In a US-based international affairs graduate program, development is a big topic. It is a matter of fact that development is needed, in line with the Western world’s large investments in the developing world since WWII. An unsaid goal is that development would transform the world into a sort of mono-culture, with similar values, make humans better off, and possibly make counties more democratic.
In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, one of the poorest countries in Central Asia, I often think about development. Inconveniences abound as a result of poor infrastructure – bumpy roads alongside steep mountain drops, poorly functioning or non-existent air conditioners in 100 degree heat, and cars that malfunction and leak. However, Dushanbe often makes me think about the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Here, in the capital, my neighborhood lacks noise pollution and I walk to school in stark silence that was never possible in my home, New York City. Children play all day on wide streets on which cars only rarely pass. Fruits and vegetables, as well as milk and meat, are mostly organic and maintain their original, non-GMO delicious taste. They are also “local,” and are brought in by individual farmers every morning from the countryside. During my trips around Tajikistan, cows wander in beautiful green valleys for all to see, living out their natural life cycle in the same way they have for hundreds of years. The internet is expensive in Dushanbe, and the children in my host family cannot play all the computer games they would like to play. As a result, they play with one another, and spend more time with their families.
Development would ease inconveniences in Tajikistan. It would also bring the negative aspects of development that we in the West are currently learning to overcome. There is something special about a place like Tajikistan because here, one is able to go back in time, and think about what choices to make in the policy arena, so as to avoid the mistakes made in the West as development was progressing full force.
This idea is not something that would give Americans or Europeans comfort. It adds complexity to the simple narrative about irrefutably “good” progress and development. It opens the door for an underdeveloped country to criticize the negative aspects of development in countries that seem to be winners in the game of progress, and to choose another path in some aspects of the path to adapting modern technologies. It also opens up questions about how to develop, and whether Western style progress of development is the correct and only path forward.
It is also very possible that the path to progress cannot happen without the negative aspects – pollution, overuse of natural resources, a mass produced food delivery system that comes with moral and health issues. Perhaps, we are lucky to see Tajikistan today, before it inevitably moves towards a world that looks much like our own, without being able to resolve the difficult problems of transforming nature to suit humanity. In any case, to me, Tajikistan is a garden of Eden, and every day I appreciate being able to go back to a simpler time as I live here.
By: Margarita Valkovskaya
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Summer 2018