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Along the Silk Road
An undergraduate’s solo journey overland from Istanbul to Kabul
In the summer of 2009, Alex Guittard ’11 found himself with a free month between the end of his sophomore classes and the beginning of a Persian language course he’d signed up for in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He decided to pursue a long-standing dream and travel overland from Istanbul to Tajikistan, tracing the ancient Silk Road, the caravan route that at various times in history linked China and the Mediterranean. By bus, shared taxi, and occasional hitched rides, Guittard traversed 4,300 miles, passing through Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, staying in hostels or small guesthouses, eating at roadside cafes. Following two months of language studies, which were supported in part by an Advanced Study Grant from Boston College, Guittard traveled south to Afghanistan for a month,”to kick the tires of my Dari [a Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan] and explore the country. . . . I couldn’t pass for a native, but I could usually pass for a member of a nearby ethnic group. A lot of people thought in Afghanistan that I was a Nuristani because of my light skin and funny Dari accent.” In addition to Dari, Guittard speaks Standard Persian, Tajik, French, Italian, and Arabic (both Lebanese and Modern Standard).
Guittard, who is majoring in political science and Islamic civilizations and societies, returned to Afghanistan in summer 2010, with funding assistance from the Islamic civilizations and societies program. He toured the country interviewing local, provincial, and national leaders as well as tribal elders in preparation for writing his thesis on the governance structures of Afghan tribes. Upon graduation he will enter the U.S. Army Reserve and seek a career in the diplomatic corps.
BCM presents a selection of Guittard’s photographs taken on his Central Asian journeys. Several of them appeared first in Al-Noor, Boston College’s undergraduate research journal for Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.