In grad school, two of my closest friends were students from Tajikistan—specifically, from Khojand, a city in the north, near the Fergana Valley. Because of this, it is one of the countries in Central Asia that I have been most excited to visit.
Before arriving, I knew of Tajikistan’s Soviet past, the civil war in post soviet times (early 90s) which claimed around 50,000 lives, of the mountainous terrain (96% of the country is mountains), and I knew of the poverty. I also knew that it was the home of two friends; I knew of the beauty that the people possessed and I had learned about some of the culture and arts.
Flying in, I was amazed by the sea of mountains. I was lucky that the air was clear, with few clouds, and every time I looked out the window, I saw mountains. As we descended into Dushanbe, I could see cultivated land and little houses. Each house had a garden with fruit trees, vegetables, and, I can only assume, animals. In many ways, it looked like Moldova. A place where despite profession and work, families at home cultivated their own crops and made their own foods. I can’t comment on how widespread this practices is in the capitol here—in Moldova it was omnipresent for the lower and middle class (aka the majority of households).
Dushanbe itself, feels more like a lazy town then a bustling capitol. It has not seen the explosion of construction that Almaty underwent. Many of the buildings seem soviet in nature; although all the government buildings had a new coat of paint and some flowers out front. The massive Presidential Palace (for another blog) is the exception. The city has no high-rises and the “downtown” is easily traversed by foot in 30 minutes (less if you don’t stop to window shop). Still, the downtown does not fully betray the poverty that many Tajiks live in. While not covered in splendor, Dushanbe is no dirty or downtrodden.
Overall, and despite a weak stomach, I look forward to returning.
From: Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic and US (me)