During my first day in Tajikistan two different impressions began to form that became increasingly powerful for the duration of my stay: the lack of material culture juxaposed with the rich sociability of its people, both of which I regard in sharp contrast to American culture.
I read before I got here that Tajikistan is one of the poorest of the Soviet Republics. The country was ravished by a civil war after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it hasn’t regained some of the stability and infrastructure it had in Soviet times. We had electricty on average about 2-3 hours each day, and this included the school where I was working. There were some places where garbage was thrown out into the streets. But on the other hand, the culture possessed a sense of social and communal health that American society lacks.
For example, in the USA we often tell someone to “make yourself at home,” by which we mean, to act as if they were a part of the household. Nice, but to be a part of the household is, by definition, not to be a guest. Rather than granting permission for visitors to serve themselves at will, the Tajik people endow them with a highly elevated status. They serve their guests, wait on them, observe carefully to see if there is any need or comfort that can be addressed; they make their guests feel like royalty. I had the privilege to be the beneficiary of that kindness today at the parents of Tojiddin, my hosting teacher. I was introduced to Osh, a delicious meal of rice, herbs, some vegetables, oil and meat.
This sociability exists in spite of–perhaps in part because of–the lack of creature comforts. The scareness of electricity keeps the children outside, playing games together until darkness comes. I can hear the laughter and shouting of children playing games together, a welcomed alternative to the soliptic world of the American child, eating microwaved food in front of a video game or TV. The shouts I hear right now in the dusk remind me of my childhood.
I can honestly say, that the Tajik people seem to be the most hospitable and sociable of any place I have ever been. Their help and concern in getting my luggage to me, their attentiveness to every need and comfort of guests, and their warm conversation and social interaction: in this lies their treasure. I’ll take this over our creature comforts any day.