Tajikistan? Where’s that? What are you doing there? Why do you want to go there? Is it dangerous? Be careful!
In the weeks leading up to the beginning of the Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP), I was frequently asked these questions by just about anyone I mentioned it to. Admittedly, even though I had traveled to the former Soviet Union before, I was unsure of what to expect upon reaching Dushanbe.
After a long series of flights from Washington D.C. to Tajikistan, and a few days of jetlag, I began to take in my surroundings more coherently. Immediately, the incredible friendliness of the Tajik people made a resounding impression on me. My host family was, and still is, amazing to live and spend time with, but I expected something of that nature. I did not necessarily expect to be treated as warmly as I was by shopkeepers or even passerbies. I often felt like I was conversing with an old friend, be it in Uzbek, Russian or a mixture of both, even if I had only interacted with them two or three times. On a number of occasions, I lost track of time because I was enjoying speaking with someone I just met about anything from the weather to what life is like in the United States or Tajikistan.
My advice to anyone who is apprehensive about coming to a place that’s far away and concerned about homesickness or culture-shock is absolutely: do not worry about it. The Tajik people are so warm and welcoming that you’ll most likely wonder what took you so long to decide to come.
Another pleasant surprise for me came on the second Saturday of the trip. Everything in the city was still new, and at times overwhelming, so it was refreshing to hear that we would be heading to a resort-like area north of the city called Varzob. I figured we would probably relax, swim a little bit and then have some lunch. The drive up quickly erased those thoughts from my mind. We were driving through some stunning mountains, and they continued to get better and better.
Once we arrived, a group of us decided that before anything else, we wanted to go hiking up one of the mountains. We picked out a lone tree at the top of a fairly high hill, but nothing that seemed too difficult. While we didn’t pick the most ideal route to get to our destination (there was quite a bit of heavy breathing upon reaching the top), the view that was awaiting us was well worth the effort.
After a few minutes rest and picture taking, we decided that the higher we went, the better the scenery would become. We weren’t wrong. Stopping just below the top of the mountain due to steep rocks and a lack of proper equipment, we had a great view of all kinds of mountains, from snow-capped to forest-topped. The views were breathtaking, just like the climb to the top. On the car ride back into Dushanbe, I thought to myself that between the sights of Varzob and the open embrace I received from the Tajik people I met, these two months are going to be with me forever.
Posted by Derek Peterson / 07.02.2013