‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’ what a true saying this is! From stepping off the plane I have been pushed out of anything familiar. The people, the smells, the clothes, the transport, the roads, the mentality, the way of working, the food, the accommodation, the traditions; everything is different and like nothing I have experienced before. Yet I have been filled with joy and excitement; I think outside my comfort zone is where I am at my best!
Tajikistan, where to begin! This weird and wonderful country has intrigued me from the beginning! I arrived in the Capital city, Dushanbe on Monday afternoon, after an exhausting 30 hour journey. My first impressions where a bit confusing! The huge statues and grand government buildings would lead you to believe this was a wealthy city, however on closer look it could be said this is a false pretense for the outsider’s eye. As my first week progressed I got to learn more about the history and politics of this country; I thought the North of Ireland had a complicated past but it’s a walk in the park compared to this place! The Post Soviet influence is evident, throughout the city and amongst the people. Many external influences seem to play a part in the running of this country. Russia has a huge overall influence and is still strong allies, America are investing a lot of resources to built positive relations with the government and the people, the French are building a new airport in exchange for free usage and China are building roads between their bounder, what appears to be for easy access, all while the President is busy building the tallest flagpole in the world! The government has a huge influence over the people; I feel I can’t say too much as it is known that people who have been suspected of talking about the government get a tap on the shoulder and brought into a dark room (I really hope that doesn’t happen to me!) Therefore there is a certain element of suspicion amongst the people. The country experienced a brutal civil war in 1993; many people, like back home, don’t want to rock the boat in any shape or form as they don’t want to return to the past. Also with the current state of their neighboring country Afghanistan, people here seem thankful there is peace in their country even if there isn’t much freedom of speech and mass corruption, two things that conflict massively with my own value base! There seems to be no resist movement, though I am still looking!
I had a great week getting to know the city and training with my new colleagues. I have tasted some traditional dishes, strange but good (I think!) During the week I went for dinner with a group of other Internationals each working on amazing projects in Tajikistan. It was surreal to be sitting at a table with 10 people from 8 different nationalities in Tajikistan, amazing! On Saturday I got a 35 minute flight (over the most amazing snow capped mountains) from Dushanbe to Khujand which will be home for the next 4 month. I spent my first day exploring the small city, visiting more oversized statues, walking along the beautiful river with a backdrop of massive mountains and had my first experience of a bazaar (crazy market where anything is on offer, literally anything!) The people in Khujand are very friendly, they don’t seem to have many internationals so the response is funny; I’ve already had my picture taken with strangers in the street and the ladies who work in the local shop (lucky I’m not camera shy!)
I’m feeling good about this country and am really looking forward to the project starting. This week I will be visiting host homes where the UK and Afghan volunteers will stay, interview local volunteers for the programme and meeting the Afghan volunteers who arrive from Afghanistan on Thursday. I have no doubt I have many challenges ahead of me. It is difficult to build relationships with the local people when their English is limited and my Tajik is no existent (I am trying)! Also the hush hush mentality will take some getting used to! Encouraging people to make their voices heard in society is a massive part of who I am as a person and as a Youth Work. However in this complex country it is not always safe for people to raise their voice. The programme begins next Tuesday; I have another week to practice filtering my thoughts and being careful with my words!
I feel ignorant that 7 months ago I didn’t even know this fascinating country existed, and most people I’ve talked to didn’t either, yet 8 million of our human race live here. The country is rich in culture, natural beauty and complex politics, what more could anyone want! I look forward to learning more……..