museum. The technique used is slip stitch crochet, made with home made hooks very different from our manufactured hooks, and more suited to slip stitch technique.
The socks are always patterned with strong colors, using patterns that have ancient roots, well known by all the women. The younger women often chart the patterns in notebooks of graph paper. Some 60 different patterns have been documented by De Pamiri in a book, and each has a name and specific meaning. Many have Ismaili connotations, but the symbols probably date from a more ancient time, and can be seen in the architecture of Samarkand and textiles of Bukhara.
Alisha showed me the technique, familiar slip stitch in the back loop, worked very neat and tight. As color work is central to the socks, she had a fine method for twisting and carrying the yarn at the back to form a clean surface with no hanging threads. She worked very fast and I asked her to show me slowly exactly how it was done. My attempts were not very successful, however, as the yarn split easily, and the hook’s shape not yet comfortable in my hand. I showed her my book and she looked over every page with interest, then a few hats I’d brought along to give as gifts. She wanted to learn one stitch from the book and I tried to teach her. She held her yarn and hook in a manner that was unfamiliar to me, and had never done double crochet stitches before, but in 10 minutes she had mastered the basketweave pattern using front and back post stitches.
We sat outside together on the bed, Yorali telling me about the history and people of the Pamirs, his efforts on behalf of handicrafts, and the ineffective Tajik government. Yusuf napped and lounged at one end, looking on amusedly and Alisha’s husband watched attentively, though neither he nor his wife spoke more than a few words of English. Their little girl and some neighbor’s children scrambled happily in the surrounding garden, full of fruit trees, picking up fallen fruit and munching on them. A cow and a couple of tiny lambs roamed the property as well. It was a splendid day, the weather warm and breezes wafting clean mountain air.
Alisha’s husband worked with wood and his father was a well-known musical instrument maker. Though he wasn’t around, we were able to look into his shop, which had beautiful examples of wood being transformed into music.
After a mid-afternoon meal of pilau and lamb, accompanied by bread, fruits and nuts, Yorali, Yusuf and I left for Khorog in two vehicles. An hour later, at the small Khorog hotel, Frenchmen were arguing over what seemed a large and important project, and I was glad to hear a familiar language. My room was basic but everything worked fine. After resting, reading and writing for a couple of hours, I ventured out into the dark through the neighboring park in search of a beer to help me sleep. The park was filled with teenagers, and the constant stares of everyone I passed were intimidating, but I put on my best New York don’t mess with me face and managed to find what I needed. It was about the worst beer I ever tasted, but I slept blissfully nevertheless.