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Interview with Jermaine Butler

Jermaine Butler is a graduate student currently pursuing his master’s degree in the Central Eurasian Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures departments. He traveled to Tajikistan in the summer of 2016 on a Critical Language Scholarship.

Ah, Tajikistan! I could write an entire book about my adventures there, but I’ll keep my memories brief this time around. A large part of the reason that I’m so in love with Tajikistan is due to the amazing opportunities I’ve received since returning to America, and for that, I am eternally indebted. In the summer of 2016, I was awarded a CLS (Critical Language Scholarship) to study Persian in Tajikistan. Now I’ll be honest, I knew absolutely nothing about Tajikistan before applying for this program, and least of all that they spoke Persian. In my defense, the majority of people I spoke with about my upcoming journey hadn’t heard of the country either. I did a little bit of light internet research on the country, its culture, and most importantly, the dialect of Persian, but I was left with largely no idea about what I was getting myself into and so the journey began!

 

We arrived to a worn-down, Soviet era hotel in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, where I was picked up by the youngest son of my host family, Faizollah, and taken to the place that I would call home for the next two months. My (host) family was an amazing 16 person household, and I honestly love them so much. Out of all of the traveling, studying, and sightseeing I did while in Tajikistan, my fondest memory is the time I spent with my host family. For most of the week, my routine ran like clockwork. I’d eat breakfast with my host family every morning outside on our Chorpoya (Tapchan) and play with my favorite little host sister, Rumaisa. After that, I’d take a shower, head off to class for a few hours, then explore the city with my friends or go to my tutor lessons. Before dusk, I’d return home to play with the kids and talk with my host brothers before eating dinner and watching a little TV with the men of the family. Often times, we’d go for walks in the neighborhood after dinner, and get some yakhmos (ice cream), a favorite dessert of all Tajiks regardless of age.

 

Now, they tell you that they speak Persian in Tajikistan, but they don’t tell you how different the language sounds! Imagine being an uneducated American, having never heard a British person speak, and you meet a British individual for the first time with the heaviest Cockney accent. You would be able to recognize that it’s English, but many of the words might sound foreign. Combine that with the speed of your average Cockney speaker, and the language becomes almost incomprehensible. This was the situation upon landing in Tajikistan. Many of my fellow peers hated the way the Tajiks spoke Persian, and I must admit that I was a little put off at first too, especially with the amount of Russian loanwords that they used, but after a few weeks, I began to fall in love with the Tajik accent much in the same way that many American English speakers love the British accent. Since I mainly spoke with Tajiks while I was there, I still find myself switching between both Iranian and Tajik Persian in my everyday speech.

Of course, we visited many museums, ancient cities, and bazaars and we took a few (seriously) deadly adventures deep into the mountains to witness some of the most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen in my life (Haft Kul and Iskandar Kul). We stumbled through ruins in Panjakent and rested near the tombs of Tajikistan’s forefathers. At the end of it all, I found myself completely smitten with the country and its people, and after Louisiana, I consider Tajikistan my second home. Should things ever get really bad in America, I know that I always have a bed at the home of Hajji Muhammad and Soraya Khanum. Like any country, Tajikistan has its problems, and this writing may sound like propaganda, but I honestly loved my time there, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Tojikiston Zinda Boshad (Long Live Tajikistan)!