Finding a new station in life

2020-03-03 China Daily Editor:Mo Hong'e

Erkhya Dolkhay talks with passengers on the train from Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, to Xi'an, Shaanxi province. (Photo/China Daily)

Around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Erkhya Dolkhay got out of bed and put on her attendant's uniform before she rushed to the station to prepare for the journey ahead.

At 6:20 pm sharp, the train, carrying over 1,000 passengers, left Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. About 44 hours later and 3,800 kilometers away, the train arrived in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province.

Erkhya, the country's first Tajik train attendant who has worked in the job for only eight months, has always been excited by the prospect of seeing the world beyond her humble mountain home.

"I come from the mountains and I'm the first person in my hometown to have the opportunity to work on a train," the 23-year-old said. "It totally changed my life and has inspired the girls in my village a lot."

Generations of nomads have lived on Pamir plateau that isolates Tajiks from the rest of the country. Many of them share Erkhya's childhood dream to see the outside world.

In 2001, girls in the isolated area were expected to get a job to earn extra income for the family, but instead Erkhya stayed in school. Her parents had fought desperately to educate her and her younger sister and brother in the face of enormous adversity.

"My father told me that going to school was the only way to make contact with the outside world if I ever wanted to leave the village," she said.

Erkhya attended a primary school in the neighboring village, but a wide river blocked her way. She made a 50-km round trip on horseback every day to attend school.

But today, life is easier for students traveling to school. Thanks to the country's efforts to end poverty alleviation in Xinjiang, Erkhya's hometown got rid of its narrow, unpaved dirt roads years later.

All aboard

In 2013, she traveled 350 km by bus to attend high school in Kashgar, where she saw trains and railway tracks for the first time. The romance of travel to faraway places and the possibilities of a world beyond her small village struck her immediately. Erkhya usually only returned home on weekends and holidays.

"It was a horse that took me to primary school and a bus that brought me to the middle school and high school. The train would take me to wherever I wanted to go," she said, adding that she first considered working on the railway at that time.

After graduating from Xinjiang Industry Technical College in Urumqi last year, Erkhya worried about finding a good job. However, she was told by her teacher that the railway corporation was hiring graduates from southern Xinjiang, which rekindled her childhood dream.

Knowing nothing about the job, Erkhya spared no effort in preparing for the test and interview. She collected information about the job requirements and visited an experienced train attendant to ask for advice.

At the interview location, Erkhya met over 30 other applicants. She did not have high hopes of standing out from the crowd. But to her surprise, an acceptance letter arrived the next day.

"I did not think I would get in. It's actually my first job application." she said, "It felt so great to realize a dream I have craved for so long."

Like Erkhya, more than 1,000 students from southern Xinjiang were recruited by the railway corporation.

After she told her family the good news, they were even more thrilled than her. Her parents invited over 50 friends and relatives and made them local food including mutton soup and Uzbek Plov, a dish with slices of mutton, rice, carrots and spice.

"We enjoyed a great feast. We sang and danced. It felt like celebrating Navruz, one of the most treasured holidays of our Tajik people," she said.

Capable of speaking Tajik, Uighur and Mandarin, she also serves as a translator on the train to assist passengers.

"It's not an easy thing for people living in the mountains to leave. I'm the lucky one. I will try my best to make my fellow villagers feel at ease on the train," she said.

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