- August 10, 2016
- Posted by: Anjana Sreedhar
- Category: Ambassador, Partner, Wednesday Wisdom
Trust and warmth are often the first step to feeling at home, even when you are far away from your own home. Through her interactions with the people of Tajikistan at her internship and on the streets, Aubrey Reynolds, a current participant in America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, shattered her own stereotypes and started to feel more comfortable in her new environment.
Aubrey Reynolds is a rising senior at Arizona State University, majoring in Biological Sciences and Women and Gender Studies. She is volunteering this summer at IRODA, the only Autism Spectrum Disorder advocacy NGO in Tajikistan, as one of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors.
The first time I rode in a car in Dushanbe, I was leaving the airport at about 4:30 AM.
Exhausted, I climbed into the back seat of our driver’s car and tried to bond with my new roommates. There were taxis everywhere, hoping to gather business from our Turkish Airlines flight, but once we reached the main road, the streets were empty. I remember the car sort of drifting through the lanes as we drove. I ignored it, thinking it was due to the lack of traffic. It wasn’t until the second or third time riding in a car that I realized something that continues to fascinate me; lanes in Dushanbe are really more of a guideline than a strict rule for drivers. Despite the apparent lawlessness, drivers in Dushanbe are bold, accurate, and some of the best drivers I have ever seen. During a particular close call when a truck pulled out in front of the car, our driver, Rahmatjon, scolded me for flinching and said what I interpreted as “trust me.”
Before arriving in Tajikistan, I had several “educated” expectations about life in Dushanbe. As a participant with America’s Unofficial Ambassadors’ (AUA) Summer Service Internship Program, I traveled to Tajikistan to learn more about Tajiki culture, dispel negative stereotypes of the Muslim World, and build meaningful relationships with Tajiki people. Before departing, I reached out to AUA alumni, and spoke with professors and graduate students who were familiar with the country. With these conversations, I had begun to paint a picture in my head. I was ready for an obvious Soviet influence and for the personal frustration that comes with not being able to speak the local languages. I had prepared for the conservative dress, the heat, the fact that people may stare because of my foreign skin color, and the likely possibility that I would lose my suitcase. But my expectations were shattered in many other ways.
My original picture has since been edited by the people I have met and my experiences from the past two weeks.
Not only did the driving in Dushanbe semi-shock me with its counterintuitive organization and skill, but I was also surprised by the fierce women I found myself surrounded by every day. Munisa, our first Tajik friend, is a charming and motivated psychology student. I knew from the moment I heard her ringtone, Rihanna’s “Work,” that she and I would get along. She volunteers and now translates for me and Catie, my co-intern, at IRODA, the Parents and Children with Autism Initiative. Munisa continues to surprise me with her fearless fashion choices and outspoken personality. Her dedication to her work and bravery in expressing herself is inspiring. I’m looking forward to getting to know her more in the weeks to come.
The mothers of IRODA also inspire me. They invest so much into the center and their kids’ success.
After only two days of working at IRODA, Catie and I were left wondering if we would have the strength to handle the lifetime care that children with autism sometimes require — especially in a country where the disability is often diagnosed as schizophrenia and heavily stigmatized. The unexpected thing about our relationships with the mothers is that despite the language barrier I feel like I am truly completing citizen diplomacy during our conversations. From showing them photos from home and explaining my interracial family, to learning about their children, their beliefs, and their lives, I feel like I am truly engaging with them. Some of the most impactful moments from the past two weeks have been speaking with these phenomenal women.
On one final comparative note, I never expected to feel safer in Dushanbe, Tajikistan than in my home state of Florida. The touchy subject of safety — no matter where you go — ultimately plays upon our notions of familiarity versus unfamiliarity.
I came to Dushanbe prepared to be ‘on my guard’ by friends, family, and the coordinators of our program; but just a few days after leaving my home, I received a text from a loved one asking if I had heard about the shooting in Orlando. Terrified, I Googled relentlessly and called my mother to see if she had any updates about our family and friends living in Central Florida. My loved ones were safe. My moments of panic were followed by relief, sadness, and what I guess would be considered shock. My heart hurts for my home state and the lives affected by the attack. But the circumstance has also left me confused as to what truly is safety, and what truly is vulnerability.
Overall, my first two weeks have been eventful to say the least. My expectations have been confirmed in some cases, and challenged in others.
But like the lanes of Dushanbe’s streets, I think my expectations were really more of a guideline and that I will find my own way throughout this experience.
Wednesday Wisdom is a series curated by Everyday Ambassador Partnerships Manager Anjana Sreedhar, which features updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.