Plans to Purchase a Donkey

To answer a question posted in the comments section:  
How are my plans to purchase a donkey coming?

The answer is: EXCELLENT!

More specifically, I have found a donkey that I intend to purchase for 150 Somoni or roughly $33, I have shaken hands with the donkey's current owner to communicate the deal is as good as done. The Donkey is located 5 km from Shaartuz. I plan to ride the donkey back to Shaartuz once it is purchased! I am anticipating the day I purchase a mini-donkey that I can ride to be one of the best days of my life.

If anyone has any good ideas for the pet Donkey's name, I would love to hear them.

After riding the donkey around town for a few weeks, I plan to re-sell the donkey at the animal market which happens on Sundays.

My father had a saying he liked to use as a personal description: "If I were poor they'd call me crazy, but since I have a little money they call me eccentric."

I can assure you that there will be no linguistic differentiation between crazy and eccentric for a foreigner riding a donkey... CRAZY is the only option.

мумкин ман девона аст!



Being greeted in the Tajik language is an experience. Every morning I go through the ritual of greeting and being greeted. The Tajik greeting rolls off the tongue like a rhyming riddle, the translation is not as smooth, but it looks like this:

Coworker: “How are you? Good, Great, Fantastic? How is your family? Good, Great, Fantastic? How is your health? Good, Great, Fantastic?”

Me: “Thank you. Good, Great, Fantastic! How are you, your family, and your health? Good, Great, Fantastic?”

Coworker: “I have the greep, but otherwise I’m Good, Great, Fantastic!”

The Greep is an all inclusive way to characterize winter illness, similar to how we use “having a cold” in English. What is distinctly different is the way a person gets the greep vs. how a person gets a cold. The Greep’s most common causes are drinking something cold in winter or being exposed to a cold wind. This is a matter of fact; we’re not talking about an old wives tale.

How do you treat the greep? You go to the doctor who diagnosis you based on medical intuition, there are no strep tests here. Once diagnosed you are told what to go the pharmacist and buy, no prescriptions are needed to purchase medicine at the pharmacy. Once you get the medicine maybe you ask your friend or family what the medicine is. I have been consulted with regularity to review what my co-workers are taking.

I’ve found that people are frequently taking general anti-viral and anti-bacterial medicines at the same time. Ah-ha, I see the brilliance, just in case medical intuition fails, treat for everything, and the patient will get better in 7-10 days. If a patient doesn’t lose the greep in the anticipated time frame, this is when things get interesting. Medicines then get main lined through an IV system.

If this is how the common cold is diagnosed and treated, just imagine something like cancer. Well, you have to have a certain level of health care to be able to diagnose cancer, so for the time being Tajikistan is virtually cancer free. Tajik people are SUPER TOUGH.

This brings me to dental work. When a person’s teeth start to disintegrate they are encased in gold. The nutrient poor diet in some regions matched with teeth brushing being a new trend there are lots of golden smiles.

My co-worker was having problems with his teeth hurting after a bout with the greep.  So, for a week he received treatment at the dentist office. Out of curiosity I went with him one morning. He sat down in the chair, no anesthetic was applied, and a large needle was thrust in to his gums on either side of his mouth. Without complaint this man proceeded to lead youth meetings all week. Where is the Wheaties box for this man’s face to be displayed on?



The Hard Work Begins

Hakim, Mercy Corps' local youth coordinator, and I have become like peanut butter and jelly. His patience has appeared to be unending, and I am eternally grateful. He has slowly worked with me to expand my Tajik vocabulary. But ultimately, impasses were reached, and charades was our favored option. I am still in awe that he was able to act out river bank erosion.

I supported Hakim in facilitating youth meetings in all 20 of TSEP's villages in the Shaartuz region (TSEP stands for the Tajikistan Sustainability Enhancement Program). These meetings were held to engage youth and listen to their ideas and interests about how TSEP can support their communities. Word got around about the youth meetings, and in one of the last villages we went to, 92 youth attended. 50% of the participants were filmed, below, working in small groups.
Now that the initial youth meetings are complete, the hard work begins. We have to figure out how to bring life into some of the ideas generated in the meetings.

I have learned that in development work proposals are often written by people who will not be implementing the project and proposals determine the scope of work before it begins. For this reason,there can be incongruity. Hakim and I have been working with our supervisors to determine how to best implement youth training and projects in the area of crisis and disaster management.

Since disaster in the Shaartuz region is slow moving, it has proven hard to define. The biggest crises are related to climate and the hardships of living in an environmentally inhospitable place. With this in mind we drafted a scope of work for the training local youth leaders will receive. "The training should address risk reduction, which includes how to develop and implement community surveys, methods to identify vulnerable households, and developing specific action plans on risk reduction issues. To provide youth with the skills needed to design a project proposal and to develop the project implementation plan." 

Hopefully we will be able to recruit and hire a skilled trainer that will be able to educate and inspire youth into action. From our meetings it is clear that youth are eager to contribute in a meaningful way. As my personal experience has expanded from Baltimore's East Side, Missoula, and now Tajikistan, I am beginning to believe believe this is a universal point.
Photo of Chkalov Youth at local meeting (same village in video above).  

Hakim and local youth working out the specifics of an idea.

A local leader speaks to youth about the importance of their ideas.


I have unintentionally set things on fire in the kitchen before. In my house, and in other peoples, I have caused the fire alarm to go off because of my cooking. But I had never deliberately created a bonfire in the kitchen before until yesterday. Please view the video footage below to see that this description is not an exaggeration. 

Bread. I would estimate that my bread consumption has quadrupled since coming to Tajikistan. Naan, Tajik bread, is more like a disk than a loaf. Naan is a mainstay that is included in every meal; it is cooked in a tanoor oven. To prepare the tanoor oven for baking, the walls need to be heated, and a pile of coals need to be hot at the base. This is why the bonfire is necessary. Who knew preheating an oven could be so much fun!

The dough is usually prepared in the morning, so once the coals are ready, baking can begin. The bread is slapped against the wall of the oven where it will stay (hopefully) for approximately 30 minutes. When it is golden brown it is peeled from the side of the oven. No disks fell into the coals yesterday, it was a good baking day. 
Cooking bread is a two woman job. One woman prepares the bread and one woman slaps the bread against the side of the tanoor oven. The woman in the videos is Zohira, she is 29 years old, mother of two with her own bun in her personal oven. She is a master of this important Tajik art. She is the sister-in-law of my co-worker, Gulraftor. Together, these women bake bread twice a week for their family. 

 Zohira is from Dushanbe. She was married four years ago and moved from the capitol city to live with her husband's family in a village in Southern Tajikistan. Zohira is a woman of many talents, she is also the midwife for 4 villages. The productivity and good will she will generate in her life is immeasurable. I am happy to have her as a new friend.


Finding My Way on an Inconsistent Path

Shaartuz is a melting pot where Uzbeks are the majority, Tajiks have a presence, and Russians are most notable in their absence. It is common in the city for conversations, and singular sentences, to utilize all three languages. Most of the Tajik population was relocated here in the 1950’s from an overcrowded, mountainous region in the Rasht valley. History documents the move as a forced relocation; the collective memory of the people, as communicated to me, recalls it as a better choice for the future. “My Uncle came first, he sent word that there was land and a way to make a living here, the rest of the family followed.”

In the city of Shaartuz it’s hard to know who is Tajik and who is Uzbek, most people in the city are fluent in both languages. Many people have one parent that is Tajik and one parent that is Uzbek. But, in Tajikistan there is no grey area for ethnicity (there is no mixed race option), ethnicity is a paternal trait plain and simple. I am learning that Shaartuz is unique from the surrounding rural areas where the majority of villages are predominately, if not totally, populated by a singular ethnic group.

This week I was busy helping to facilitate youth meetings in some of the communities where Mercy Corps’ Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program is working. On Friday we had two youth meetings, one in the Tajik village of Tojikobod, and one in the Uzbek village of Hooshodi. These villages are 3 kilometers apart, but have drastically different cultures. Tojikobod’s Tajik inhabitants are originally from the mountainous Rasht region which is known for its religious conservativeness. This conservative tradition travelled with the population to the Shaartuz region in the 50s.

Initially there were 31 people in attendance at the youth meeting in Tojikobod, all of them were men. When the village leadership was asked if any women would be attending, two older women were collected to participate, initially they sat in the back of the classroom. I was surprised by this, because it was distinctly different from the 7 previous youth meetings we had facilitated in other TSEP villages.

As an American woman I can be self-righteous at times, especially when it comes to gender issues. I had to suppress my internal instincts, and instead of judging all the men at the meeting, I invested energy in thinking of how to work within the community as it is, I opened my mind and eyes and what I found surprised me. When the larger group was broken up into smaller groups, I found the two women at the meeting to be engaged and respected within their group. All of the groups identified issues specific to women that they wanted assistance with in their community: a sewing course and center for women, as well as, a gynecologist. I observed the village leadership to be the strongest among any of the communities I have visited. The village was supported by TSEP in installing two transformers instead of one, because the community contribution for the infrastructure project was 49% of the total cost.
Pictured above are two of Tojikobod's village leaders

Since the leadership is strong in Tojikobod, the strategy is clear, to engage young women, we will need the assistance of the village elders. When we asked if it would be possible to hold a second youth meeting only for women, both the male and female elders were supportive of the idea. We were assured that young women would attend, and be excited for the opportunity. I am also excited for the opportunity!

Our next meeting was 3 km away in the Uzbek village of Hooshodi. We arrived early, and were let in to the school where our meeting took place. I was extremely surprised when 23 young women walked in to the classroom, they were early too. Very few of the girls spoke a basic level of Tajik, some spoke a basic level of English. Our mutual curiosity led to an impromptu English/Uzbek language class before the meeting commenced. A complete gender reversal from the previous meeting led me to the conclusion that each youth group will be different in every village, even if they choose the same project template as a starting point
The youth meeting in Hooshodi

We have set the goal for TSEP youth groups to have a minimum representation of 30% for the minority sex, whether that is male or female. As I learn more, flexibility is clearly the most important characteristic for engaging communities and youth in the Shaartuz region. The second characteristic is continuing to study Tajik, and expanding my language studies to include basic Uzbek, because when I leave the “city” ethnic identity and language use is more distinct.


Outlook for 2011

After the New Years holiday weekend in Dushanbe, Mikey and I have separated on our own adventures. I have returned to Shaartuz where there is currently an ex-pat community of 1- me; Mikey has headed to the roof of the world where a pair of skis awaits him. When Mikey found out there was a pair of skis for him he had a look that reminded me of how happy he was on our wedding day. Unfortunately on our wedding day he didn’t jump up and down and say “Christmas comes more than once this year!” as he did when he heard about the skis. The skis can function as down hill and cross country skis, there utility is both practical and abstract, as it has bolstered Mikey’s 2011 outlook significantly. As for my 2011 outlook, things are looking good. In Shaartuz I am full-speed ahead with youth meetings.

Mikey and I will meet again on the 5th of February and we will be formally inducted in to the Dushanbe Hash Hound Harriers. This honor will be bestowed upon us after we set the trail for the afternoon run/walk. This tradition is hazing at its best. Following this event we will welcome Mikey’s sister Katie and her main man Myles to TJ on the 6th. We’ve got a lot of things we’re looking forward to in the near future!