Some things that have happened over the past month
- I went to another Tajik wedding – this one was a lot more positive! The couple were older, it was a ‘love marriage’ and we were forced to dance all night at one stage in front of the top table like we were the entertainment! (A load of internationals badly attempting Tajik dancing is bound to make anyone’s big day!)
- I got my future hold through a coffee cup reading. Apparently I am going to get married soon; something I’ve heard quite a lot these last few months, there’s not many unmarried 28 year old females in Tajikistan!
- I discovered the fabric section of the bazaar which created a new addiction, I was buying material quicker than the poor dress maker could keep up with! Beware people my wardrobe has got even more colourful!
- The local karaoke bar has a list of song choices which they said were songs in English but they didn’t know what the songs were so, up for a challenge, we randomly picked one. Standing with the mic’s in hand ready to sing whatever mysterious song came on thinking, ‘how bad could it be?’ Mary’s Boy Child Jesus Christ, that’s how bad it could be! In a packed karaoke bar in a strict Muslim country there we were singing about the lord Jesus Christ being the savour. I’m still waiting on a visit from the KGB!
Endings are a funny thing aren’t they!? Sometimes they’re expected, sometimes they’re wanted and sometimes they need to happen. Of course I have known that my time in Tajikistan would be coming to an end but honestly the last 2 months have went in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden I’m packing to go home!
The programme I am here to work on ended a week and a half ago with the UK and Afghan volunteers retuning home. The ending of this programme was very emotional for the volunteers, and for us as staff members too. The many goodbye events that the teams had towards the end of the programme reminded me just how amazing the ICS programme is. The volunteers made such strong bounds with each other, the internationals with their host homes and the wider community of the small city of Khujand. The structure of this programme, along with these relationships has made for a very unique experience. It has also reminded me where my passion lays. Seeing young adults pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, taking on new challenges, building relationships with people they would never have come across in their own lives, all while making a positive impact in the developing world; ticks a lot of boxes for me! I feel very proud to have been part of such a life changing programme.
The ending has brought mixed emotions for me too. I know the excitement of going home will always be there, I have lots of amazing people to go home to and exciting plans ahead. However I will definitely be sad to leave Tajikistan – the random country which has become home for the past 4 months! It really is amazing how quick you get used to somewhere and how comfortable you can feel in a country which about 9 months ago I’d never heard of! I definitely think a lot of this is down to the amazing local people; their friendliness, hospitality and genuine happiness that we are in their country makes me feel very privileged to be here. I have learnt so much about the Tajik traditions, social norms, faith & religion, history, politics…..the list goes on. To reflect back to when I knew none of this makes me very appreciative of this experience. In learning about this culture, which is very different to my own I have learnt so much about myself; what is important to me, my own values and beliefs and also my own culture. It has made me think about all the other countries in the world (all 202 of them!) I’m sure many undiscovered countries are rich in culture and have valuable experiences to offer; so much still to explore, sorry mummy I don’t think my travelling days are over any time soon! I will also miss some very special people; strangers who have now become friends. My housemate/counsellor/chef/translator/friend Sarah is one of them. This remarkable lady has provided me with many laughs, kept me right and has been a much needed sound board many times! Having been through such a unique experience together brings a unique friendship and one I’m sure will continue wherever we are in the world!
Shortly after the volunteers left it was time for me and Sarah to leave our lovely little flat in Khujand which also included saying goodbye to our counterparts, NIgora and Ganjina. These two very different but equally as amazing Tajik women have taught me so much about what it is like to be a female in Tajikistan. I can’t express how much admiration I have for my counterpart Nigora; a mother, a Tajik wife, a career woman, a traveller, and a great friend who I will never forget. Then there’s the lovely Ganjina an unmarried young Tajik woman, with a passion to live her life as she wants free from socialites pressures; of which there are many! These two women have given me a great insight into life in a country where it is quite challenging to be a woman, but have shown it is not impossible to live the life you want. A Maya Angelou quote comes to mind “If you don’t like something change it, if you can’t change your circumstances change your attitude.”
So after a few tears me and Sarah left Khujand and set off on a very exciting adventure! We took a hiking/road trip through the famous (in Tajikistan terms) 7 lakes then onto beautiful Iskanderkul Lake and finally Dushanbe where I will fly home from. After this amazing 4 day trip I can confirm it is true that 93% of Tajikistan is mountainous! I have never seen landscape like it, breath taking snow-capped mountains, beautiful lakes, and pockets of villages with mud houses built into the side of the mountain; it was incredible! We stayed in homestays in the middle of the mountains and got a small insight into what life is like in remote Tajikistan. This experience showed me another side of Tajikistan that I had not yet been exposed to. Poverty was much more obvious and it seemed life would be very tough in these little settlements. Being so remote from any amenities, donkeys being the only source of transport, women and children carrying buckets of water up and down mountains; it was very different to the ‘city life’ we had been living in Khujand. But once again the people were extremely welcoming, generous and were keen to show us the natural beauty that was on their doorstep, quite literally! In true Tajik style the theme of this trip was definitely randomness! Through the 7 hour drives around cliff edge roads full of pot holes (my Nanna would have a heart attack if she knew!), the 8 hour hike, car queues waiting for the 1 hour a day that the Chinese road workers take lunch and the road is open, KGB check points and the 5 mile drive through the ‘Death Tunnel’ I realised one things, I am very lucky to be here. This country is mind blowing, on so many levels and really just by chance I’ve ended up here! Had I got applied for the job and been placed in Tajikistan I’d still be unaware this country ever existed yet the last four months have given me the experience of a lifetime.
I’ve enjoyed every minute of this experience, even the random/challenging/frustrating moments have created many learnings and also a lot of laughs! One person that has never been far from my mind is my dear friend Danielle who sadly passed away 9months ago. Dani’s passing has made me even more grateful for every experience I have in life, she encouraged and inspired me when she was here and now that she’s gone she still has the same affect. When I e-mailed her telling her I got this job she said “Hen, you could write a book on all the places you’ve been you’ve some stories to tell (leave out any incriminating ones of me though!)” I know this blog isn’t a book (though it probably could be the amount I’ve rambled on!) But it’s thanks to Dani’s advice that I wrote these blog so here’s to you Dani, I hope I’ve done you proud xx
By the way I do still have a lot of incriminating stories involving Dani which I may have to let out of the bag someday!
So thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and I hope I have done my part to broaden people’s awareness of this fascinating country; do visit someday it’s definitely worth the trip. And if any of you do end up going let me know I have many top tips; choosing your karaoke song wisely is up there!