Six days in Tavildara

Team before community meeting

For the last six days I have traveled with my team in the Tavildara Valley, introducing our program to a dozen communities.  Tavildara is an even wilder and more remote place than the Rasht Valley.  The only access road hugs the mountainside and through many streams as it follows the Ingob River towards the glaciers at the head of the valley.  As we drove further into the valley, the streams we crossed became deeper and wider, and the road even more narrow.  I had previously visited this valley in December and January, when it was blanketed with 4 – 6 feet of snow.  Now most of that snow is gone and it is possible to see the farmland that is being prepared for planting.

The two themes of this trip have to be people and food.  Our team was nine leaving Garm and soon grew to twelve as we picked up recently hired staff in Tavildara.  For most of the trip we ate every meal together and often stayed in the same house in the evenings.  It was a “team-building” experience, and fortunately the team has come together well and enjoyed their time together.  Still learning Tajik, I was exposed to a lot of it.  There were definitely times when I wanted to be fluent in Tajik to be able to understand the incessant stories from our Agriculture Officer and Youth Officer.  Our new translator did his best to give me the general themes, but some were just too much to translate.  All the more reason to improve my Tajik.

What was fascinating was that besides the stories, our trip felt at times like a moving language classroom.  Not only was I learning new Tajik phrases, but others in the team were trying to practice their English and everyone took part in the debates over which Tajik word was correct to use and which words came from Arabic, Turkish, Russian, old Persian and Uzbek.  Tajik has many roots and influences it appears to still be evolving.  Since several of the team are at a basic level of English that more or less matches my basic Tajik, we can find ways to communicate without a translator, which is usually an entertaining process in itself.

And then there was the food.  I have mentioned that Tajiks are known for their generous hospitality.  This trip was no exception.  At every home where we stayed (a different one each night), we were seated around a “table” (a tablecloth on the floor) almost completely filled with plates of nuts, sweets, yogurt, juice, jam, and of course the centerpiece stack of traditional Tajik bread the size of large pizzas.  This is just to get started.  Then comes the soup of potatoes, onions and carrots with one large chunk of meat in the middle.  You may be full after the yogurt, bread and soup, but then the “second” course arrives, This course can be “osh”, the Tajik rice dish with a plate of chicken, or a heaping portion of fried potatoes with more beef on top.  And of course endless refills of black or green tea from beginning to end.  This trip I learned the tell-tale phrase about the evening meal.  If someone says “the village is big”, your appetite better be large because the food will keep coming…

The table in a big village

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