I am spending this summer studying Persian in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. As with any first time in a new country that has a distinct and unique culture, I was full of assumptions and questions about what daily life would be like. Questions included: how it would be living with a local Tajik family? Where would I sleep? What if I don’t like the food? What if I say or do something wrong? Having only a year of Persian and no exposure to the distinct dialect (and alphabet) of Tajiki, a real concern was not being able to communicate my gratitude for my host-family hosting me.
After two weeks in Tajikistan, there still certainly still challenges with communication; however, I can say my apprehension surrounding my host-family could not have been more unfounded. My host family is wonderful, I live with a family that has two older boys and a younger daughter along with the two paternal grandparents. Every night, we eat our dinner sitting together cross-legged in the central courtyard on an elevated table. Dinners always include a lot of fresh fruits and endless bread and tea. Every night, I share a pot of hot tea with the grandpa (Боби). One of the more special days occurred during my first week in Tajikistan, when I go to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, with my host-family. While every meal feels like a feast, for the morning of Eid we all broke the fast with eggs, cakes, bread, dumplings and assorted meats and fruit.
Recently, I returned home from class to find twenty extended family members in the courtyard and to my surprise they were there to celebrate the birthdays of both my host-mom and host-brother! There were many courses of delicious food including the national dish of Osh (ош), a rice dish made with shredded carrots and meat fried together in vegetable oil. We played music and everyone danced, including the grandmother (банд).
Outside of the home and class, I have been able to explore the city’s parks and botanical gardens with morning runs along with classmates. There are many international restaurants to be found in Tajikistan, including a wonderful Iranian restaurant, and while tea is much more prolific in Tajikistan, you can still find a wonderful espresso to start your day along the main Rudaki Street or a cafe to study in when needed.
Beyond the capital, Tajikistan is a wonderful place to visit if you love hiking and mountains. There are weekly excursions available, ranging from easy strolls along beautiful rivers to challenging hikes and camping. This past weekend a group of us explored Varzob Valley and the Sioma River 50 kilometers north of Dushanbe. There we hiked through the valley, were awed by the crystal clear blue and ice cold river and had lunch next to a house of a Siberian hermit. The mountain views were breathtaking.
Of note, relative to the United States, Tajikistan has much less wifi and internet access. And while this may sound like a downside…to be honest, the disconnection from 24/7 wifi has been a blessing. It has allowed more time for speaking with family members, and ensured peaceful quiet evenings for studying, reading or wandering the city.
By: Timothy Jones
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Academic Year 2017-18