“We Started Education”

Find my newest Kiva Fellows blog post.



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Books that have Stuck

There are lists, thousands of them I am sure, where people talk about their favorite books. The books that changed their lives, and so on and so forth.

I am sure this is going to be fairly similar, but recently I’ve been thinking about the books that have stayed with me for years. After reading them, they never really left. They found in my head a nice little sea cottage and sat down for ages, and for some of these books its been years.

Book 1: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader By C.S. Lewis

My father read me and my brother books when we were younger before we went to bed. I remember Peter Rabbit was one of my favorites, and I remember we went through the whole Narnia series, perhaps more than once, but I remember being fascinated by the Dawn Treader. The Dragon boat, King Caspian, and of course Eustace. You just knew he was going to be trouble with a name like that. But the part of the book that stuck with me, even the 20 some years after I sat next to my father as he read the book to me, was the land where dreams come true. Even to this day I sometimes sit there and think about what this land would look like for me.

The Sign of Four- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I had the whole set. I still do for that matter. Of all Holmes’s books. But this one keeps coming back to me as I get older. The discussion of the seven percent solution (cocaine, its a hell of a drug) was I think my first look at drugs and drug users. And the locked room mystery (he couldnt have gone out the door, or the window so…??)  have stuck with me through economic classes, summer camps, and even learning Russian (dont ask, it came to my head during PC language training when learning about rooms and doors and someone enters someone exits).

Myst: The Book of Atrus

I never read the others in the series, and I never felt the need. I remember I picked up the book because I liked how the book felt, and how the picture on the inside cover showed through. The book was a bit disturbing to be honest. I read it after getting kneed in the eye and throwing up all over the place, and having to stay home from school because of it. But the part that stuck with me was the description of the first world that is created. Everytime I go hiking I think of parts of this book. The description of a waterfall that falls through the center of the earth to come out the other end… I still imagine it to this day. It was also the first book that hit me that I might want to try and do this later in life, write.

How to Be A Spy

I have no idea who wrote this, or even when. I do remember where it was located in my elementary school library though. I remember it was red, and the cover was really thick. I remember the crazy pictures inside with the hilarious (now) pictures of people who where spies. And I remember reading it alone, and with friends. Learning how to write secret messages, make sure you aren’t being followed, and how to walk quietly. But today the parts that stick with me are the secret messages using leaves. If you poke the steam through the leaf what does it mean, if you leave it by the rock instead of on it what it means (meeting is cancelled incidently).

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

This was the first book I read that was over 300 pages. It was big, and the teacher I read it for was thought of as insane, but now that I look back she was quite sane, just had an exact way of getting kids to be able to do certain things that we don’t normally do in our generation. Maybe its because I travel so much now, and to be honest this is the book that started this post, but this book keeps coming up. When people are talking about feeling like foreigners in their own land. When I get into conversations about marriage, children, or even the elderly I keep thinking about this book.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

To me its the glass shop on top of the hill, and the original dream that keep coming back and that have stuck. I keep thinking of them where ever I am. The two images and the surrounding parts of the book sit in my head and come out whenever I walk up a hill with a store at the top, or I sleep outside, or when I am in Egypt.

These books for different reasons have stuck with me. Other books are my favorites, and actually none of the books mentioned in this list fall on my favorites, now or ever, but pieces of them have stuck with me and effect the way I talk with people, I act while I’m bored, or in one instance, what I ended up studying in college.

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Sunday Walk

The smoke seemed to create a kind of fog as I walked outside the building. The tangy taste in the back of my throat, and the quickening of my heart made me realize someone was burning trash nearby. I had almost poisoned myself in Ukraine by burning trash and now, whenever I smelled burning trash, my body immediately started reacting to it.

I turned the street and started walking towards the fountain that contained what looked like an Indian goddess, which stood across from a she wolf nursing two boys. I hadn’t decided yet where I would go, but I knew that I had to get out of my house for a few hours.

Tajikistan is not a bad place to walk around in. Most of the cities dont grow up, they grow out, like the waist line of America or (according to BBC) China. The houses range from recently rebuilt buildings, to those built around the time of World War 2, to those built just after the Russian revolution, or before. I realized when I was in college that I enjoy looking at architecture, not really doing anything with it, but I liked looking at it, seeing how people had made a home or a building into a piece of themselves.

As I walked past the fountain I decided I would walk towards one of my favorite places, the Panshanbe market. The main part of the market is housed in a pink, my mom would call it a sick pink (because the sight of the color makes you sick to your stomach), building with the hard realist statues from the Soviet Union standing on the roof by the doors inside. Directly above the entrance there is also what seems to be a dome cut in half, thats been beautifully tiled. The market is the insanity of capitalism that you can not get in America, unless you stand on the stock exchange floor.

When I first came to the market, I was overwhelmed. The amount of people selling fruits and vegetables, lepushka (a local flat bread), meat, dried fruits and nuts, spices, tea, candy, cookies, it all overwhelmed me as I walked on the main floor. Hundreds of people selling, and hundreds of people buying in a curiously clam and yet hurried way. Young boys pushing carts with bread or someones purchases forcing their way through the crowds. I looked out of place, and I felt like a giant light at night, and that the peoples eyes were moths that were attracted to me right away. I didnt really enjoy it, and I have a feeling neither do lights.

My favorite part of the market is not the color scheme, which I think some Communist Party boss decided on so that it would look like a Leningrad (now again St. Petersburg) palace, its a small round piece on the outside on the western side of the building. Its a picture of Lenin and Stalin’s heads standing next to each other looking very stern and purposeful North… towards Russia. The reason I like this is three fold. One, it show cases, incase you needed more examples, of Tajikistan’s past, linked to Russia and the Soviet Union. The Second is that most buildings in FSU (former Soviet Union… not a university) have dates on them, kind of a made on date. This one has 1954 on it. Making it a building that was finished after Stalins death (1953) but before Khurshev’s secret speech caused most Communists to tear down Stalin statues (1956). and the Third reason is tied to the first, in the FSU you will see lots of images of Lenin, but very few images of Stalin. In fact, in front of the Simferopol train station there sits a statue of Lenin, and when I first got there the statue was brown and tan (now its grey), and you could see that its head was not the original head on the statue, making one think that Stalin had originally sat there and that his head was cut off and replaced by Lenins sometime in the past.

But here is Stalin and Lenin, Stalin in the front, Lenin behind him. It gives one an idea of what it might have been like around 1952-53 after the Great Patriotic War (Soviet Unions name for WWII), with Stalin having achieved God like status.

As I walked past the market, the minaret across the square errupted into noise, and I jumped a little. I continued on walking through the people from “the village” who spilled into the street as if the market was a bucket with a hole in it.

I continued walking not knowing where to go, but I continued on, turning here and there. I suddenly decided I’d try and walk to the Somon market, a market that is about 5 km out of town, but is also known as the Chinese Tajik friendship market (most of the signs are in Russian, Tajik, Chinese and English).

I began walking and thinking about the town, and how everyone thought it was funny I walked everywhere when I had so much money and could take cabs. I thought of how sad it is not to be able to see the stores I drive by. I thought of growing up in suburbia and how I am sure if I walked to school people would look at me like I was crazy, or high, or both.

I was thinking about where I grew up when I hit my first cotton field. Not far out of the center of town, about a 50 minuet walk, the cotton fields start. I began to walk towards them and then suddenly realized that this is where I had wanted to go to all along. I had wanted to go to cotton fields and look at cotton, never having really looked at it before. I wanted to pick some, and see how it was done.

I remember hearing about cotton when I was younger and just was hypnotized by the plant that grew all our clothes and caused so much pain to so many people.

I walked threw fields for a while. Stopping to examin cotton, stopping to watch work groups pick it from the age of 8 to 80. Then I went home, to my air conditioned apartment, and began to read again. The smoke outside had cleared.

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New Kiva Blog

This blog is timed for all of you who want to do something for International Day of Peace.

Read and let me know what you think.


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Episode 4: Arbob Palace is up

For those wondering, its Tajik Independence Day!!!!
In celebration I put up this video for you all to watch. I hope you enjoy.

Also, the song is by a guy who is actually pretty good, and all his music is free at Creative Commons (he has like 7 albums currently I think). Josh Woodward

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New video: Tajikistan Thru my Eyes Episode 3

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Mergers in Microfinance

New Kiva Fellow blog,


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Bombs are Loud

When the bomb went off, I hadnt thought it was a bomb. I thought it was a crane dumping materials, or my neighbor doing house work.

At 8:03 this morning I was sipping a cup of coffee watching BBC World News. I was wondering if I should go into work or not as I felt a little tired and it was friday after completing a big project.

I put down my cup of coffee and picked up my yogurt when I heard a loud boom. I looked out my windows but couldnt see anything. I went back to my breakfast and BBC, the light above my bed swaying slightly. Must have been my neighbor and landlord doing work.

As I left my apartment interesting things began to occur. The history museum near where I live has a hill behind it where the military always has guards posted. In the late 1990’s a group took over the ground while trying to take over Khujand and succeed from Tajikistan. This hill had about 20 guards standing on top of it. And as I was driven down the side streets away from the river and towards Panchshanbe the main market, I saw two ambulances rush by.

As it was morning, and the commute was on, I just figured there had been a traffic accident. People all over the market were going to and for as they normally did. When I got to the office few people were there.

It wasn’t until after I had sat down that I found out. As I plugged my computer in to start work, Boris walked up to me.

“Sam, ты знаешь?” (do you know?)

Do I know what Boris.”

Bomb, you didnt hear it?”

My heart stopped. I had jokingly thought that maybe it was a bomb, or the army testing something, but I never thought that it might actually be a bomb.

Not my photographs

This is all still unfolding, and as I hope is abundantly clear, I am fine.

The information is still coming in, but what is known is that there was a suicide bomber of some sort (either in a car or walked in), and he blew up the anti-organized crime divison of the police HQ for Norther Tajikistan. So far counted 1 is dead and 30 are wounded. The death toll is expected to rise, and the building is still on fire. I have been reading a lot in russian, because english language news dosent seem to care as much about it. (except African Reuters)

I have promised my girlfriend, and if I had talked with my mom I am sure I would have promised her, that I will be extra safe. I do not feel like I am in danger, and actually am more saddened for the lose of life experienced today, and the idea that many will have that this country is violent and stupid (as per an earlier post). I will take photos at a later date, not today. And knowing the community I now live in, this weekend, will be one of remembering and sorrow.

But it brings home a point that you experience a lot when doing development work. The poorest places are usually the most violent and dangerous. Poverty breeds desperation, and that can lead to violence.

If you look at the places that many would say are the most dangerous in the US, the poorest areas come to mind.

I will be safe, and not reckless, and the two organizations here have already stepped in to ensure that safety (i was driven to work today, when I usually walk). And if I feel unsafe at anytime I will leave. But I dont think that will happen, after all I still have my coffee to finish, BBC world news to watch, and new friends who watch out for me all the time.

Safe and sound at work. No need for worry.

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New Video: Tajikistan Thru My Eyes Episode 2

On the Fergana valley, sorry for not being able to read one of the subtitles. I didnt know it was going to corrupt as much in the upload.

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“think us violent and stupid”: Arriving

Emomali’s chubby face peered into mine with intent, almost like he was questioning a spy, or at least a man caught trying to steal a wallet. The trays from two airplane meals were stacked on his tray table, and this, combined with his stomach, made his leaning into me very difficult.

I stammered at first, so he repeated the question. “What do you know about Tajikistan?” For me the answer was long. I knew a lot, but Emomali knew how the rest of the world viewed his mountain country.

“A lot,” I responded, “I’m a little tired, I’m sorry, but I know a lot.”

Emomali’s face burst into a giant grin that melted into his eyes and made him look a lot like a life like Buddha statue. He stuck out his hand.

“My name is Emomali,” he said in heavily accented English. “Its not common name in English, yes?”

“No,” I responded, taking his hand, “It is not.”

“Do you come to see Pamirs? Or are you with a Government?” He asked leaning back into his seat.

His question was legitimate; most foreigners coming to Tajikistan fell into one of the two categories. Today Tajikistan is know in the outside world, if it is know at all, as a violent place, filled with Narco-terrorists, and mountains that make mountain climbers mouths water. These two things create low tourism for most of the country, since most people are not mountain climbers, and cast Tajikistan as a land few would wish to come to, or even send their enemies too.

“Neither, I am coming to work with Micro Finance organizations,” I said, trying to wake up for this conversation.

He sat up so quickly that he almost knocked the top tray off and into the isle.

“This is very good. I too work for NGO.”

“Really? What does it do?”

He closed his eyes as if trying not to see something, “I work to make good ummm..” he paused trying to think of the English word, “places for mental sick people?”

“Sanitariums? Mental Hospitals?” I asked, a bit in shock.

“Have you ever been to one?”

I shook my head.

“We just come back from Estonia and Latvia, beautiful… Mental Hospitals there. Much better than Tajikistan.”

I couldn’t respond, I could only imagine what Tajikistan’s mental hospitals were like.

“So why do you know a lot about Tajikistan?”

I explained that I had studied post soviet countries in university, and got interested in 2005 with Central Asia, and after I graduated I continued my interest by reading almost everything I could on the subject, which is surprisingly little in English. In those studies Tajikistan is talked about a little bit, but not as much as I wished.

When I was done he nodded, “Yes, but now you are going. Will you see other countries in Central Asia?”

“Maybe, I can speak Russian, so…”

Emomali nodded his big head, “Not common in the United States.”

I laughed a little remembering one friends comment: “Russian reminds me of the bastard child of English, Greek, and Turkish. Languages I know either kind of well, or not at all.

“No, not common, ” I responded

“What do people know about Tajikistan in America?” He asked, as he handed his two trays to the stewardess. The stewardess turned to me and smiled without showing any teeth and took my tray.

“Depends on who you ask,” I said, thinking of the people I knew. Some knew about Tajikistan and Central Asia as a whole because I talked about it, a lot. Others had fields of knowledge of Tajikistan which were very specialized: Mountains, Drug Trafficking, guns, poverty, Ismali music, Chinese influence, hydroelectric power, Farsi, the borders of the country. Many though, knew nothing at all except that it was a “stan”.

“Many people don’t know us,” Emomali said tapping his chest a bit with his giant hands, and looking a little sad. “And those that do know about us, think us violent or stupid.”

He shifted in his seat so his body now faced mine. “Russians think we all have just come out of the hills, are walking around with guns, and don’t know about running water.”

This was a pretty accurate description of Russians view of Tajiks actually. The major comedy show in Post Soviet Countries, Nasha Russia, had a sketch that had two bumbling construction workers who break into gibberish, these workers are based on Tajik migrant workers. In the recent movie based on the show begins with two of the characters based on Tajiks, rolling out of a suitcase they’d been put in so that they could get into a country they are not allowed to be in. Then at the end, these characters and their friends come out of everywhere to help the main character their “boss”, and insure that the character gets married.

This idea is so powerful in Russia and Ukraine that many Americans, who are really smart, seem to have adopted it.

I had to be honest with myself, I had been one of those people up until about 3 years ago when I met someone born in Tajikistan. They were not Tajik, they were Crimean Tatar. I had met him back in Crimea, the place he had “returned” to after living his whole life in western Tajikistan. He had been an electrical engineer, and now was a farmer in Crimea. This man was very smart, funny, smiled easier than anyone I had ever met, and took his religion seriously.

“That is sadly true,” I said.

“I wish,” Emomali said poking the air with his big right hand. “I wish that British had umm… conquered us. Like they did Pakistan.”

I looked at him cautiously, not really knowing where this conversation was going.

“Then I could speak English good,” he said.

“Well,” I responded, the English teacher coming out of me.

After that he let me fall asleep for the first time in my 22 hours traveling to the country, and I awoke on our decent into Dushanbe. The black of the night punctuated by orange lights flickering all over the places.

As we walked into passport control Emomali came up to me, and gave me a hug as he picked me up. I was slightly surprised, both by his strength and by how awake he seemed to be at 4:35 in the morning.

“Welcome to Tajikistan!” he exclaimed as he placed me down on the ground. A few gold teeth shining in the back of his mouth.

I began to have the feeling that this trip was going to be slightly more interesting then ones I had had in the past.

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