The Missing Men of Tajikistan, Making Money Abroad

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A Tajik man rides his donkey along a mountain track in the Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Kommersant.

(ALAUDDIN VALLEY) — Russia's relationship with Tajikistan has soured following an incident involving a Russian pilot who was jailed — along with his Estonian co-pilot — after making an emergency landing in the Central Asian nation.

Russia responded by beginning to deport Tajik guest workers, a move that threatens Tajikistan's entire economy. In total, some 700,000 Tajik citizens work in Russia. In the past quarter, they sent home some $742 million in remittances. Overall, the money guest workers send back makes up half of the republic's government budget.

The Alauddin Valley is in the Fann Mountains in eastern Tajikistan. The place long held an allure for Russian writers and adventurers. Later, during the Soviet era, it was a popular tourist destination. Yet establishing a strong relationship with the people of the mountainous region is not easy.

Men are a rarity in the area. Nearly every family has at least one breadwinner working in Russia, if not more. The farm work falls to the women, who divide it up among themselves.

Each summer, the village chooses the most experienced and skilled women to take all of the cows (up to 300 of them) to the summer pastures high up on in the mountains. The women spend four months there with their children since there is no one to leave the children with. They milk the cows and prepare products for the winter: cheese, butter and kaymak, a traditional clotted cheese. These fermented goods get them through the winter when snow and avalanches cut off all contact with civilization.

Residents here generally have two questions for visiting Russians. The first one, given the Alauddin Valley's dependence of remittances from Russia, is obvious: Is President Dmitri Medvedev going to limit the entry of Tajik guest workers? The second question is less obvious: Are there cows in Moscow? The Alauddin Valley's women truly can't imagine life without either.

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