Matthew Reed - Tajikistan
Such is the plight of many older people in Tajikistan that their very being is eroded by malnutrition, poor health care, and absent families who endure the often maltreated life of migrant workers in Russia. In desperation some older people sign over their modest apartments in an arrangement where they remain in residence until they die, cared for by the new owner. For several people in the neighbourhood though the new ‘carers’ have heralded suspiciously early deaths. The existence of this barbarism means many elderly people live in fear of their lives, so the daily food and home care offered by Christian Aid is invaluable.
Part of the shock of poverty in Tajikistan is that it didn’t used to be like this. Many of the people struggling to survive have not been used to this existence. Anastasia Bougrova for example was before retirement a doctor, a consultant; she now like all others of her age does not know where the next meal will come from. Nurse Nazarava does today; she puts the food left over from her neighbour’s plate in a jar to have later.
I am taken to see several people in their soviet apartment blocks, identical to buildings throughout the old USSR. Panes of glass are randomly distributed amongst the window frames, dogs guard their hoards of rubbish, rotting concrete hangs from lintels and mail boxes that have been idle for years swing in the breeze. I go to meet Yuri Barrotov, aged 76, who lost his sight in a mining accident. In the past he would have received a satisfactory pension and state care; now he sits in the dark with a few of his old tools as companions. In the corner of the room a sack of EU food aid questions who will cook it. As I listen to his story and somewhat uncomfortably take some photographs, Yuri’s dinner is prepared by a volunteer from our partner, the National Volunteer Council.
Despite the despondent circumstances endured by many of the people I have met today, there has remained a tenacious and profound sense of human dignity. There is an ubiquitous and understandable yearning in these older people for the safety and predictability of the Soviet era.
These older people do not feature highly in plans for the brave new order, with its decisions based on potential financial return.
Once again the work we support here rejects human disposability. It makes life desirable and treats each beneficiary as a unique person; in so doing it reflects in some humble way without fanfare the great commandment.
But what of the degradation, poverty and suffering there to start with? Where is the Holy, the Divine, God in the mess of all this?
One response could simply be to recite the mantra of the stable, an exile in Egypt, living under occupation, and an untimely death as God comprehending and partaking in the human torment. In the face of those I meet with today this approach sounds rehearsed and feels glib and inappropriate, even insulting; it is not a line of inquiry I would begin to want to pursue.
An alternative could be to refrain from words altogether and submit to a humble and sustained silence. This could have it attractions, for it witnesses to the inexplicable. But it is also unsatisfactory, for it hints at authenticating or colluding with the ugly unacceptable face of human suffering.
Neither glibness nor silence is good enough.
Personally, despite at times a perceived pressure from others, I am resigned to stay with the question and act. This is not laziness, because I have relentlessly wrestled with it for decades. It is just how it is.
It is in the question though that I return to the love of God personified in the person of Jesus, uniquely attuned in its encounter with humanity.
Or to cut the crap, witnessing people care for each other in the profound manner I have witnessed today.