From my neighbors’ flat in Khujand, in northern Tajikistan, we watched images of Kyrgyzstan’s coup on Russian satellite TV. One woman was sitting in her dark shop illuminated only by flashlight, weeping. The mannequins that had once displayed her goods were now nude. In the next shot, another woman swept glass from the steps of her shop. “They smashed the windows… how will I feed my family now?… they took my things”, my neighbor translated her words.
With the Kyrgyz border just 30 minutes away by car from the city where I live, the fires and the looting on TV seemed very close. And so, I was really angry at the looters. The looted stores in Kyrgyzstan looked just like the business descriptions of many Kiva Entrepreneurs in Tajikistan who I will visit over the next three months. How hard those women on TV must have worked to earn a living! I was so angry that in just a few minutes, looters had smashed the windows and taken away years of their toiling and saving.
However, even though Tajikistan’s entrepreneurs have not been looted, it doesn’t mean Tajik businesses and lives are not affected. Today I went to the big bazaar south of Khujand to buy myself a new pair of shoes. The bazaar is a cool place – loads of merchants have made shops out of old shipping containers, from which they sell clothes, toys, kitchen ware etc. Apparently, many of the bazaar merchants buy their goods from Kyrgyzstan. Well, they used to buy them from Kyrgyzstan before the “jang” (Tajik for fighting/war), said the man who sold me my shoes.
Bazaar merchants aren’t the only ones with ties to Kyrgyzstan. A colleague at Kiva’s field partner IMON International explained to me that many businesses in Khujand have their marketing materials printed in Bishkek, especially when they have large orders or need over-sized printing (think billboard size). Printing businesses in Khujand arrange for materials to be printed in Bishkek, and then they fly there to collect them. My colleagues knew individuals that had recently gone to Bishkek – either to buy goods wholesale or to collect printing, etc. – and who were still trapped there due to the unrest.
In a small way, the events in Kyrgyzstan have even affected my own work. I was scheduled to visit two Kiva Entrepreneurs, Zulola Obidova and Vali Azamov, to learn about their businesses and loans. However, these entrepreneurs live in a part of Tajikistan’s territory that is entirely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan. Because of the unrest, it may be dangerous for me to travel there, so I had to cancel the visits. I can only wonder what the unrest has meant for them.
by Rosalind Piggot, KF10, Tajikistan. If you would like to support entrepreneurs in Tajikistan and across the world, join the lending team Supporters of Tajikistan or make a loan to a Kiva Entrepreneur here.