My first week in Tajikistan
I have to be honest, I was slightly terrified to become a Kiva Fellow, to travel halfway across the world to a place I had to look up on a map. Don’t get me wrong, I signed up for all the right reasons: I really believe in the way that Kiva operates, I wanted to delve deeper into the world of microfinance, and I thought that a three month sabbatical might help me gain some perspective.
But I also had a lot of little voices building up in the back of my head that didn’t think this was such a good idea. I felt uncertain: I don’t speak Russian or Tajiki, I’m not too familiar with this part of the world and, the last time I checked, the winters can be pretty harsh in Central Asia (I live in Seattle – the heaviest coat I own is a fleece). I felt selfish: I have a lot of responsibilities, including a mortgage, that don’t go away just because I do. And, I felt scared: I’m really happy with my life and where it’s headed, so why would I want to leave it behind?
So it is still amazing to me that I am here…. in Tajikistan.
And I’m happy to report that after a week on the ground I am glad that I followed my heart and not my fears, because I’ve already had some pretty beautiful experiences. The kind of experiences that tend to happen when you’re in a new environment and more aware of what’s taking place around you. And, the kind of experiences that make it worth traveling half way across the world to a place you have to look up on a map, no matter how scared you might be.
My Tajik Suitor
I have found that sitting in a main plaza is one of the best ways to pass time in a new city. You get a birds eye view of the culture and might even run into a future friend. But this past Saturday I was there mostly to enjoy the sun. It was a gorgeous 70 degree day and the plaza was bustling with strolling young couples, children playing with soccer balls, and old men telling stories to each other.
I was writing in my journal when an older gentleman sat down on the bench next to me and immediately started talking, undeterred by my inability to participate in the conversation. When I tried to explain that I am American and don’t speak Russian or Tajiki, he became even more excited. In an almost theatrical performance of full body gesticulations, he began relating an apparently epic story about the United States. Seriously, this story had everything: airplanes, people dancing, and quite possibly a love interest, it’s hard to say.
He kept asking questions and I kept apologizing for my language shortcomings. Eventually he realized that we would never be able to communicate with words, so he reached into his bag and pulled out a bundle of roses. He slipped the flowers into the front straps of my backpack, smiled, and walked off.
My Tajik Mother
For the first few days after I arrived my apartment didn’t have much water and by the weekend it had none. So when I came across an old woman resting on the platform outside of my room, I decided to jump right in and get to the bottom of the situation. I tried miming a faucet and then a shower, both to no avail. Frustrated, I ran back in to get my Russian dictionary, realizing too late that she had taken this as an invitation to come into my apartment. Oh well, I thought, run with it. She vigorously nodded in understanding as I showed her the dry faucets in my shower and sink. She too broke into pantomime, describing how they were working on the pipes and that the water would be back on tomorrow.
She then proceeded to walk through the rest of my apartment, approving of some things (like my mini fridge) and questioning others (like my tv). Her last stop was my eating nook, where I had collected all of my market finds: rice, garlic, fruit, tea, and nuts. She started fiddling with all of the bags, which took me by surprise. My first thought was that I had offended her by not offering her anything to eat. But I quickly realized that she wasn’t helping herself to my food, she was simply arranging it in a way that would best preserve them. She wrapped the nuts up tightly, opened the bag of dried apricots so that they could air out, and put the bread in a bag. We introduced ourselves a little more and then “Tuitja” smiled, patted me on the arm, and headed home.
My Tajik Friend
On Saturday night I discovered that women don’t really hit the town after dark. After 20 uncomfortable minutes walking around by myself, feeling like a woman of ‘loose morals’, I turned back and went home. Which is why, when Sunday night rolled around, I was happy to settle in early to read and knit.
The sounds of horns and drums from outside my window quickly distracted these efforts. I tried to ignore them but it wasn’t long before they were joined by loud chants and I was forced to investigate. I threw on a coat and practically ran downstairs where, to my surprise, I ran right into a wedding procession in the courtyard.
As I stood watching the group of revelers loudly escorting the new couple to their home, a young girl approached me and asked me in clear English if I would like to go closer. I explained that I didn’t know anybody and would prefer to stay back but she grabbed my hand anyway and took me to a small patio where we could watch the men sing and dance around the fire. When the party started to die down she took my hand again and introduced me to her best friend and five younger sisters.
It wasn’t much. The whole event didn’t last more than a half hour. But she was so kind and reassuring, that I immediately felt more confident in my prospects for fitting in here.
I’m sorry for the lack of pictures. I mistakenly brought the wrong camera cord but hope to have some pictures on the blog by next week. Thanks for your support.
Carrie Ferrence, working with IMON in Khujand, Tajikistan