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Preparing for Life in Tajikistan

The writer (left) and a friend in front of the Independence and Freedom Monument in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Annie Elle


An abrupt change in plans meant I needed to take a crash course in Central Asia. 


“Oh, one of the Stans. . .”


“. . .you just made up that country.”

Although I have worked in 15 countries and traveled to over 110, none of them have gotten as wide a range of amusing responses as when I announced that my next country would be Tajikistan. It was, in fact, also a surprise to me. I’ve taught English in Chile; led gap year and study abroad programs in Ghana; served as a program leader in youth service programs in the Dominican Republic; and worked with underserved communities in India, to name a few places.

In the spring of 2023, nearing the end of my time in Cameroon as a teacher trainer at a private university, I was accepted to continue in a similar role but in Niger.

Before my departure, I knew I’d need to bulk up on my knowledge of the country beyond my superficial awareness.

Lo and behold, a coup d’etat in July meant that for safety and security measures of expats throughout the country, my position was cancelled. Initially bummed out—I had been diligently practicing my French, making contacts within the expat community there ahead of time and mentally bracing for year-round Sahara heat—I soon found that a public university in Tajikistan was still in need of a teacher trainer. Before I knew it, I was switching research gears to investigate my next stop to better understand this part of the world I was still unfamiliar with.

Research where you’re going

Central Asia, without the same level of tourism infrastructure, has largely gone unnoticed by the retirees flocking to East or Southeast Asia or the backpackers flooding Europe. Before my departure date from the U.S., I knew I’d need to bulk up on my knowledge of the country and the region, beyond my superficial awareness.

Questions flew through my brain as I poured myself into articles and videos about this complex area: How much Soviet influence would still be present? Would my bare-bones Russian from two years living and teaching in Moscow be of any use? How much Muslim influence should I prepare for? Should I bring out my more traditional clothing from years spent with NGOs in Indonesia, Morocco and Iraq? How many specific food items would I need, or does the proximity to East Asia mean many preferred spices will be available?

Packing is half the battle

The next key step is applying the information I gathered from my research. Here are some lessons learned in my packing stage while preparing for my move to Tajikistan:

• Tajikistan has four seasons, and for someone who has generally lived in hot or tropical countries, I had to scavenge to find some suitable snow gear. While Dushanbe is the warmest part of the country (which is 93 per cent mountainous) it still dips down below freezing, and the horror stories started flying the minute I landed about the previous winter. Pipes were frozen, power cuts were frequent and businesses and schools closed down for days on and off throughout the cold spell. I made sure to load in extra thermals, socks, matches and candles (which have proven their worth many times over).

• Having, or not having, comfortable shoes can be an experience deal breaker or maker. Some might say that you can find a market wherever you go, but good quality shoes (which are not knock-off imitation ones) will be on the expensive side and rare in many cases. The cracked tiles and concrete uneven sidewalks in town are also an open invitation for sprained ankles. My boots, old and beat up as they are, and some solid hiking boots for the weekly treks with guided groups have been invaluable.

• Bringing extra cash is a fundamental part of my packing list, and Tajikistan is no exception. As a cash-based society, in Dushanbe only a number of more expensive restaurants accept credit cards, not to mention cities or towns outside of the capital. The ATMs in the centre of town are relatively available, although Mastercard is frequently denied in comparison with Visa. Another pro tip is to go in the mornings—since the ATMs are refilled overnight, they’re more likely to run out of cash in the late afternoons or evenings. Depending on the ATM and bank, there are also daily limits to cash withdrawals, which can be problematic for payments such as apartment rental payments of two to three-month instalments in advance, so back-up cash (in larger, clean and unbent bills) never hurts.

• Islamic countries, even secular governments such as Tajikistan, generally follow conservative dressing standards for women. I made sure to leave my tank tops and shin-revealing-skirts at home for shoulder-and-knee-covering pieces. What I didn’t realize, until it was too late, was that the Central Asian culture also typically covers the rear with looser and longer tops so the curves of a woman are less obvious. In addition, very colourful or “loud” clothing, particularly pants or skirts, aren’t considered very professional or accepted in society. I’ve since purchased a number of tunic tops, solid-coloured dresses, and tucked away my floral pants.

• The availability of hygiene and cosmetic products can be very regional, so specific name brands that you’re used to should be brought along. If you’re staying longer term, culturally more conservative countries tend to less frequently carry items like contact solution and tampons as well. Each expat has different details which will bother them though; for example, I’ve chuckled out loud at friends’ descriptions of toilet paper as “abrasive” and towels which were “exfoliating,” although I don’t personally pay much attention to the differences.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Annie Elle

Annie Elle is originally from Los Angeles, USA. She has been working in various aspects of education internationally since 2011 and is currently working in Dushanbe, Tajikistan as a teacher trainer for different educational institutions. Follow her on Instagram at @Chennanigans01

Website: https://www.instagram.com/Chennanigans01

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