An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Kramer Gillin '02: Agricultural development in Tajikistan

Kramer Gillin ’02, second from left, with three herders and their sheep and goat flocks after conducting interviews with the men in summer mountain pastures in central Tajikistan.    

Graduate student  |  Tajikistan

October 2018

By Paula Bock

Life Journey: I moved to Tajikistan shortly after college, hoping to launch a career in agricultural development in neigh-boring Afghanistan. I left the U.S. with a one-way ticket and nothing set up but was able to land a writing/editing job with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I ended up falling in love with Tajikistan itself, made close friends, and acquired a veritable adoptive family there. I've been back many times, including a year and half in 2016-2017 living in a rural mountainous area to do my doctoral dissertation fieldwork on pasture management and post-Soviet changes to property law. I’m now in the dissertation-writing stage of my Ph.D. program in geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

On becoming skeptical of ‘global citizenship’ 

The idea of “global citizenship” frequently gets reduced to a world-as-playground globetrotter mentality for the global cosmopolitan elite. So often, isolated experiences like a year off in less developed countries or a Peace Corps stint are used as inoculations from the guilt of spending the majority of one’s time in a career or lifestyle that is not, in fact, befitting of a “good global citizen.” I strongly support substantive and sustained engagement with a particular place or handful of places, but I think someone can become an excellent citizen of the world without ever leaving their home country. The key is not to enlarge your global footprint, but to expand who you feel responsible for and accountable to.

Guests can arrive unannounced at all hours.... A tablecloth and thick, quilted, cotton-stuffed sitting mats are unfurled....- Kramer Gillin '02

On hospitality in Tajikistan

Guests can arrive unannounced at all hours of the day. When this happens, family members assume well rehearsed roles that minimize the effort of entertaining. A tablecloth and thick, quilted, cotton-stuffed sitting mats are unfurled on the ground. The tablecloth may already have some snacks wrapped up in it, but, if not, a tray of nuts, dried fruit, and candy is always just feet away. A child in the family will probably take tea orders — black or green — while someone else boils tea water. The regularity with which people visit each other’s homes means entertaining is not perceived as much of a burden, and there are plenty of opportunities to reciprocate (unless you’re a visiting American without your own household …).

This article was first published in the Fall/Winter 2018 Lakeside magazine. Paula Bock is innovation and communications strategist for Mobilizing Myanmar, an initiative leveraging Burma’s smartphone revolution to connect women and the poor with economic opportunity. She’s the mom of a Lakeside 10th grader.