Saturday, July 4, 2009


Vakhsh River, Tajikistan

"I've never heard of that before."
"Can you say that again?"
"Why are you going there?"
"I'm not sure where that is."

To be honest, I didn't know exactly where Tajikistan was until about two months ago when I accepted a position as an English Language Fellow (ELF) through a US State Department sponsored program. It's not a country you hear about on the news, for the most part, and with a population of 7 million (only about 1 million more than the population of Minnesota) most people have never met someone from Tajikistan. As the Tajikistan and the High Pamirs guidebook states: "many people know more about the surface of the moon than Tajikistan..." (p. 15). I have a unique opportunity to live, work, and learn in this country, and you can follow along. I will arrive in Tajikistan at the end of August, and be there for 10 months, through June 2010.

Why am I going there? The State Dept. sends about 150 English teachers annually to various parts of the world on a variety of assignments, including teaching in universities, providing teacher training, and developing curriculum. I will be teaching at Tajik Pedagogical University in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and my students will be future English teachers. I'll also be working a least quarterly with teachers in about six English programs for youth in Dushanbe and surrounding towns. I became interested in Russia and the former USSR when I spent six weeks in Russia during college, and the job description for the ELF positions in Tajikistan were particularly intruiging to me.

Tajikistan is about the size of Wisconsin, and borders Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and NW China. Most of the country is mountainous (93%, in fact!) and it's home to the Pamirs, the 3rd highest mountain range in the world. Most of Tajikistan's electricity is created by hydro power, which leads to frequent power outages in the winter when the rivers freeze.

Tajiki (or Tajik) is the official language of the country, and about 80% of the population is ethnically Tajik. Uzbeks make up about 15%, Russians 1%, Kyrgz 1%, and 3% other ethnicities. Russian is widely used in education and business. Tajiki is a Persian language, very closely related to Farsi (Iran) and Dari (Afghanistan). The major languages of the other Central Asian former USSR countries (Uzbek, Kyrgz, Kazak, and Turkmen) are all Turkic languages, so they have more in common with each other than with Tajiki.

More to come on these topics as I learn about them. For now, thanks for joining me in this adventure! Please email and post comments. I want to hear what's going on in your lives as well.