Veg, spice and hardware

Today I make my first excursion to the “Green Market” of Dushanbe.  In many ways, a large, open-air market often feels like the heart of the city.  This is the supermarket for Tajiks – vegetables, grains, spices, clothing, luggage, pots & pans, hardware, electrical devices, music – it’s all here.  The place is humming but not crowded, and the smells of the spices and other foods blend together as a reminder that the Silk Road passed not far north of here.  I find what I am looking for very quickly, and soon run into the country director for another humanitarian organization who is also recently arrived and is out exploring.  We walk together for a while looking for the classic Russian Cossack hat (request from his daughter) and then back towards the center of town.  He has worked in some interesting corners of the world including Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He shares a few observations from his work in those places, which touch on some of the toughest questions about humanitarian and development aid:  Are we learning the right lessons from past programs?  How long does it take for real change to happen in a developing country?  If cultural practices are restricting the rights of some part of the population (for example, women), are we justified to advocate for change?

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