2009 Boren Fellowships
George Mason University
As a scholar and practitioner in the conflict resolution field, I chose to study in the Republic of Tajikistan for several reasons. Tajik society has experienced an extended period of “fragile peace” for over 10 years. Many scholars wonder how this peace continues to sustain itself, given the plentitude of destabilizing factors plaguing this country, including corrupt governance, unemployment and labor migration among young men, and an increasing rate of drug, arms and human trafficking from South Asia to Europe. As a central front in the struggle to reduce support for extremism in the global war on terror, Tajikistan has strong relevance to U.S. national security.
I designed my Boren Fellowship to accomplish two things: facilitate the completion of my doctoral dissertation data collection and acquire Tajik/Farsi language skills. My research project first catalogued the composition of communal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Tajikistan and then sought to understand under what conditions these communal NGOs, and particularly, women, environmental and youth-based NGOs are functioning vis-à-vis Tajik’s “post-authoritarian hybrid regime.” To fully realize this project, it was essential to be physically located in Dushanbe, as Tajikistan continues to struggle with the information technology era, and most communal NGOs do not have e-mail or consistent internet access.
Despite my proficiency in Russian, I had no formal knowledge of Tajik language before arriving in Tajikistan, so I worked with a Tajik private tutor 10 hours every week. In addition, living in Dushanbe forced me to use Tajik every day. I sometimes helped with English-language lessons for university students, and I helped with the local girls’ soccer team. I also attended belly and traditional Tajik dance classes where the instruction was in Tajik. Between my formal coursework, informal daily life engagement with the language, working with staff members at NGOs, and other extracurricular activities, I was constantly improving my language skills.
The most enjoyable aspects of life in Tajikistan were the family dinners at friends' homes. The local dining tradition is very different from Western dinner parties, but enjoyable just the same. We sat on a very colorful rug which is placed on the floor with many "appetizer-typed" dishes. Tajik food comes from many different parts of their history ranging from Mongolia to Iran; therefore, the dishes are often varied and enjoyable. Every few minutes, someone makes a toast and all the guests say a few words about how good of friends they are. The dessert part of the evening usually comes around the fourth hour.
The most challenging aspect of living in Tajikistan was the same as it was when I lived there last. There are so few African-Americans that people sometimes reacted strangely to my presence. This mostly happend at the bazaars, where many of the workers are from rural areas and have had little-to-no exposure to foreigners in their lifetime. That being said, the number of Black people living in Dushanbe is increasing.
The completion of my Boren Fellowship has not only had important implications for me academically, but also the federal career post I hope to obtain. While working on my doctoral degree in conflict resolution, I worked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a U.S. intelligence agency under the Department of Defense. With a top secret security clearance and a counter-intelligence polygraph, I hope to rejoin the Central and Southwest Asia division at NGA, or to join the Near East and Southwest Asia Bureau of the Central Intelligence Agency or Defense Intelligence Agency. I am exploring other opportunities within the federal government as well. Regardless of which path I choose, the Boren Fellowship’s contributions to my language acquisition and my research, along with my previous work experience, will make me a valuable addition to the federal government.
Written: November 2009