A Summer with Lola

By Imran Kassam

Before I met Lola, it was easy for me to see someone who looked or spoke differently and to think that they could never understand who I was as a person. After all, living in different countries, societies, and speaking different languages gives us a different view of the world. I used to think this divide in the way people see the world was too strong to ever be counteracted, that I could never really have best friends from places besides my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s a good thing I was wrong.

Lola is now one of my best friends. I met her when I was teaching math and English classes in Nairobi, Kenya a few summers ago. She comes from a small village named Khorog, in the Gorno-Badakhshan area of Tajikistan. The area’s surrounded by mountains, which physically isolate it for most of the year, making it one of the most difficult places in the world to travel to. But this country is well worth the geographic obstacles; Tajikistan is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Lola speaks English, Russian, Persian, and a local dialect of Tajiki. The average teenager in Tajikistan speaks most if not all of these languages, and their conversations are mixtures of each. The thrill of having a conversation in four different languages is something I simply couldn’t imagine. Her town doesn’t have buildings taller than two stories, and only a few large buildings exist in Tajikistan at all, something that was vastly disparate from my experiences in downtown New Haven and New York City. Because of Khorog’s substantial, industrial and geographic isolation, I was unsurprisingly taken aback to see her in an American Eagle jacket and Nike sneakers, basically mirroring my own American wardrobe. I came to learn that, although I could walk into a store at home to buy these clothes; she had to order everything online.

I spent a long time explaining how for fun we would go to restaurants, movie theaters, or bowling alleys, and all the while she stared at me with a blank look. These places we relied on for enjoyment simply didn’t exist there; instead, they just relied on the enjoyment of each other’s company. With the right group of friends, that is enough. Instead of restaurants, they cook dinner for each other at home, instead of watching movies they watch the stars outside, and instead of bowling they go for hikes. I was one of the first people she met outside of Tajikistan, and while there were some gaps in her English (and I certainly didn’t know Tajiki), we joked and talked about our lives as if we had grown up in the same town. It was then that I realized how similar we were to Tajiki teens. It might just be that where we come from has less to say about the type of people we are. The way we conduct ourselves is all that matters.

Imran Kassam is a freshman in Trumbull College. Imran can be reached at imran.kassam@yale.edu