Posts tagged ‘Khujand’

This Is Urban Poverty in Tajikistan

By Chris Paci, KF16, Tajikistan

Soviet-era apartment block in Tajikistan

“Be careful,” called Rahim from somewhere above my head. It was pitch black, and I felt for each stair with the toe of my shoe, slowly working my way up to where Rahim stood. Shards of fallen concrete snapped beneath my boots.

Rahim was standing in front of a door and fiddling with his keys. “Sorry, we have no lightbulbs in the stairwell. It’s difficult to see,” he apologized, just as the lock snapped open with a crack that echoed down the dark stairwell. Without so much as a pause, he swept me inside his apartment and sat me down on a sagging armchair with a stained floral pattern. “Please, make yourself comfortable! I’ll be right back with some tea,” he said, disappearing abruptly.

Continue Reading 27 October 2011 at 14:00 16 comments

Loan Use: Not As Simple As You Might Think

By Chris Paci, KF16, Tajikistan

For many Kiva lenders, loan use – or what an entrepreneur plans to do with the funds he or she receives – is their most important consideration in deciding which entrepreneurs to support. On the Kiva website, it’s the single most prominent piece of information supplied about any featured entrepreneur. As it turns out, though, predicting what borrowers will use their loans to do is more complicated than you’d think.

Continue Reading 3 October 2011 at 16:00 9 comments

Beginning of a Tajikistan Journey

By Chris Paci, KF16, Tajikistan

Valiant 4x4]

Seeing a disheveled American with two huge suitcases standing by the side of the road, the taxi driver cuts the wheel, bombs horizontally across four (blessedly empty) lanes of traffic, and screeches to a stop in front of me. I open the passenger door and stuck my head inside. “To the Tsementzavod bus station, how much?” I rap out. He names a price. I counter. After three rounds of this ritual bargaining, we settle on a number, and I hop in.

Continue Reading 8 September 2011 at 08:00 11 comments

Poverty and Paroxysm: an International Day of Peace Post

The first news reports on BBC, CNN, and AP said that the bomb went off at 8:10 in the morning. I swear though, that I heard it at 8:04. Its not every day that a young American not serving in the armed forces hears an explosion as they gets ready for work, but for Kiva Fellows, this isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Continue Reading 21 September 2010 at 01:37 7 comments

Coup in Kyrgyzstan, business as usual in Tajikistan?

From my neighbors’ flat in Khujand, in northern Tajikistan, we watched images of Kyrgyzstan’s coup on Russian satellite TV. One woman was sitting in her dark shop illuminated only by flashlight, weeping. The mannequins that had once displayed her goods were now nude. In the next shot, another woman swept glass from the steps of her shop. “They smashed the windows… how will I feed my family now? they took my things”, my neighbor translated her words.

With the Kyrgyz border just 30 minutes away by car from the city where I live, (more…)

10 April 2010 at 21:16 6 comments

The incredible shrinking country…

Tajikistan is quickly becoming a nation of women and children… and a diminishing number at that.  The low incomes and lack of jobs have resulted in more and more men leaving for Russia to send money back to the family.  With a minimum wage here of 20 Somoni a month ($6 US), people are working multiple jobs, opening side businesses, working abroad and generally doing whatever it takes to survive.  Inflation is clicking at about 20% and the price of bread is $1 a loaf.  Imagine a loaf of bread in the US at $150 – a rough equivalent as a percent of the monthly minimum wage.  People here dream of going to Russia, America, anywhere, somewhere.

Traditionally the families here are large and many from the older generation have a half dozen or more

Gavkhar is a Kiva client - she sells recycled aluminum

Gavkhar is a Kiva client - she sells recycled aluminum

siblings.  I met with a Kiva client last week – Gavkhar – and she lived together with her 11 children and grandchildren huddled in a cinder block building which lacked electricity for 16 hours of the day.  The stairway was so dark we had to use our cell phones to light the way and I traced my hand along the crumbling wall.  For most of the last century, Tajikistan had the highest birth rate of any of the Soviet republics.  But younger families are having fewer children because of the difficulty in providing for them.  In the market stalls you can buy a single diaper for 1 somoni (30 cents) and they are reused ‘until the tape loses its stickiness’ by replacing the absorbent liner with cloth.

What’s far more noticeable than shrinking family sizes is the number of absent husbands and fathers who leave for Russia to find work.  Many of the women in the Chkalovsk market told me their husbands had been gone for months or even years.  In some cases they simply disappeared and the money stopped coming.  Most take jobs as laborers working construction jobs in the city.  Tajiks are generally looked down upon in Russia and have been victims of many racially motivated violent crimes.  There is even a Russian sit-com which features a caricature of a Tajik laborer, often bumbling and incompetent.  In reality there are many highly educated Tajiks here, but there is more money to be made as a workman in Russia than there is teaching at a university in Khujand.

Nearly everyone here will confide that they want to leave for Russia, America, somewhere, anywhere else.  Estimates are that somewhere around 1 million Tajiks are living abroad – roughly 15% of the population.  Standing out in the cold earlier this week waiting for approval of my visa registration, I mingled among the modest crowd of Iranians, Afghans, and Uzbeks.  A man from Kyrgyzstan who spoke English asked me, ‘Why are you here?  Nobody comes here.’  He was visiting family.

This sentiment is even more prevalent in the winter and already the power was on and off several times yesterday here in the MicroInvest office.  My fingers are numb and I wear my down jacket sitting at my desk.  Occasionally I’ll lean back, blow on my fingers, and wonder how I ended up here.  But every

Accordion on the square - daily life goes on in the winter

Accordion on the square - daily life goes on in the winter

Kiva client I meet reminds me that there is a real need for credit here and that it does make a profound difference in their standard of living.  Tajikistan’s poverty looks like drudgery and everyday hardship – families split apart, sharp minds reduced to swinging hammers, shivering in dim candlelight.  But despite it all, people find a way to survive.  Early in the morning the buses are overloaded with women bringing satchels of goods to market, students arrive at school, and officeworkers wipe the dust from their shoes.  Life goes on and, while the country lacks enough fuel to heat their homes, there’s more than enough fuel behind the dreams of those wanting to move on from the conditions here and find a better life somewhere, anywhere.

Rob is a Kiva Fellow in Khujand, Tajikistan working with MLF MicroInvest.  For more information on MicroInvest, please follow this link.

For a slideshow of Tajikistan photos you can visit here:

30 October 2008 at 06:45 7 comments

Peace, love and under ‘stan – ding

Mosque Near Panjshanbe Bazaar

Tajiki ‘standing, that is.  If I’ve learned anything in my 36 hours in Khujand, Tajikistan, it’s that trying to understand the local culture, language and history is like drinking from a firehose.  The challenge is muted, however, by the extreme kindness of the people here and their willingness to make you feel at home.  Here at Microinvest the feeling is that of a family more than a workplace.  This morning my desk was graced with a platter of cookies and candies and friendly faces greeting me in proud English.  At noon yesterday we all took lunch in the dining area – a hearty borscht of meat, potatoes, cilantro and carrots along with fresh bread and the ubiquitous cup of hot tea.  Last night I was treated to the Tajik national dish of Pilaf with green apricots and a tomato salad mixed with conversation on topics ranging from the economy to religion to family.  Clearly food is the social lubricant and I’ve been more than content to sit, talk and eat for hours on end.

Tomorrow I’ll journey to Asht which is a district in the north bordering Uzbekistan.  Once out of the city, the roads here are peppered with wandering cattle and donkey carts.  Occasionally there will be a man on the side of the road selling gasoline from glass jars or a small stand with fruits for sale.  The craggy mountains are a striking backdrop to the vast cotton fields where students are now spending a two month ‘vacation’ from school where they each pick up to 60kg a day of the national crop.  Many adults in Tajikistan have left the country to find work in Russia or the US and so students are conscripted to supplement the local labor pool.  I’ve already heard many stories here of educated people who are unable to earn a reasonable salary as nurses or teachers.  Instead they have found it is more lucrative to be a business owner or entrepreneur rather than rely on meager government wages.  There is reluctance by some to borrow money and they try to avoid having their neighbor merchants know about their loan.  But I’ve already heard many ‘rakhmats’ (thank you) for the opportunity Kiva lenders have provided to business owners.

A Kiva entrepreneur conducts her business in the bazaar

There is an interesting mix in Tajikistan between local traditions, Muslim religion, the legacy of having been a Soviet state and the influence of more modern (‘western’) conveniences and customs.  In Tajik homes, meals are traditionally taken seated on the floor cushioned by a korpacha – a colorful blanket filled with local cotton – but some have recently purchased sofas and kitchen tables.  Russian language is becoming less prevalent and Tajik is now emphasized as is English among the younger generation.  Daily prayer is common yet so is alcohol consumption.  Many marriages are arranged and the expectation is that one should have a spouse and children before the age of 25.  Television seems to be predominated by music videos.  I caught some Justin Timberlake the other evening but mostly it’s Tajik performers in traditional dress.  There seems to be more awareness sometimes of current events outside of Tajikistan than inside.  I was asked whether the US economic crisis had affected me.  In turn, I asked what the feeling was regarding the IMF’s commentary on Tajikistan’s misstated finances.  Nobody really knew much about it.  It seems like nationalism is making a comeback and the Russian influence is waning, but there’s no clear direction on how the country will evolve from here.

Overall, there is an overt sentiment among most people that it’s a hard life in Tajikistan and the debacle of last year’s electricity shortages is still fresh in their minds.  They frequently talk of moving to America or other countries as nearly 1 million Tajiks have already done.  Yet they retain an ability to distinguish government from nation.  Tajikistan has its history and traditions and customs which are worthy of their pride despite the shortcomings of its infrastructure, leadership and economy.

Rob is in Khujand, Tajikistan working with MLF MicroInvestYou can also join the Tajikistan lending team at

24 October 2008 at 06:09 4 comments

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