Friday, February 29, 2008

Fresh Air

I have not written in a couple weeks, not because I don't want to or am too lazy, but because I really don't think I have much that would be of interest to readers. My life is strangely predictable, with school in the morning Monday- Friday, English Classes at my NGO on Saturdays and Sundays and private English lessons or discussions at the American Corner in the afternoons. I stick my personal lessons in Russian and Farsi in there when I can. Everyday someone else asks me to teach them English, or I meet a stranger on the street who asks me if I'm a foreigner. I'm treated well wherever I go, very unlike many non-Tajiks (mainly Russians) who are treated with a more vicious curiosity. Yet this life of predictability is still very interesting to me especially in my language development which allows me to interact as part of the culture much more.

I have gotten used to living around the electricity and water restrictons. The weather is gradually warmer which certainly makes it all a lot less uncomfortable. I am really enjoying my walks to the bus stop in the morning and down town in the afternoon. Life with the family continues to be a great experience as they all encourage my Russian development yet outside of the home I find myself speaking more English than I'd like.

This post is so titled after a recent understanding about how Western I am in my need for personal space. I have, until recently, been living with four others in an apartment, dressing out of my suitcase and spending much of my home time either with the family in the only warm room--- the 10 x 10 foot square kitchen---or asleep sharing a bed with my host sister. I deal with this situation as it is necessary for me, but since two days ago have realized how I sometimes need a breath of fresh air.

Last Wednesday, my friend from Canada, who is on a year internship program here in Khujand, went for a holiday to Bishkek, Kyrgistan. She lives alone in an apartment above one of the fanciest restaurants in town-- which of course has a red line of electricity. She has heating and water, TV and internet in her two-roomed house and when she lent me the key before she left, I did not realize the extent of luxury she was offering me. I have been sleeping here for a couple nights and it's such a pleasure for me to read when I want, study when I want and cook for myself and clean for myself. Even if there was no electricity or water, it would still be a pleasure to be here. My Canadian friend has said herself that she would love to have a real Tajik experience living in a family and learning the language solidly, but she just could not give up this real independence which she is so used to. My Tajik friends can hardly understand it! All of their lives sons live with parents, daughters live with husband's parents. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, children fill up any remaining space so that Tajiks hardly know what it is like to live and be by themselves. We in the states are raised with our own rooms, our own closets to fill with our own belongings. We design our bathrooms the way we wish, stick magazine cut-outs or photos one our walls and personalize everything as much as we can. Not so in the Eastern countries. I have heard that a Chinese's personal space exists only inside of him or herself. Everything else is communal. The house I live in is certainly communal. We all sleep in a different bed each night, depending on whether or not a certain aunt or uncle is staying or if the mother has traveled on her business to Uzbekistan. We have one closet which has at most five coat hangers and five shelves shared by all of us. If I ever leave the kitchen and want to go study in another more quiet room, four questions jump at me-- "where are you going?" and I always feel bad leaving the family behind. And this is not at all because the flat is too small- two of the largest rooms are virtually empty and could easily be turned into living spaces, but are more for random storage instead. This habit is more cultural and clearly shows how much more the family is valued in such a country compared to the US where individual achievement and personal space is very important in life. There are still many ambitious people here, but that ambition is used for the good of the family, to provide better for aging parents, growing children instead of for recognition. Independence and freedom, though part of the constitution, are not part of the culture and habitual way of life.

I am glad to learn about other practices of life, since it allows me to reflect and look at my own life from new angle. This, I hope, will grow and develop, as I spend more time here and as I too grow and develop. The one thing I am sure of now, for these five days, I am glad to fill my lungs and breath new fresh air.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! Very insightful. We admire your courage. Love, All.