Family Magazine

Support Staff

By Sherwoods
I love plants.  It probably comes of growing up in green North Carolina, where life bursts from any available patch of soil.  Green things always mean happiness to me.  I dream of one day being a fabulous gardener.  I've had varying successes and failures - once I managed to kill zucchini plants - but I've planted something in every place we've lived.  I grew vegetable gardens in both places we lived in Utah, bought plants for our balcony in Cairo, and made my friend's driver search all over Baku for garden pots.  Our yard right now is mostly paved courtyard, but there are several areas with grass and dirt.  As soon as we moved in I immediately started planning, imagining my own personal Eden growing out of the first patch of plantable soil I've had in six years.
Gardeners here come pretty cheap - about fifty dollars a month - and when friends asked if I was going to hire one, I insisted that I would be my own gardener.  I like yard work - it's an excuse to be outside and I'll take any excuse to get out of the house.  It's not like our yard is enormous - the actual areas where plants can be grown add up to less square footage than my living room.  I know I'm lazy, but I'm not that lazy.  Besides, I want my yard to look like my yard, not like a Tajik yard.  Everyone has their own idea of beautiful landscaping.
But the yard was the last priority when we moved in.  First I had to unpack the house.  Then I had to arrange the house.  Next came starting school.  And finally, and hardest of all, I had to convince Brandon that spending his cash on something that we'd just leave in two years was really a good idea.  Oh, and taking a Saturday or two to find the plants and materials that we needed to make my yard match the dream in my head.  I couldn't do it on a weekday because Brandon's at work and I don't speak Tajik or Russian.  Miming can only go so far.
In the United States, this would be a reasonably simple affair.  Home Depot is always a pretty good place to start if you're looking for dirt, plants, shovels, hoses, and all of those things that are made for yards.  If you're feeling really creative, there are always garden stores that carry more exotic and exciting plants, enough greenery for any amateur beginning gardener's needs.  Since we have enough children to need a large car, it's just a matter of hauling all of the children down to the store and hauling all of the things back and then getting dirty while keeping the children from trouble long enough to make everything beautiful.  Simple.
But this isn't America.  There are ways to get these things done in Dushanbe, but I don't know what these ways are.  In Cairo plant nurseries and stores lived in unused parcels of land next to train tracks or in the middle of traffic circles.  I just walked over one afternoon, pointed, held up fingers, handed over my address, and I had a balcony full of jasmine, bougainvillea, and gardenias the next afternoon. My Russian neighbor helped me get dirt and showed me where to find plants in Baku.   But I haven't had the time or energy to find out the secret gardener places here in Dushanbe.  I know they exist, but I just don't know where.
And so, Edwin uses my dirt as a makeshift sandbox.
When I was at a friend's house last week, I mentioned that I might like to use her gardener to help me get my yard planted.  We could go to the botanical gardens and pick out plants together - with someone as the translator - and she could get everything set up.  Then I'd take care of it.  But I wanted to go and pick out the plants.  Myself.  My friend said she'd talk to her housekeeper to talk to the gardener (it's always a game of telephone here) and have Anora come over.
A few days later, Zulfiya called me on the phone.  How about this Saturday?  Three o'clock?  Two days later, Zulfiya called back.  Okay, not this Saturday, next Saturday.  Then on Saturday Zulfiya called again.  Okay, so Anora's husband is coming over.  In fifteen minutes.
When I told Brandon of the newest plan - he already wasn't happy about the first plan - he sighed and headed down to the gate.  I often feel that he spends most of his free time being an unwilling part of the newest scheme I've hatched.
I trailed after and welcomed in a man with a mouth full of gold teeth.  He and Brandon chatted and walked around the yard, gesturing.  After all was done and the gate was closed, Brandon turned to me, "He's bringing a cherry tree, peach tree, apricot tree, a rosemary plant, and flowers on Monday.  His wife will come every Thursday to take care of the yard."
And like that, I had a gardener.
One day, I will do my own gardening.  But this is evidently not the day.  I spent ten minutes being disappointed and then admired my three new fruit trees (!!!!!!!) and lovely rosemary bush.  Then I felt relived at not having to find any plants by myself.  It wouldn't be my vision of a lovely garden, but it would be a lovely garden and not two and a half years of bare dirt and patchy grass.
Now I have three members of my Tajik support staff.  Zarifa comes on Monday and Thursday to clean my house.  The milk lady comes on Monday with my twenty fifteen liters of milk.  And now Anora comes Thursdays to take care of my yard.  In an ideal world I wouldn't need a cadre of women to help me navigate basic household tasks, but this obviously isn't an ideal world.  I dislike feeling helpless, unable to even know what the stranger ringing my doorbell wants from me.  I much prefer being able to get everything done all on my own and getting them done my way.  But in the end I don't have the time, mental energy, or emotional stamina to figure out new systems each time I move.  So I throw up my hangs, shrug my shoulders, and hire one of the many willing hands who can ease my transition.  But still it rankles.
Some days, when one Tajik is working in my yard, one in my kitchen, and two on my bathroom, I hardly feel like this is my house at all.  I do pay (most of) them, but they run the show as I watch helplessly while things get done in whatever way the doer feels like doing them.  I'm sure this sounds wonderful to those who are the one and only doer of all of the things in their life, but it isn't for me.  Maybe if I had grown up in a culture where those who have money have everything done for them it would have been life as normal, but I didn't.  I grew up in America, where there is virtue in doing things yourself.  Just because you can pay someone to wash your car doesn't mean you should.  So instead of enjoying the extra time these hard-working helpers give me, I just feel unsettled and long for the day when nobody will be at my house but family and invited guests.
That day, unfortunately, is many years and lots and lots of money away.  I still have countries to go before I settle down, built a house, paint my walls, and kill grow my own garden.  Until then, I have to rely on the support network I build in each new home.  The gardeners, the housekeepers, the drivers, the babysitters, and the milk ladies.  All working hard to keep my little universe running; without them I'd be a disaster in less than a week.  So of course I am grateful.  How can I be anything but?  I'm a stranger in a strange land and they are my guides, smoothing my path,
But one day, I'll make my own dang path.  And clean it.  And fix it.  And pay for it.  And then I'll probably look back to these days with warm nostalgia.  But until then, I can look forward with cheerful anticipation.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog