Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Tajiks could do a lot worse

I've only been in Dushanbe for 3 days but I already feel very comfortable in here.  The Tajik people seem very kind and from what I see...orderly.  There is hardly any traffic on the road, mainly because people can't afford cars.  There are only about 850,000 people who live in this city and only a little over 7 million people in the whole country.   It's hard to imagine a city with so many people and the traffic is so sparse.  There are some electric buses that run on clean energy, but when the electricity goes out, as I'm told it often does, then the buses stop running.  So, needless to say they aren't relying on this completely for transportation.  There are also a few buses running throughout the day and there are lots of mini buses and private cars that stick taxi signs on top of their cars.  There is no registered taxi service.  The Tajik people even STOP for pedestrians!  Oh my goodness I wanted to hug all the necks of the people who stopped for me crossing the road.  Today I crossed a road at a cross walk and the street was every wide.  I didn't see a light with walk or not walk but I was walking on the zebra stripe on the road.  I looked both ways and one way there was a lot of traffic coming.  There were 3 lanes of cars that stopped so that I could cross the street.  They didn't stop because I'm a foreigner, there were Tajiks crossing also.  They just stop for pedestrians, no matter where they are.  What a relief!  I've NEVER lived in a country where that happens.  Even in the U.S. people don't always give pedestrians the right of way.  In other countries I've been in it's like taking your life into your own hands to cross the street.  In the last Muslim country I was in, the capital city had about 15 million people and something like 2 traffic lights in the whole city!  I remember I loved crossing the street because it was a challenge.  It's also a capital city that is listed as the second most dangerous country to drive in (and be a pedestrian in) after Singapore.  

The Muslim country I was in last was quite scary and it wasn't a place for a single western woman to be.   The verbal (and sometimes physical) harrassement in the street was constant and it was exhausting every time I went outside.  I was always on guard.  It it quite a contrast from the Tajik people here.  Men and women look, but there is no hissing or words being thrown at me.  I am not letting my guard down and definitely keeping an eye on my surroundings but not having to face the verbal harrassment makes this place much more comfortable and tolerable.  Another difference from the last Muslim country I was in is that men and women walk down the street here and hold hands.  It was so nice to see a woman dressed like we would in the U.S. with a Tajik man, walking down the street holding hands.  I would NEVER see that in the last Muslim country I was in.  In fact, in that country the men and women never walked together at all.  It was sad.  Here, the Tajiks type of Islam is much more secular.  They are much more open.

I was told today that the economic crisis has hit Tajikistan quite hard.  Something like 80% of the population of Dushanbe left during the civil war and stayed outside after war.  Others left after the civil war to find better jobs.  As it turns out, the countries where these Tajiks have gone, such as Russia and Kazakhstan, are facing their own economic challenges.  As the Russians and Kazakhs are looking for jobs and taking jobs that wouldn't have taken before, the Tajiks are being forced out and returning home.  These are often young men who are jobless, broke, and angry...and it's hot here.  It's a bad combination and apparently as time goes there are more of these young men returning home.  Apparently the president of Tajikistan wants to set out up a decree stating that he wants the Tajiks to have a year's supply of food (it could be more, but I can't remember exactly right now).  Most of the Tajiks don't even know where they will be getting dinner tonight from.  I don't even know if "I" could afford a year's supply of food if I was back in the U.S.    

The part of Dushanbe that I've seen is a quiet place.  Walking around and observing people in this city the Tajiks don't seem like violent people. I haven't heard people speaking loudly to get attention or shouting at each other or fighting in the street.  Although I've only been here a few days so I probably should give it some time.  My overall feeling though is that they aren't trouble makers.  They seem to be people who want to live a comfortable life.  It could be because the people I see are young men and women and I'm sure they've had enough of war and death.

"This is not an official U.S. Department of State website.  The thoughts and views in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of the English Language Fellow program or the U.S. Department of State.

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