There are some external reasons complicating the general working situation in the Pamirs.
The road to Dushanbe can be very dangerous. During our two month stay, we have already heard about several car accidents. Although Tajik and Chinese road builders are working a lot, it is very difficult to establish a long-lasting and safe road crossing the big rocks of the Pamir Mountains. Especially during the wintertime, GBAO is usually cut off, because roads to the Tajik Pamirs are closed. So during this time, it is difficult to send something to Dushanbe or other destinations.
Political problems between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan - especially because of the water dispute - make transports from or to Russia more delicate. Yet, Russia is still one of the most important trade partners for Tajik economy. Russian products line the shelves in shops and especially high quality products are typically fabricated in Russia. The political situation in Kyrgyzstan and the conflicts in April and June 2010 also showed some impact on Tajikistan and the transition ways for economic goods.
There are very few institutions dedicated to design, art or other creative fields in Tajikistan and the political leadership does not support small projects like De Pamiri handicraft. Although unemployment is one big problem in the whole country, De Pamiri can hardly find suitable personnel for its newly established yarning and dyeing workshop.
Despite all these difficulties, De Pamiri has managed to revive traditional handicrafts and nowadays there are more than 100 artisans from GBAO involved in the project. The Aga Khan Foundation has made some investments in the Tajik Pamirs and also supported De Pamiri in its work. Some other organizations such as Christensen fund, Aid to Artisans or CACSA (Central Asian Craft Supports Association) can also be found among De Pamiri supporters.
Besides these general difficulties, we have also encountered our own personal project killers.
Since the Chinese border was opened, poor quality products have been flooding the Tajik market. People rather buy cheap synthetic wool instead of producing wool from their own sheep. The few artisans yarning their own wool do so mainly in winter times when there is less work to do with the harvest. Yarned wool is therefore hardly available for us and we are working with minimal material amounts. Additionally, many artisans prefer synthetic over natural colors. Their handling is easier and faster, but they also heavily damage the environment.
There are different opinions about prices and profit. Most artisans prefer knitting other products than socks because these are easier to produce and bring more profit. However, if De Pamiri starts charging more for one pair of socks, the price would exceed the market price. This means a greater risk in re-introducing the “new old” Pamir socks as the highly-priced product might banish local customers
ASA projects are planned for three months which is an extremely short period for finding a good way of working together, getting used to different cultural aspects and following and documenting the project progress. There are many steps between having an idea and seeing the results!