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In Uzbekistan, Lola Akinmade Åkerström follows the threads of a family history that has helped keep watch over the Nuratau region’s abundant nature for over three generations.

Our minivan hits a ditch and jolts me violently from my sleep. I wake up to see a sheer drop into the Sangzar River out of the window to my left, and instinctively slide away from the edge.  

This means we’re nearing our destination—the remote village of Hayat deep within Uzbekistan’s Nuratau mountain range. The word ‘Hayat’ means ‘life’ in Arabic and I am clinging on for dear life as we navigate the last treacherous stretch of narrow mountain road before arriving into the quiet village, 2,169 meters above sea level. In less than two hours, the landscape has transitioned before my eyes from the arid Kyzylkum Desert to the flat plains of the Barren Steppe, and now into mountains.

Several burly Russian shepherd dogs—known as Central Asian Ovtcharka—bark our arrival and Narzullo meets us. He’s wearing earth-toned fatigues and, from a distance, could easily blend into the surrounding mountains. Born and raised in Hayat, he works as a mountain ranger and runs a three-room guesthouse in this village of roughly 650 residents, a few kilometers from the borders of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.