When I left the U.S. to go to Rwanda in 2017, I didn’t expect to be gone more than a year, possibly two if I stayed a second year in Rwanda. I didn’t anticipate finding myself in three different countries in as many years, nor did I expect two partially failed work assignments in a row. This year is different in many ways. The work is appropriate for my skill set, yet challenging, since I realize that, given the target audience, a mixture of professionals from news outlets and sports TV stations, to name just two, I must create a living curriculum, which I have never done before, instead of a static one, where everyone does the same thing and at the same time, and then help teacher and students alike learn to use it.
The housing I had in both Rwanda and Nepal was depressing, albeit for different reasons. Now as I sit in my living room listening to fountains running and the children playing the park – it is Friday night, and many families bring their children to the park to play on the wonderful equipment they have – I wonder why things are so different this year. Perhaps the age old adage “third time’s a charm” is true. To be fair, the second assignment Peace Corps gave me in Rwanda was perfect for me, and the faculty with whom I worked appreciated what we did together. It just wasn’t long enough. Likewise, although my work at Tribhuvan University was virtually non-existent, traveling around Nepal to work with the teachers of the Nepali English Language Teachers’ Association was fabulous. It just wasn’t enough again.
What I have noticed with this whirlwind tour is that each of these three different cultures have a different “feel” to them. Rwanda felt somehow heaviest, earthiest of the three. Nepal, on the other hand, felt more hurried, more anxious, although I think this was more true in Kathmandu than outside of it. Everyone seemed to be on their way somewhere else, with too much to do except, of course, for the small shopkeepers who sat in their shops day after day and watched everyone else careening down streets like mad men and women. And, of course, the U.S. feels more brash, more pushy, more full-of-itself than any of the other three countries.
Life moves slowly here, as it did in Rwanda, but here a sense of delicate sensitivity seems to pervade interactions that I have with the Tajik people whom I meet. I find myself speaking more softly, walking more gently, and certainly taking more time to enjoy the environment than I did in either Rwanda or Nepal.
I think it may be the orderliness of life in Dushanbe that brings out my softer side, that and the slow, steady pace of life. Strolling one’s way through the day feels is a much more tranquil experience than simply walking.
Here, the streets are wide, and clean. There are no piles of trash and everywhere the city decorates itself with flowers, from the rose bushes along the curb outside the grand park, to the colorful ceramic pots with plants in the center divider of one of the major roads. Someone has to water those every day. And the fountains! On my way to the veterinary pharmacy we pasted a long line of fountains, perhaps 2-3 city blocks long, spraying water a least a hundred feet in the air. I don’t know what building was behind them, but presumably it was something of significance.
There are cars to be sure but, compared to Kigali or Kathmandu, relatively few. I haven’t see a single motorcycle, in contrast to the hoards of motorcycles cramming the streets in both Kathmandu and Kigali.
And the gardens are divine examples of order in the service of beauty. Nothing in Rwanda or Nepal, or even the U.S., could hold a candle to them. Maybe it’s the colored lights; they also had a profound affect upon me in Nepal during Tihar, when building after building was draped in a cascade of glistening color. But most of all, I think that it is the care that the artistry and maintenance of the gardens reflect that is most inspiring. For example, last night at 11 PM, one of the gardeners in his bright red I-am-a-worker-here vest was out sweeping fallen leaves from off the sidewalk in front of my house that runs along the outer edge of the Grand Park. Do they really work 24/7 to keep up these gardens? The size of the trees that neatly line the boulevards tell me that people here have been carefully and systematically adorning their environment for a very long time.
Today, when I was out walking, I saw a group of young boys, accompanied by a few men (their dads?) out on the main boulevard carrying plastic bags filled with leaves which they had obviously just cleared from the sidewalk. So it would seem that it is not just the people who are hired who care for the environment but also people teach their children about the importance of protecting their city for their future enjoyment.
Given the relatively low prices of everything, and the low salaries, I can’t help but wonder …. How does the city pay for all the electricity that lights all the walkways in the gardens until around midnight? Where does all the water in the fountains come from? Who pays all the people tending the various gardens? How does such a poor country have time for such extravagant displays of nature – water, well-tended gardens, flowers, massive trees – and light?
According to the internet, Tajikistan is rich in natural resources especially water and hydropower (no surprise there), apparently the world’s largest hydropower station is here. Perhaps the fountains and lighting all run on hydropower, that would explain how one of the economically poorest nations in the world (Gross National Income of only $180 per capita) is able to offer such spiritually uplifting gifts of sight and sound to the residents of its capital city.
However it is done, their gardens announce to the world that it is not money that matters, rather it is the care we take to use what we have wisely and in the service of the physical spaces where we live and raise our families.