From November 1999 to June 2001 I worked in Tajikistan, the former Soviet Central Asian republic. It was an incredible (and not necessarily, always in the positive sense of that word) experience. In those 18 months the country changed significantly. The civil war that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union was officially ended but tensions were high. Downtown Dushanbe, where this photo was taken, was considered too insecure for NGOs to have an office when I arrived. But within 6 months we had moved into the Dushanbe Hotel’s 4th floor and other than the occasional gun battle on the outskirts of town, never had much trouble in town or in the ‘provinces’.
One particularly troublesome province was the Karategin Valley which was ‘ruled’ by the Islamist Minister of Emergencies people. A lot of NGOs had programs in the Valley which was a good 5 -6 hour drive from Dushanbe. Services, especially health and education, were scarce and poorly funded by the government. In no small part because of the Islamist nature of the warlords that controlled the place. Yvonne, my wife, travelled up there regularly, running a large health program. This photo was taken in the spring right after the snow melt when everything was lush.
You had to get out of town regularly both for R&R and business. The country had no banking system (at least no reliable one that would allow the deposit and withdrawal of US dollars) and so I had to fly to Almaty, Kazakhstan to get a stack of dollars (in cash) and bring it back for operations. Three mountain ranges (Tien Shan, Pamir, Hindu Kush) come together in this part of Central Asia, given rise to the label, Roof of the World. As soon as you take off from Dushanbe airport and get to cruising altitude in the old Yak, this is the scene out of the window. As far as you can see, snow peaks in all directions. It was generally inspiring except during winter when the clouds were thick and low. For two hours you flew without be able to see a thing, bumping along, hoping the planes instruments were in working order.
The backbone of our program was the monetization of American wheat and oil provided by the Department of Agriculture. Normally, we would sell the wheat and oil on the market and take the proceeds to fund our programs. But in some instances, such as providing support to schools and orphanages, we would provide the wheat and oil directly. This photo was taken on a hot summer day just before I left at one of the schools in Dushanbe that our program supported.