On the night of my departure from Tajikistan back to the United States for winter break I skeptically double-checked my packing list, puzzled why my large duffel bag had absolutely no room to spare. As I tallied the contents cramped in my bag, mostly pairs of clothes and Tajikistani gifts I had bought for my family back home, I assured myself that it would be a tight squeeze but that everything would just fit. However, immediately after I finished my dinner with my home-stay family my home-stay mother promptly left the room. I looked at one of my home-stay brothers who began giggling with a peevish smile. A couple seconds later she reentered the room with a handful of bags hanging from her arms. My home-stay father turned to me and said in Tajiki, “Jeremy, these are all gifts from our family to your family, as we wish them a very happy holidays and a healthy new year.” As I sat there stunned, they presented each gift to be given to each member of my family. On top of that, my home-stay father opened up a bag to reveal six large loaves of traditional Tajikistani bread. He smiled and told me, “We thought that your family has never eaten bread from Tajikistan before, so here is some for them to try.” Fighting back tears of complete joy and boundless gratitude, I thanked the entire family over and over until I reached my linguistic limit of different ways to express appreciation in Tajiki. Having spent over five months in Tajikistan, I had experienced the country’s pronounced culture of gift giving on countless prior occasions. And yet, the generosity of my home-stay in picking out specific and thoughtful gifts for my own family, even as they face continuous economic strain, took me aback.
These gifts embodied how far my relationship with my home-stay family had progressed, that I had not only developed into a fully part of that family, but I had grown close enough to them that they also viewed my own family as a part of their family. These feelings of immense joy and gratefulness quickly turned into a sudden panic once I entered my room with the bags of gifts and saw my filled, ready-to-go duffel bag. With my ride to the airport arriving shortly, I frantically began figuring out how I could fit my home-stay family’s gifts, including the six large loaves of bread, into my bag so that they would not be crushed in my 22-hour transit back home. After repacking and deciding to leave a number of my own personal items behind, the new gifts fit and I headed to the airport.
A couple of weeks later back in the United States my family and I set out on a quest to find the perfect gifts for my home-stay family to bring back with me to Tajikistan on my return for the spring semester. After collecting a number of gifts, some of which included a Monopoly set (the irony of my home-stay brothers’ intense passion for the capitalist game in a former Soviet nation was not lost), a Captain America play-shield for my six-year old home-stay brother (so that when he pretends to be Captain America he no longer has to use a piece of cardboard as a shield), and a laser measuring tool for my home-stay father to use in his carpentry work, I made sure that all the gifts would fit in my duffel bag this time around without any problem.
While my home-stay family were surprised and overjoyed by the gifts I had brought for them, perhaps the gift they treasured the most was a note written from my family to them, which I translated for them into Tajiki, thanking them for not only the gifts but for all they have given me in welcoming me into their family for many months. While I had previously viewed gift-giving as a materialistic practice, my home-stay family’s gifts for my family and Tajikistan’s unique gift giving culture as a whole had altered my view, making me realize the unadulterated goodness and thoughtfulness that can come from such an expression of emotion.
By: Jeremy Rotblat
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Academic Year 2016-2017