Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Interview

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Interview

Last week I was contacted by Tajik journalist Khiromon Bakoeva at Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and participated in an interview with her about ‘The Disobedient Wife, my debut novel on Tajikistan.

RFE/RL’s mission is to promote democratic values and institutions by reporting the news in countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. Their journalists provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.  To visit their website, click here.

I am very happy that I am finally starting to find a platform through which to reach Tajiks, especially, I hope, women.  This is challenging as the country is far from open and without fluent spoken and written Tajik myself (I did speak it badly when I lived there but left 7 years ago) , it is not easy to reach people in the country.  During the interview I encouraged any Tajiks listening to write, and publish, especially women.  I wish my publisher would consider having the book translated into Russian and Tajik, but sadly I fear that financial constraints will not allow this to happen.

Khiromon asked me numerous questions:

Why I wanted to write about Tajik women… Because I think they are strong, brave and generally pretty awesome!

The disobedient wife is Nargis.  Why is she disobedient?…  Actually there are several in the book, but the Tajik woman named Nargis is disobedient because she has dared to leave her husband, thus becoming a figure of scandal and contempt in her community.  The other wife is a British Expat.

Radio Free Europe

Did I sense that radicalisation is a problem in Tajikistan and do I think women can help to solve this problem by talking to their sons?… certainly when I lived there no, Dushanbe was a secular, fairly safe place and people did not seem at all ‘radical'(willing to die for a cause), only traditional.  There were isolated incidents targeting the Prime Minister but nothing major.  This might have changed since… and yes, of course mother’s may be able to help persuading their sons not to go and fight in radical wars, but most importantly, something has to be done to help the youth to find jobs and build lives (Tajikistan is suffering now from the huge drop in the Russian ruble because so many families rely on remittances from Tajik workers in Russia).  When people lack hope they are vulnerable to the excitement and opportunities they think may open up by fighting in a religious war. (We are seeing the same thing in Bosnia, another country with a crippled economy and high youth unemployment).

The book referenced the main character Nargis accusing international aid workers of partying all the time… This was just on one page and referenced her feeling of invisibility as a waitress at receptions for international expats. An ex-aid worker myself, I do think some of the ‘academics’ prefer to sit behind a computer with data, rather than get out and talk to the actual people they are helping, especially in countries without an acute emergency crisis, such as Tajikistan…

Use of Tajik words and phrases in the book, why?… To add richness to the language used, and to let the reader have a sense of the language.  I love Tajik proverbs.

The full interview is here  in Tajik and HERE in Russian

 

 

Have a good week.

 

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A Note on Tajik Nature

Oil painting copyright Annika Milisic-Stanley
Winter Daffodils copyright Annika Milisic-Stanley

I nearly called the book ‘A Tale of Tajik Flowers’ and named several drafts with this title.  Yes, ‘The Disobedient Wife’ is a much better title and I am glad I changed it.  But why flowers?

When I lived in Tajikistan I was delighted to notice that many women’s names are also the names of flowers.  My landlord was an elderly civil engineer, as fond of Soviet era machinery as he was of roses.  He insisted that Tajikistan was where the rose – Sad Bagh originated.  In my garden, I was lucky enough to enjoy the garden he had lovingly planted.  Cultivated to bloom from May to November, we had climbers and ornamental, sweet scented roses.  I dried their petals and put them in bowls.  On weekends, and when it was warm enough out, I reclined on a tea platform (Tapshan), shaded by hundreds of delicate pink and red climbing roses.  We had purple lilac trees, daffodils and tulips as well as fruit and nut trees and vines that gave us fruit almost all year round (quince, plum, cherries (3 types), apples, pear, grapes, walnuts, pomegranate, fig, mulberries, strawberries). We even had one tree that gave us half sour cherries and half sweet.  The variegated irises were a sight to behold each May, deep burgundy, indigo and yellow, growing on half shaded bank above the ditches that ran around the lawn.  There was a cracked greenhouse without a roof where I grew Italian and purple basil that grew to two metres, yellow tomatoes and rows of lettuce and rocket.

We had guards who asked me for use of land in return for digging and watering, of course I readily agreed.  One of them, a burly, friendly man, accompanied me three days in a row to help me lift rocks from the riverbed into the boot of my car.  They were pink, green, purple and white, smoothed down by the rushing water, like huge marbles.  I used them to line borders and made a rocky mosaic around huge clumps of day lilies and michelmas daisies.  My predecessor had planted long lines of daffodils and laid new lawns with dutch grass seed for her pony.  I brought tulips to Dushanbe in a suitcase when I saw a magnificent display in one of the guesthouses popular with World Bank consultants one spring.

The city of Dushanbe is not a place where one finds great natural beauty, aside from the tall sycamore trees that line old Soviet avenues.  The buildings are mostly Soviet-era, decrepit and ugly.  The pavements are grey and cracked, lined with ditches that run with grey mud and dancing refuse.  The winters are grey and the winds bite, the only flash of colour; the orange fruit of the persimmon tree.  The harshness of the winter months is why Tajiks welcome spring with such joy.  They celebrate with the ancient Zoroastrian festival Nav Ruz.  Green shoots of wheat are made into a soup, cherry trees blossom and glittering, mono-browed brides go out with their dark-suited boys with slicked back hair.  Live bands play in the park.

As I learned the Tajik language, I found it sweet that so many girls are named after the most beautiful aspect of Central Asian nature, the flowers.

Summer Vase Copyright Annika Milisic-Stanley
Summer Vase Copyright Annika Milisic-Stanley