[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/14/art.vert.tajikistan.jpg caption="Boziqala, Tajikistan" width=292 height=320]
CNN International Assignment Editor
(Dedicated To All Grandmas in Pamir, Tajikistan)
Editor's Note: Pope Benedict XVI is not the only religious leader visiting America. Also touring the country, the Aga Khan. To about 20-million people around the world who practice the Ismaili branch of Islam, he is their imam, or spiritual guide. He has a worldly mission, as well, overseeing a large, nondenominational foundation dedicated to easing global poverty.
The Aga Khan's tour of Ismaili communities in the United States and around the world has unleashed an outpouring of affection among Ismaili Muslims. In the case of CNN journalist Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva, his visit also brings back memories of his impact on her small town, in the Tajik province of Pamir, in a poor corner of the former Soviet Union.
Zarifmo begins her story by saying:
If only my Grandmother could hear this.
When I was growing up, my grandma and her friends in my tiny Boziqala, and villages nearby, knew little about the world. They didn’t have much education and never traveled beyond their province, Pamir.
Their children and grandchildren, though, were well educated. It made them proud, but the pain of longing for their faraway imam never left their hearts. My grandma said, before the Soviet Union, it was easier to get messages from the imam, but now we are disconnected. She used to blame the government, sometimes. But most of the time she blamed people for not remembering God...
I loved sitting next to my grandma when she was praying because, at the end of her prayers, she used to shake my hand saying shohi didor, a prayer for an audience with the imam. My brothers and I fought over who would sit closer to her to hear the shohi didor. There was a special sacred place in the corner of our house, where my grandma used to sit during her evening prayers.
That’s all I knew about the Aga Khan while growing up. Once, though, in college, I heard one Pamiri professor asked why Pamiris pay so much attention to education. And his answer: “It’s a wish of the imam.
I graduated and went back home to my village Boziqala. I was a teacher for 3 months then got a job in Badakshan Radio station and few years later became a newscaster on Badakshan TV station. Got married and had two small children. I loved my life.
Then, the USSR collapsed. Winter came. So did civil war.
My remote corner of the world first turned chaotic, then the chaos cut us off nearly completely from the outside. I had visions of my two children starving.
Then, one snowy night, I was called to the TV station to broadcast the most important words of my career and, perhaps, my life.
The studio was very cold.
The engineers told me I’d have to wait for two hours for the power to be restored. While I was waiting, I went over the announcement.
Only then did I realize, it was a letter from the Aga Khan Foundation, a letter telling people not to give up hopes, aid is on the way.
I don't know how to describe it. I wish there were words to express the feelings. I moved closer to the window. The snow was falling, but I didn’t feel the winter anymore. I knew Spring was coming.
My children, my neighbors and I wouldn’t starve.
This group, sponsored and inspired by that man, a man I had only known through memories of my grandmother, had saved us.
Filed under: Aga Khan
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