Sunday, November 18, 2012

CHAPTER 3: The Half-Way Update

I've been in Tajikistan for exactly 4 months and 2 weeks! Over this time, I've attempted to capture Tajikistan’s texture by taking tons of pictures. My working album is sitting at over 300 pictures, give it a quick look here: Tajikistan 2012/2013 – Up and Around Dushan-baby

My day to day in Dushanbe
Working hours are 8:30am to 5:30pm. Generally people at the office arrive in the morning right on time and more importantly leave right on time. The bank’s head office is conveniently a 15 minute walk/2 minute bus ride from my apartment (a cost of 15 cents).
Although I've attempted to have as many adventures as possible, the majority of my time these past 4 months has in fact been spent in the office. So first of What do I do? I'm what the private sector calls an Analyst. I work with the Head of Business Development on Branch and Product management. On a day to day, I draft board proposals, manage openings/closings of bank outlets (work friends call me “The Terminator” because I've managed the closing of 4 mini-branches), perform data analysis and carry out field research.  I've also had some time to explore many interest-based projects such as: an FMFBT Mobile Banking study, research on how to cooperate with other AKDN institutions and Social Monitoring assessments. I try to frequently speak to borrowers and saving groups to hear directly from them what support would assist in building their capacity. 
A group shot with a Community Based Savings Group (CBSG) in Kulyab

I try to attend Jamat Khana (Mosque) daily however with the D’ua time recently being set to 6PM, it’s been difficult during weekdays. Daily JK attendance varies between 2000-3000 people and ceremonies are finished much faster than back in Canada. (Fewer recitations + No announcements + No Nandi = everyone in and out in less than 30 minutes) The Ismaili Center Dushanbe is the only formal JK in all of Tajikistan even though the Ismaili population is over 200,000. JK ceremonies have only started 6 months ago so processes are still being established. Differences between the Central Asian Ismaili culture and the Khoja/Western culture are quite intriguing and I've noticed a strong influence in the Ismaili culture from living and practising in a majority Sunni-Muslim country.

A few differences in JK include:
·      Wudu stations are located in the JK for men & women. (ritual washing before prayers)
·      People sit leaning forwards on their knees during D’ua.
·      Anyone under the age of 18 is not permitted to attend JK (as of yet) as per government ruling.
·      There are no morning JK ceremonies or no Majalis festivals.
·      Madhos/Qasidas are recited in replacement of Ashanji/Ginan. (see here for a link via DropBox to a collection of BEAUTIFULLY recited Qasidas I received from a friend)

The Ismaili Center Dushanbe

On evenings I sleep early like an old man and on weekends I generally try to go on at least one new adventure or try one thing new (recently, I've been learning to cook…I can now make a mean chinese mixed rice dish) 

The TOP 7 lessons learned to date

1)   Being on your own is challenging but if you listen to music loudly and dance like no one’s watching, the loneliness goes away really fast

2)   The Government’s role and support in development is very important. Private sector can only do so much but if there is no enabling environment for development, progress moves very slowly

3)   The very poor in developing countries lack long-term thinking. The foremost concern for most people is to ensure food is kept on the table. When possible, having a long-term frame of mind (i.e. investing in a child’s education or understanding the benefits of insurance) is very critical to sustainable progress

4)   At least in Tajikistan, communication between different  organizations who are working towards the same development goal is weak; this makes me wonder about what role technology can play in improving this

5)   No organization, including AKDN and its counterparts, is perfect. These organizations are run by people and contrary to popular belief, people are not perfect. Having patience and persistence within your scope of work is super important

6)   Many individuals in Tajikistan would prefer a secure/stable job rather than pursuing entrepreneurial ventures; there’s a very low appetite for risk here

7)   Uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations put you to the test allowing you to grow and ultimately realize what your potential

A Taste of the Texture of Tajikistan

Car Shining – Cars are by far one of the most prized possessions in Tajikistan. I see people washing, shining and admiring their cars on a daily basis. Definitely a status symbol.
Green Tobacco Chew – At first, I always wondered why people talked as if their tongue was stuck under their bottom lip. But after seeing every tom, dick and harry with a small plastic bag of tobacco chew in their pockets, I realized it’s quite common in Dushanbe.  Tajikistan also has a big Vodka culture. (reminder: 90% of the population is Muslim)
Anti-glasses society – I have yet to met someone in Tajikistan who wears glasses. There are no eye-care/glasses shops in the cities and I highly doubt the whole country has 20/20 vision. 

That is all for now. Feel free to write to me if you have any questions!

To bosdeed,

The crew. From left to right: Irshad, yours truly, Alim and Faheem. These are the Canadian Dushanbe Veterans and all have spent over 2 years in Tajikistan. Irshad taught Michael Jackson how to dance, Alim is the most connected person in Dushanbe and Faheem is a shrewd businessman disguised as a disaster specialist. 

Aga Khan Foundation Geneva Microfinance Specialists + the Head of the Micro Loan Office in Shurobod

Where I come home to every night. I live on the fourth floor (the one with the Satellite dish)

Opera Ballet fountains

A cultural performance (variety show) at the Ismaili Center Dushanbe

A glimpse of Iskanderkul Lake

Doing the Asian pose with our Driver

Man brodar as modar digar.
Translation: My brother from another mother.

A visit from my buddy Alykhan who was working in Afghanistan at the time. This is following a delicious breakfast croissant meal.

Nurek Pass – Has to be one of the calmest places on Earth.


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