How international hunting is helping a young woman in Tajikistan build a better life.
Photo above: Latifa and Gulbek in the village of Ravmed. Photo by Trail’s End Media.
Thirteen years ago, when Latifa Gulomamadova was ten years old, her mother drowned. Her mother’s name was Dilshod, and she was 29 when she died.
Latifa grew up in the village of Ravmed, which is in the Bartang Valley of Tajikistan. Ravmed means “go to the dream.” About 300 people live there, in houses made of rock and peeled logs.
Ravmed is at an elevation of 9,800 feet in the Pamir Mountains. The village is across a river from an unpaved road that goes from the Bartang Valley up into the Pamirs. You can see several peaks over 20,000 feet high from Latifa’s house. In the winter, the snow pushes ibex down to the river. Wolves often follow them. Snow leopards and brown bears occasionally visit the outskirts of Ravmed.
The river next to Ravmed is called Sharvido, which means “little river.” It is a tributary of the Bartang River, which in turn flows into the Panj River, which is the boundary between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. There is a big boulder in the Sharvido, right next to Ravmed. Down from the boulder, there is an eddy, and at the tail end of the eddy the river gets shallow for a few yards. As long as the water is not too high, a person can wade across the Sharvido there. Downstream from Ravmed, there are four other places where a person can ford the Sharvido.
One year, Chinese livestock traders came to the Bartang Valley. Latifa’s family needed cash. Dilshod decided to take some sheep across the Sharvido to see how much the traders would offer. Latifa’s mother was herding a dozen of the family’s sheep across the ford below the boulder when she lost her footing on the smooth rocks and got swept downstream by the cold current. There is no place in Ravmed to practice swimming. The waters of the Sharvido filled Dilshod’s billowing dress and dragged her underwater.
Gulbek, Latifa’s father, is the most skilled hunter in Ravmed. Especially when food was scarce, he would bring meat from ibex and other game down from the Pamirs. After his wife drowned, he lost his appetite for hunting. He still has an ancient matchlock rifle, but hasn’t fired it in the thirteen years since Dilshod died.
Gulbek grew potatoes, carrots, and onions in the rocky soil, farming by hand, the same as everyone else in Ravmed, the same as people there have done for centuries. He had some sheep and checkens, and also some apple, apricot, pomegranate, and almond trees. He and his two daughters barely got by without Dilshod’s help and without the meat that Gulbek used to bring back from the mountains.
Some time after he gave up subsistence hunting, Gulbeck discovered that he could earn money by guiding foreign trophy hunters for ibex. This was a lucky windfall for him and his family. He remarried. He and his second wife have two young sons.
Nine years after Dilshod drowned, Latifa’s younger sister died. Davlatbakht was 16. She collapsed suddenly at home and died half an hour later, squeezing Gulbek’s weathered hand. It takes two hours to drive from Ravmed to a hospital. Nobody knows what caused Davlatbakht’s death.
Gulbek is now in his fifties, and his back and legs hurt most of the time. He can’t walk as fast as he used to. He does not know how much longer he can guide hunters in the mountains around Ravmed.
Latifa is twenty-three now, and she is tired of being poor. People have told her that she should go to Russia and work as a waitress. Wages are a lot higher there than in Tajikistan, where the salary for a schoolteacher is about $80 a month.
She has seen her father’s hunting clients, with their brand-name hunting clothes: Patagonia, Kuiu, Cabela’s, Sitka, Prois, Kryptek, and North Face. Latifa was surprised when she found out how much these outfits cost. She was even more amazed when she learned how much the hunters wearing these clothes paid for the chance to shoot an ibex, urial, argali, or markhor, animals that people in the village used to eat when there was little else to be had.
She has also seen hikers and bicyclists from Europe and the United States. Her country is becoming a popular destination for adventure tourism.
Latifa wants to be a hunting guide, like her father.
This is a big step for a young woman from a remote village in a socially conservative, Muslim country. There are a few women in the capital city who have learned English, German, or Russian so that they can lead tours of museums and the presidential palace. The hunting guides are all men, lean and hard as bent, rusty nails. Most of them speak local dialects and know Russian from when Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union. None of them speak English.
Latifa is taking English classes. She goes out of her way to practice English with American tourists.
When her father takes hunters into the Pamirs, a translator has to be part of the group. A year ago, Latifa helped Gulbek guide two American women on an ibex hunt. Both women killed impressive ibex. One of them gave Latifa some Gore-Tex clothing.
Latifa avoids the young men in Ravmed. “Boys say they want to marry me. I ask them if they will let me work as a guide, and they say they will never allow that, especially if the hunter is a man.”
“I can’t get married,” she says. “I want to be able to do the work I love. I don’t want to be poor all my life, to have to worry about food. I don’t want to die while I am still young. My father understands. I want to work. I want to be a guide.”
Hunters, think about where your money goes. Cui bono? Who benefits? When you book an international hunt, you are giving rural people like Gulbek and Latifa a chance for a better life. For me, that’s a moral imperative.
To book a hunt in Tajikistan, go to bookyourhunt.com and type “Tajikistan” in the search box.