Tajikistan – Mountains teach humbleness

Zohid puts manure on a wheelbarrow and transports it on a little field by his house.

“That’s what an English teacher’s life looks like in Tajikistan,” he laughs.

He has ordered a tractor for tomorrow so today, on Sunday, he fertilizes the soil.

“Usually, we plant potatoes at the end of April but this year winter was long. It’s the middle of May and nothing is done yet,” he explains.

I can hear goats bleating from the stall and see cows walking lazily. I ask if they make cheese because, apart from omnipresent curd, I can’t find other dairy products.

“We have four cows but most people have one or two. That’s not enough for cheese. In summer you can buy it from shepherds. They make cheese and butter.”

In summer all the cattle is taken to a nearby valley for grazing. In soviet times private cattle was pastured together with kolkhoz’s and the amount of milk produced was given back to the owners. Today people need to pay for shepherds’ work who sell dairy products for their own profit. It’s also difficult to find people disposed to do this job as life in the high mountains isn’t easy.

“Four cows are also a problem. You need to have a lot of hay for the winter to feed them. There”, he points to a slope, “we have another field. Quite arid so now we only grow forage there.”

I say that it must be difficult to farm a field located so high but Zohid shakes his head.

“Look, there’s a road. A lorry or a tractor can pass so we can bring the harvest down. But there”, he points in another direction, “there are no roads. People must carry everything in baskets on their own backs. For them it’s difficult.”

In summer Zohid has another duty. He has to provide wood for winter. He cuts down trees around his house or in the valley.

“There, a few kilometres from here, there’s a wood. Everybody cuts trees there.”

I ask about the valley because, although all the villages burst with spring greenery, it seems not enough for long, Pamir winters.

“Usually, it’s enough but a few years back there were some problems. Then you need to cut more from around the house. Every year I plant about 100 trees here but half of them don’t root. I don’t know why.”

I wonder what it looks like in practice in this land where people are so dependent on what the earth grows. And it doesn’t overindulge them.

“Yes, of course that you need to pay for cutting trees in the valley”, Zohid explains, “but no, nobody takes care to plant them back there. The wood grows back on its own.”

Zohid’s wife bustles around the house. She sweeps the concrete floor, brings water from a stream flowing in front of the house. In summer she cooks on an electric stove, in winter on a wood stove that warms the whole room. All the family sleeps in one room as you don’t waste firewood here.

In the evening, after taking his cattle back to the barn, Zohid goes to a public bath because they don’t have a banya by the house.

“Maybe one day,” he says. “It’s an old house. For now we have renovated the kitchen a bit. That’s what we had money for. Maybe one day, inshallah.”

After his return, he says.

“Let’s talk about school. You know, I’d like to be a good teacher. Here it’s difficult. Only people who have less strenght to work the fields go to work at schools. Imagine that being 43 years old, I’m the youngest teacher at my school. Young people prefer to migrate to Russia and make some money.”

I ask about his salary.

“It’s more volunteering than real work. In dollars it will be about 70. After buying flour and sugar for the whole month for my family, my payout is over. That’s why, apart from being a teacher, I also need to be a full-time farmer. But I like my job.”

We compare methods and problems linked to this job, finding out that they don’t differ much. What is different are the conditions. Zohid has a classroom with old benches, a blackboard and an outdated, black and white textbook at his disposal.

“No, we don’t have any recordings, any listening or conversation tasks. There is just the text in the schoolbook. Now you know why young people here don’t learn much of English at schools,” he explains in fluent English.

“I’d like to go to training courses, be a better teacher but here you need to have strong support to be qualified. Only once, I have no idea how, I was sent for a training to the USA. I spent a month there, learnt a lot. It was a wonderful time. Here, in Tajikistan, I simply exist. There I felt really alive.”


“People here are a bit primitive,” says a Belgian cyclist to me. I still can’t shake this sentence off me.

Leave a Reply