Over the Fourth of July weekend, I received my first four-month placement for the Kiva Fellowship. I will be spending roughly one month in Khujand, Tajikistan working with the microfinance institution IMON International, followed by another three months in Baku, Azerbaijan working with Aqroinvest Credit Union and Komak Credit Union. In other words, I will be spending my next season on the doorsteps of Afghanistan, Chechnya and Iran. Sorry, mom.
But, my oh my! The Caucasus and Central Asia! I told Laura where I was going to be spending my year, and she immediately grasped the real reason for my excitement: “Ahhhhh you got a ‘jan’ AND a ‘stan’!!! That’s like two Snickers bars coming out of the vending machine for the same dollar!” Naomi, on the other hand, expresses a more cautious skepticism: “Are you sure these places actually exist? I think they might be made up.”
She raises a valid concern. I have no empirical proof that either of these countries are actually there – I have only ever seen them on maps. Like England, they could be merely a conspiracy of cartographers. What happens if I get to Tajikistan and I find out the entire country is an elaborate post-Cold-War hoax? This is worrisome. Any advice would be welcome.
…No, for real, though, I’m thrilled. =:) I’m so glad to be getting back to the fascinating and inexhaustible post-Soviet world, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that I get to work in both Central Asia and the Caucasus. They are such different regions, but both of them compel me – particularly the Caucasus as of late, as studying the wars in Georgia and Chechnya has left me with a whole mess of questions about the region that I really want to answer. Both these countries, too, are deformed to some extent by their economic relations with Russia – Azerbaijan by oil revenues, Tajikistan by the fact that an estimated 30% of its economy comes from remittances – and having observed this deformation from a Russian perspective, I’m eager now to flip it around and investigate it on a personal level by talking to the people who are affected. I’ll be learning both a Turkic language (Azeri) and a fossilized dialect of Farsi (Tajik), which will both be very valuable to know as I expand my coverage of the world. Not to mention that both countries, especially Tajikistan, look stunning in pictures.
I have no doubt that I will spend every moment of my Tajikistan experience on a camel.
I thought that having certainty about where I’m spending my next eight months would kick me into gear. I would be able to start buying travel guides and learning the proper languages and pouring relevant Free Library books into my head and just generally doing so many things, you have no idea. Nope. Still overwhelmed by everything I have to do; still unable to find enough time in the day to do it all. At least I have the GRE out of the way, so now I’ll be able to move on to more important affairs.