Seeing the wifi was close to non existent in this country, blogs were mostly kept for myself. But I have some general thoughts to share, so here goes :
Tajikistan. The name alone sounds intimidating to me. For half my life, Americans have been at war with a "stan", and I've been taught to beware - big words like Taliban and ISIS come up with mention of the "stans" when in North America. And despite being somewhat well traveled, countries of more conservative Islamic culture and Muslim faith are mostly unknown to me.
Central Asia has never been on my list of top destinations. Truth be told - I didn't even know there was a country called Tajikistan until my partner announced she was going. But Tajikistan it was. In my mind, I started shaping it to be this big intimidating monster of the unknown. One that I thought my gender ambiguity, tattoos and gauged ears would make of me a target of some kind. Or at the very least, invite negative reactions.
Because I hyped this trip up so much in my mind as something I should be intimidated by, it took me a few days to really open up and fully enjoy this adventure.
In all honestly - I've never crossed more generous, polite, genuinely nice people. My partner, who is not new to conservative Islamic countries, had told me stories of the generosity that is part of the muslim faith and culture, but it took me being here physically to really understand it.
Everyone I cross, everyone, says "Salam" while placing their hand over their heart. A genuine hello, not the usual yelling of "hello" in a mocking tone by children I'm so used to hearing in many other counties. Everyday we are invited at least once into someone's home for tea, if not multiple times. But a tea invitation isn't just that - within minutes of sitting in someone's home, a buffet of plates are served with candies, nuts, dried fruits, whatever foods they have to offer you. And if you happen to be passing around meal time, they will gladly serve you a plate of whatever they've cooked without you asking for anything. And the bread. Boy do they like bread here, breaking of these huge pieces of bread and placing them in front of you, expecting you to finish it all. And they insist that you keep eating - as if hunger has no end. Being full just isn't an option.
Their generosity is seen in so many other ways - our transport van (taxi-ish) from Khurog to Qurgonteppa (which ended up being 14.5 hours long) had to change a flat/deflated tire five times while on the road - and every single time another car passed by, it stopped and their driver would come out to help change the tire. And the people in this other car, usually also paying customers of a transport van, quietly waited while their driver helped our driver with the tire. Every single time.
We were invited to a wedding celebration and the 2 men who spoke decent English (out of likely over 100 guests) came by to introduce themselves, explain the festivities around us, and make sure we had enough tea and food around us to enjoy this wedding.
We were toured around Istaravshan by car by two bankers, showing us their favorite sites, walking around the newly constructed citadel, all with the soul purpose of encouraging tourism for their city.
I've never felt more welcomed as a tourist. It's sad to say that my instinct when someone invites me into their home, or wants to lead me somewhere, is to be guarded, and assume there will be some kind of catch. A charge at the end? A scheme? Something. This instinct comes from the many countries that I've traveled and that do, unfortunately, see tourist as an opportunity for their own personal benefit. Tajik people have changed that for me. I don't have to be on my toes when I'm being offered something, they see me as a guest in their country and want to be the best hosts (as someone has explained to me along the way). And this has been the exact impression left on me - I was hosted throughout my stay in Tajikistan, and it was lovely.
And yes - my look does attract the usual longer stares... Stares that are often filled with confusion. But these stares end up being more from curiosity - at first trying to figure out my gender, often followed by conversations amongst themselves about what they've concluded on my gender, quickly followed by "how can a women have such short hair? Or tattoos? Or ears like that?". None of which actually made me feel judge. Most people would end their starring with pointing to their ears and giving a thumbs up, as if to say they like my gauges.
North American culture has taught us that staring isn't polite, that we should avoid prolonged eye contact with strangers. I'm quick to look to the ground when around strangers. But one is quickly reminded that many cultures around the world do not see staring as a faux pas. It just isn't a thing. And lengthy, eye to eye contact, and head to toe scanning, is perfectly acceptable. Looking like me simply means you have to accept the staring and try to understand it as a study of the unknown, not a judgment. After all, I'm in their country to do the same - study an unknown culture.Read more