Reflections on My Time in Tajikistan

Heyneman_03_1

-Omar Khayyam

With only a few weeks left in the ERLP Persian Fall 2018 semester, an air of finality hangs in the air at the American Councils office in Dushanbe. Over jumbles of mugs and assorted sweets on the coffee table, through friendly murmurs and halting babble of Persian conversation between teachers and students, there is a bittersweet anticipation of impending farewell, return to hearth and home, friends, and loved ones. After more than three months in Tajikistan, all the ERLP students have plenty of new friends and surrogate family members to miss.

Without a doubt, my incomparably warm and genuine Tajik host family will remain first and foremost in my memory of my time here. Evenings of hearty rice pilaf and pumpkin dumplings. Belly-laughing over bad jokes, campy Uzbek music videos on TV, and things lost in translation. Sitting side by side with my host mom, hunched over a Quran, reading in whispers; hers for prayer, mine for practice. Getting red in the face trying to teach my host brother how to snowboard without knowing the words for “lean,” “catch,” “edge,” or, most importantly, “faceplant.” Organizing a paper airplane throwing contest for five small children much more accustomed to playing games on their phones. Planning decades ahead for a watering and lighting regimen, beside my horticulturally gifted host dad, for planting a blue spruce to watch over his forefathers’ graves. Transcending the language barrier, cultural pitfalls, and inevitable awkwardness of occupying space in someone else’s home, it is clear that we have become just as close as many of my relatives back in the U.S. While sad to leave them, I am also certain that we are destined to meet again. Reunion is “written on our brows,” as the saying here goes.

The teachers and staff at American Councils have been brilliant as educators and human beings in equal measure. My Tajik teacher is relentlessly cheerful, regaling me with jokes and fascinating local urban legends that transform bad moods into good moods and good moods into fits of grinning. My Farsi teacher is cheerfully relentless, commanding that I coax and strain my paltry vocabulary into graduate seminar-level discussions of globalization, court intrigue in 9th century Baghdad, and the nature of existence in linear time. Our resident director has tirelessly hunted for opportunities for us to expand our language use outside of class in weird and wonderful activities and excursions around Dushanbe. My fellow students have each revealed their inimitable personalities through three months of banter, bickering, and the best support imaginable given freely to one another.

I would like to thank all the fine folks whom I mentioned above, as well as the other staff at American Councils, my official and unofficial conversation partners, everyone who has taken time from their busy lives to speak with me in Persian, and indeed all the people of Tajikistan for making this semester possible, successful, and memorable.

A Central Asian proverb:

One mountain has no hope of embracing another,

But man may greet man as he would his brother.

By: Sean Heyneman

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program, Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Term: Fall 2018

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