After spending the first week in the office, I was getting eager to have an opportunity to get out in the field and accompany the loan officers on their client visits. The first opportunity finally presented itself towards the end of the week. A couple of loan officers had to visit their clients at a town, called Gissar, about 40km away from Dushanbe, so they offered me to come along. Although technically, these weren’t Kiva clients, so I couldn’t have as much interaction with them, I figured that any opportunity to get out would be a good one.
So, four loan officers and myself got into a car and we were on our way. We made a quick stop at a gas station to fill up. I was pretty surprised to see that the gas station offered propane, instead of regular gasoline. Turns out that many people here convert their cars to run on both natural liquid gas, which is cheaper and cleaner, and gasoline. The conversion only costs a few hundred bucks and the savings start to add up quicker.
After filling up the car, we left Dushanbe. The driver avoided the myriad of potholes that awaited us every couple of hundred feet with a skill of a true master and slowly, our conversation drifted to marriage – as it often does around here.
This topic is immensely interesting to me, as things are done very differently here than in the West. I can’t mention how many times I’ve said “Really?”, “No, seriously?”. I figured that I’ll share some of the things I picked up. Keep in mind, that the following does not reflect the author’s views or opinions and that also things vary greatly between different regions, between larger cities and kishloki (villages), as well as between different families.
Popping The Question
In general, people get married here relatively young. That alone is not that unique, as it’s done this way in most other places. Most of the loan officers that I was with that day were still in their 20s, but were married and had a couple of kids each.
Outside the big cities, marriages are often arranged by the parents. It’s the old-school version of eHarmony and Match.com. Even when you live in the city, parent’s blessing is a must. Which kind of makes sense, since the parents are also expected to sponsor the wedding – it’s one of their obligations to their kids: raise them and pay for the wedding.
Weddings are (or more accurately, were) pretty big. From what I was told, a wedding with 600 guests or more is pretty common. Families here are pretty large, so by the time you factor in all of the relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers, 600 is not considered a large number. In fact, if you had less guests, people would likely start talking about you. Recently, a law was passed by the president limiting weddings (and funerals) to 150 people. It’s probably for the best, as these huge events could put an entire family into debt for years and not doing one was considered embarrassing.
After the wedding, it’s very common for the newlyweds to live with the family of the husband for at least a year. It can’t be with the family of the wife – as that would be considered shameful. During that time, the family “evaluates” the girl and makes sure that she knows how to cook well and so on. If she doesn’t, they teach her.
Interestingly enough, the wife is expected to bear kids pretty much right away. In fact, if 9 months pass from the date of the wedding and no kids are on the way, people start talking right away. As you can see the pattern, there is a lot of social pressure to do things a certain way.
In general, Tajik men feel that the woman’s main job is to watch over the family, while the man is the one that goes out and brings home the bacon. There is technically no opposition to women working, but family always takes the first priority.
By this time, we got to Gissar.
Gissar is a pretty small town that’s pretty well known in the region, as it’s a place where many used cars from Germany and Baltic countries come through. As we were walking around, we saw another batch of new car arrivals by train.
One of the major things that took me by surprise is the fact that the electricity was out in the entire town. I know that this is the type of things that people talk about regularly here, but it was the first time when I actually saw what what means.
Storefronts were dark – as you enter a store, you need to give your eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark. There were no lights in the residential windows. And this goes on every day during the winter.
The loan officers did their visits and we went out for lunch.
By the time we got back to the office, it was already late afternoon. I started to prepare the materials for the English-language class that I was doing after work and suddenly the electricity went out in the office. Although we do have a gasoline generator that can be used in times of an outage, for whatever reason, it wasn’t working that day.
People continued to work while it was still light outside, but since many operations require a computer and access to the network, their abilities were certainly limited. By the time, 5.30pm rolled around and the English class started, it was already fairly dark outside.
However, it was decided to host the class anyway. Using cell phones as sources of light for reading and writing, along with some humor and determination, we’ve managed to get through it.
While my “students” hopefully learned a few new things about English, I learnt to never take electricity and light for granted.