Veni, Vidi, Visa: or, I came, I saw, I left
VENI, VIDI, VISA or I CAME, I SAW, I LEFT.
I have just returned from seeing the torrents in the mountains. A taxi came to pick me up this morning and drive me around as my cultural experience morning. As we were travelling, my head was full of images of colleagues working with the Open Society Institute and the teachers, children and young people I had met. So while I was looking out from the car or staring down at the rushing waters, in my mind’s eye I saw the torrents that are the lives of the people I met in Tajikistan. I decided on my return from the trip to carry on writing stories or reports on the schools and kindergartens I had visited. I thought I would break my week-long avoidance of coffee and have a cup in Segafredo. As I entered the café I met someone familiar from the visa queue at the airport a week ago on our entry to Tajikistan. We exchanged visa experiences. He works for a non-profit organisation to do with housing. We will be leaving on the same plane in the morning. We are two of the many consultants pacing the streets of Dushanbe.
[Later when we met again at the airport he told me that he was pushing the results of American research that shows that concrete floors, rather than earth, aid development in children. I come from a different school of thought.]
As I moved further into the café I noticed a black woman sitting at a table, we smiled at each other with a sense of identification. I mention the colour of her skin because in Dushanbe it almost certainly marked her out as a stranger like me. Perhaps my hat – a panama bought in Croatia, did the same for her. She, Faduma, originating in East Africa but British for many years and living in West London, is actually less a stranger than me since she has been here some time working for MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders). She is a psychologist, another external consultant. We decided to have our coffees together and exchanged experiences. She told me of the projects to which she is connected, working with children with tuberculosis and HIV. She told me that 350 children in Dushanbe are HIV positive though not apparently through mother to child transmission – although I think the overall numbers are always difficult to assess since they depend on people being tested and the stigma of mother to child transmission may have obscured those figures too. Tuberculosis is a much bigger problem and it is difficult to treat because of the overuse of antibiotics in Tajikistan as elsewhere. But to find so much drug resistance even in children means that the mass use of antibiotics may be a particular problem here. Nobody mentioned such problems in the week I have been here or at least I did not take them in. I have now added them to the beginnings of other understandings I have been gathering of inter-community conflict, girls’ education, levels of unemployment and labour migration, largely to Russia where all migrants are sometimes referred to in a derogatory way as ‘Tajiks’, creating issues for male identity with consequences for families on their return. Katie, my daughter who works for a human rights organisation in Paris and specialises in issues of Gender and Migration, has told me this last point. Such migration still largely involves men though more women are beginning to leave children behind in the search for income.
Faduma and I also shared experiences of some of the barriers we thought we might encounter in our projects. She too had found some problems in getting people to discuss the reality of their experiences because, as often at home, people wish to present what they do in as favourable a light as possible. The tuberculosis project involved a three-month intervention after which local people are to continue with the treatments. This is dependent on getting the right drugs which is dependent on paying for them. At a point in the negotiations about likely sources of funding, the Minister of Health intervened and said it was only a supply problem since they had the funds. She thought that he didn’t want to be seen to be failing his citizens whereas in reality her group thought that he did not have the funds. She was worried that after Médecins Sans Frontières left, treatment would cease or ineffective drugs would be used and the levels of infection would return. She felt that speaking out about this was difficult since MSF gave instructions for staff to be very diplomatic and not upset the government while they were here. I had some resistance from some, to discussing the realities of the schools and kindergartens, seen by one colleague as ‘passing judgement’.
I shared with Faduma my concerns that the approach the project team are taking to educational improvement with the use of the Index for Inclusion may be swamped by the return of more restricted views of inclusion, related to disability, when the project is over. I was also fearful that the bureaucratic processing of the project through stages in the original agreed plan might obstruct the careful work required to establish a development process in each of the settings. Development work is unpredictable and depends on taking up opportunities for the next steps as they arise. It is the instituting of a collaborative development process that will increase the likelihood of sustainability for this project. The realization of all other aims for the settings depends on meeting this one. But expressing a point in italics may be a vain attempt to leave a persisting contribution. My visa is about to expire. Will it be renewed for a return visit?
Tony Booth Dushanbe May 25th 2014