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Fingers crossed that the road will be open...

Tajikistan, June 20, 2009

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Moving 800 metric tons of wheat flour, oil and lentils across eight districts in Tajikstan — with its limited infrastructure — is just plain challenging. For four weeks, we’ll be distributing these staple foods to nearly 5,000 women who are pregnant or have children under the age of two.

We’ve just finished the first week of distribution and it went smoothly. This, considering that the local trucking company sent only half the trucks contracted and the road is open in 15-minute increments, is pretty remarkable. Luckily, when I stepped into this temporary position, most of the logistics had already been handled.

One of my favorite aspects of working in the field is how every day brings the unexpected. I never thought I would find myself negotiating with the head of the Chinese road crew here in Garm, trying to ensure that we could move our trucks through without endless delay. The road leading to and from Garm is in the process of being widened and paved: this means there is blasting every hour, on the hour as they transform the narrow, dusty road into a functioning paved road. Sometimes the road closes for four or five hours; vehicles stack up, honking and waiting…and waiting.

I trekked over to the road crew manager’s home in the hopes of securing a schedule of openings. Tall and looking like Inspector Gadget, David promised that the road would be opened for fifteen minutes at 8am, 10am, 3pm and 6pm. We’ve also got an hour at noon. We’ve posted Mercy Corps/USAID signs in the windows of every vehicle. If they can let us through they will, he promised. Then he offered me a slice of homemade pizza. All in all, a successful meeting.

During distribution, many of my days start at the warehouse where the goods are stored. It’s wild to walk through the tall towers of flour. It’s busy, with loaders stocking the ten-ton trucks and the warehouse team counting every item that goes into a truck — every item is counted and accounted for. We all review the plan and coordinate how many trucks go to specific distribution points across various villages.

And then it’s out to the villages, fingers crossed that the road will be open. Since independence, Tajikistan has seen a renewal of traditional cultural and social values, including a revival of Islamic practices. One result is the withdrawal of women from public life. But not during distribution: the women talk and laugh while their children play.

While conducting a study here last summer, several women told me that distribution allowed them to meet new friends and catch up with others. The atmosphere is festive, with community members helping transport the staples to homes — using vehicles, wheelbarrows, donkeys — whatever it takes. Men invite us to their homes to show us their greenhouses, which our field coordinators and volunteers have taught them how to build and use.

It’s exciting. And our local team and volunteers are phenomenal; they are organized and in good spirits as they exchange news with community members and keep everything moving. Overall, it’s been a good week.