Lost a little momentum on the blog but we’re going to push on.
After my trip to the hospital I met a local who handles some of the programs at American Corners – a cultural center located in Dushanbe dedicated to bringing American culture to Dushanbe.
We chatted a little bit about Dushanbe, American Corners, and what its like to live in Dushanbe. I was taken with how frustrating it can be to live in a “re developing nation” – a term I heard used a few times in Tajikistan. Tajikistan was industrialized by the Soviets during their 60 year rule. When the Soviets left a lot the industry left with them and an economic vacuum opened in their wake. The country’s 5 year civil war only compounded the issue and as a result a lot of intelligent and educated people remained in a country with little industry to sustain them.
My friend “Bob” studied Russian literature in Khujund and eventually made his way to Moscow but was eventually forced out of the country by a capricious and arbitrary visa issue. Bob was really friendly and clearly highly educated. If he lived in a developed nation he would undoubtedly be doing very well for himself. In Tajikistan he does the best he can in a difficult situation.
I have a small technical issues in the video. I’m still adjusting to my 5D/H4 setup and inadvertently misplaced some synced files. As a result I’m forced to use the camera mic for a portion of the interview.
BobNazibaev Int from dcdocumentary on Vimeo.
Everything in Tajikistan is very slow.
I arrive in Dushanbe at 3:20 am Monday morning. A missed connection, an overnight stay in Frankfurt, and a whole lot of jet lag leaves me pretty groggy.
I shuffle into border control and spend the next 20 minutes trying to get processed. The visa office is a long rectangular room lined with chairs, no discernible line or instructions, and two very indifferent low level paper pushers. It all feels very Soviet. Nobody seems to know what to do and everyone gets pretty irritated.
Thankfully the Embassy has arranged for an “Expediter” to meet me. In essence an Expediter is a local who knows his way around the customs office and guides you through the process. And by “guide you through the process” I mean he helps you cut the line. I get a few dirty looks but at am eager to get out of there. If you ever get to Tajikistan, hire an expediter – it’ll cost you 20 bucks and its worth every penny.
Damian meets me outside the Customs building and takes me to a hotel to relax for a few hours before we begin our day. Damian is the Information Officer at the US Embassy and is the reason I’m in Tajikistan. The American Documentary Showcase sends out a cable to American embassies across the world and its people like Damien who select which films go to respective countries. I sat down with Damien to talk about cultural exchanges, the Showcase, and what he hopes to accomplish. (He speaks directly about the Documentary Showcase at 5:42)
US Cultural Exchange in Tajikistan from dcdocumentary on Vimeo.
Judy Irola has already flown to Khujund and will handle the first day of events on her own. For my part, I head to the hotel to get cleaned up.
I wake up after a few hours of sleep and begin to explore my surroundings. In the early morning light, the hotel grounds are stunning. Dushanbe has an extensive irrigation system so there’s a lot of greenery in the nicer parts of town. Mixed in amongst the landscape is a particular style of Soviet architecture – some in use, some decaying after years of none use. As I stumble around I come across a decaying Teahouse with a beautiful ornate ceiling. Its a shame the building has fallen into disrepair but I’ve been told it will be restored.
Here’s a quick video.
Morning In Dushanbe from dcdocumentary on Vimeo.
To prepare for my trip I’ve done some basic research on Tajikistan. What follows is my limited understanding of the country. Please forgive any gross errors and mischaracterizations.
In 1929 Tajikistan became an independent region within the USSR. The Central Asia States where valued for their resources which were needed to feed the Soviet Empire’s need for raw material and manpower. During the dissolution of the USSR from 1990 -1991 Tajikistan declared itself independent and the following year the country fell into a brutal 5-year civil war.
President Imomali Rahmon is credited with bringing peace to the region and has enjoyed moderate support ever since. His support remains strongest with the older generation who remembers the war but there appears to be growing dissent among the younger generation who are frustrated by a lack of economic possibilities. A large share of the population is reliant on remittances from undocumented workers who find seasonal work in Russia. My friend pointed me towards the following video which explores the remittance issues. (Thanks Susie!)
Other sources of revenue include cotton, aluminum, and a hydro power.The hydropower is largely financed by foreign investment which has proven to be unreliable and as a result growth has been limited.
In short it is not a particularly rosy picture: Tajikistan is the poorest country in central Asia, has limited national resources, an employment problem and sticky political situation.