Settling into the Pamiri Way

In my last blog post, I promised that I would give more work updates, so I’m going to try!

I came into the internship expecting to develop a pilot curriculum on adolescent health. (Yay for curriculum!) But as is usually the case, we don’t end up doing what our TOR says. When I arrived, I realized that I would not be doing that. Lo and behold, the adolescent health project, that had been scheduled for launch this year, has been pushed to next year. This means the entire needs assessment and baseline had not been conducted – and it turns out this would be my main task for the summer.

Because the project is completely new, it is messy – messy in terms of “I have no idea who I report to and who’s working on this project and why I haven’t met the people who are supposed to be in charge of this project yet”. Although my internship is through AKF, because it’s a health project, the team in charge of this should be AKHS. However, I ended up finally meeting most of the relevant AKHS staff during my third week here. The first three weeks has felt like a bit of of a herding game – trying to get all the involved people on the same page about this project.

I’ve spent my time going over project documents sent to me from AKFC (AKF Canada), conducting a literature review, developing tools for the needs assessment based on the Population Council’s Asset Mapping Tools, and developing focus group and interview questions based on previous focus group studies that AKHS had done. Other than that, it’s been a lot of waiting around for things to get going. Many times my work is done and I’m waiting for the “higher ups” to give us the green light to move forward.

Meetings here are also unlike any meetings I’ve been in before. Conversations will start off innocently in English. But just you wait – when the tension begins to rise, everyone switches to Shugni, and I’m left wondering if the raised voices and constant interruptions are normal, or if a heated discussion is going on. This past week I saw through a meeting that turned Shugni for half an hour – it’s quite interesting to observe everyone’s facial reactions and try to guess what is going on through the few English words every now and then.

In looking forward, we’ll have a training on the tools and methodology that I will lead so all the field staff will be on the same page. We also finally selected dates to go into the field and conduct the activities I had planned out. I was excited to finally have dates to throw onto my calendar – the days I would finally see all my preparation work reach fruition! My excitement, however, was a little ephemeral. I was asked if I could stay back because I was a “risk”. They were scared that a foreigner would be a liability and my presence might alter behaviors of participants. Locals also get weary around outsiders. I was bummed out that they asked me to stay back, but it reminded me of some of the discussions we’ve had in Prosem about fieldwork.

I’ve actually found that a lot of the topics in Prosem, such as positionality and being an “outsider” have surfaced multiple times. While I don’t remember the specific content of the conversations, I’m glad we had them. Living here in Khorog, my identity grants me access to certain spaces. While I am “foreign,” I feel like I’m an acceptable, familiar level of foreign that doesn’t intimidate people. I think this, coupled with my gender, makes it easier for people to relate, open up to me, and ask me questions. One co-worker confided in me, saying that she couldn’t talk to anyone because it was such a small town and stuff always gets around. Other times, being a foreigner, and especially a female, alone in Khorog can feel a little uncomfortable. The previous IEDP intern, Shruti, wrote in her blog about how she bought fake wedding ring before coming here; although I laughed at the time, I’m realizing what a smart idea that was. Tajikistan is still a very much male-dominated society and people marry very young. I had an incident that involved AKF’s security team hunting down a stranger who had somehow obtained my name and number was constantly texting and calling me (and who later found me on the streets and followed me home!).

All in all, I’ve been settling into work okay. I alternate between the AKF and AKHS office, depending on the work I’m doing that day. It’s nice to get to experience both offices.

As for settling into Khorog, that’s also been going okay. There aren’t many expats here – at least I haven’t found any. Life here is really slow – there’s not much to do apart from walking around the park. But all the people seem so happy and there’s no stress. It’s an incredibly small town and everyone seems to know everyone. I’m happy to report that I’ve upgraded from using a pot and plastic bottle to a water bucket and a water scooper for showers (if you read my last post, you’ll understand)! Now I can easily collect water in my trusty bucket. Here’s a quick summary of other life events, outside of work.

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  • I turned 22 (finally Taylor Swift is relevant) and celebrated with a coworker’s family. They were so sweet and ordered a cake for me. The kids loved it (any excuse to get cake right?) and were probably more excited than me.
  • I attended (and helped out too!) my first Pamiri wedding. It was an extravagant occasion, with celebrations spanning three days. It’s hard for me to imagine that all this work, time, and dedication goes into weddings. I was in charge of finding a way to stick butterflies onto a car without 1) damaging the car paint; 2) making sure they don’t fly away (haha); and 3) making sure little kids wouldn’t be able to pick them off the car. There was lots of food, and loooots of dancing. So. Much. Dancing. While I didn’t understand what was going on a lot of the time, the one thing that was evident was the pure love and happiness permeating the air from friends and family. Just so much carefree love – now that’s the way to party (and the world could really use even just a fraction of this energy).
  • I fell sick twice and the medical equipment they used and medicine they gave me was very old school. I haven’t seen a manual thermometer and sphygmomanometer since I was a kid. I’m also skeptical about taking medicine I don’t know so I’ll always run medicine by my mom. My mom said that some were medicines she took as a child. This experience has really made me realize the gravity of the health situation here and given me more insight into the health system, something super helpful since I’m working on an adolescent health project. Gotta experience it first hand!
  • I went on a “hike”. I’m using quotes because there was no path, more like a free for all, scramble up the mountain. At the top, we got to see Khorog in its entirety, and both the Tajik and Afghan side too. However, the soles of both my shoes completely came off, and it was quite the adventure to say the least. I don’t know if I’d do it again, but I’m glad I got to experience at least one “hike” in Khorog.

It’s been quite the adjustment, but I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and leave the city life behind for a bit. My aunt has taken slight pity on me and has told me she’s sending a small care package (Thai food and spices!). It’s estimated to take a month to arrive – mail doesn’t even come here, they have to send it to Dushanbe and AKF will transport it to Khorog. It’ll be an interesting experience to see if (and when) I’ll receive it.

Anyway, that’s it for now – see you in a month!



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