5 days later, I have decided that anything that I cannot comprehend shall be termed “Tajik style”. I explained this to some co-workers and they had a good laugh about it (with reference to Gangnam style, which of course was familiar across Tajikistan as well).
Here are some examples of “Tajik style”:
1. Prices – when I arrived at the Dushanbe airport at 3am, my new friend Adiba I met on the plane helped negotiate a price in Tajik with my taxi driver. “30 somoni!, you’re good”. I got into the car and when he dropped me off at my destination, he demanded 40 somoni. It was 4am, on a dark and quiet street. I lost the battle of the 10 somoni and figured, just great, Tajik style.
2. Traffic – private mini buses ply the streets of Dushanbe. You identify the routes by the number, put your hand out, and get on. Sounds pretty simple, but imagine hordes of people trying to get on and off the multiple minivans at the same location at the same time, you basically get traffic madness, Tajik style. On Tuesday, I witnessed a car driving against traffic (to avoid a jam going in his direction). Tajik style.
3. Documentation – visitors arriving in Tajikistan are required to register with the OVIR office upon arrival, where of course, the government siphons a little bit more of your dollars. When my local contact Nauvus tried to help register my passport, there was a tremendously long line. What do you do? Call someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone sitting behind that counter, ask for a favor, and 3 “Tajik style” minutes later, my registration is complete!
4. Just strange – I was riding shotgun in my minivan ride today to the market, when suddenly I hear knocking on the door while we were at a red light. The driver in the taxi pulled up next to us and muttered a few sentences of Tajik. My driver proceeded to pass me a 20 somoni note, which I handed over through the window to the cab driver and got two 10 somoni notes from him in return. Ok no big deal – money exchange at the red light, Tajik style.
5. Silicon valley, Dushanbe. Tajik Style.
The truth is that nothing is really very well-defined in this country, every next 5 minutes can be a complete surprise. When they asked for Kiva Fellows to be comfortable with ambiguity and change, they really meant it!
In this part of the world, corruption plagues many parts of the society, especially when there is government involved. Ever since the civil war ended in the late 90s, the people of Tajikistan have been very hopeful and optimistic of the prospect of peace, but corruption continues to haunt them everywhere. Nauvus commented “You know in Tajikistan, money can do anything. You can kill someone, pay the police, and get away with it!”. In Tajikistan, they say fear no one, except the police. Today, someone explained to me that a very successful businessman was jailed for 26 years after building the two fanciest towers in Dushanbe; the government simply found some way to get the police to find some fault with his company. Moral of the story? DO NOT BE TOO SUCCESSFUL in Tajikistan. It is hard to believe that in the poorest country in Central Asia, with a GDP per capita of ~$2000, you find fancy Porsches and Audis speeding down Rudaki Avenue, the main street on Dushanbe. “Family and friends of the President”, my friend remarked.
However, drawing back the curtains of corruption, you will find one of the most kind and hospitable people in the world in Tajikistan. On Thursday I met one of the Kiva borrowers who was taking out a loan to purchase new sewing equipment, and within 5 minutes I had been invited to her son’s birthday party (we thankfully declined as we had to get back to the office). This past week, everyone on the team I work with took turns to buy me lunch as I am the guest. Tajiks treat the concept of a “guest” in this country very seriously, and anything they can do to extend hospitality to a guest is of utmost importance. One would also observe a strong sense of community, camaraderie, and politeness in everyday Tajik interactions. In homes, markets, and even in the office, every morning people exchange handshakes and greetings of “As-salaam alaikum” (peace to you). There is a lot more to write about the people here, but I will probably leave that to the next post.