I am a simple person from a Tajikistan village. Now I look at my life from my late thirties and think that I could have been a common Tajik street sweeper, one of many thousands in Moscow, married with kids, who visits home once a year; and there would not have been any of this.
I am the only man in my family. I have three sisters; my mother was a housewife before she divorced my father. I was about 12 at the time. She had to look for a job. She cooked and sold tandoor bread, knitted sweaters, earned living the way she could. My father started a new family, so I got new stepbrothers.
I went to a Tajik school, but even nowadays in my family you are commonly made fun of if you don’t speak Russian. I learned the Russian language at home; I still remember my sister watching Friends — I could not understand everything, but it was funny, nonetheless. Our neighbors were Russian. For Easter, we were running around chanting “Christ has Risen!”. We did not understand the meaning yet, but knew that we would get sweets if we say it. We lived peacefully together, with no religious issue driving a wedge between us.
I started helping my mother since I was a child. I worked at a gas station owned by my brother-in-law. I sometimes missed school because of it, and my grades got worse. Teachers understood and tried to help, so that I could at least graduate. At the time I was dreaming of becoming a doctor. It used to be common to choose “noble” occupations: an astronaut, a doctor, a police officer. I secretly enrolled in an evening school in order to finalize my high school education and get a chance to continue my studies. Afterwards I applied to the energy faculty of the Dushanbe polytechnic college. I studied a distance learning program and continued working at the gas station.
My brother-in-law was paying me close to nothing. Now I understand that I was working as a slave, for free. I got sick and tired of it and decided to escape to Russia. I can still remember what it was like saving money for the ticket – cent by cent in a matchbox, keeping it a secret from my family…
I came to Krasnogorsk, Russia, in 2010 and worked at a construction site. After having received a two-month salary I moved to Moscow, paid in advance for a hostel bed, and found a catering job. I knew nothing about restaurants, but I had no choice.
In 2017, I married a Russian girl and decided to apply for citizenship. During the documents’ submission, it was discovered I had HIV. I was denied temporary residence. Although I had a lawful right to stay in Russia, Rospotrebnadzor put me on the list of people banned from the country. Just like this, I became an undocumented migrant.
NGOs were helping me with medications and therapy, and I lived happily until last December when I was hit by a car. The driver proposed to solve everything without involving the police and promised to pay for my treatment. He wanted to avoid troubles with the law, and so did I, a migrant without proper documents.
The man brought me to a hospital where I was operated. But the surgery went badly, and I needed another one – otherwise I was risking incapacitation. The cost was 250 000 rubles, but the driver who had promised to pay for the treatment disappeared. Finally, the “Shagi” foundation aided me with the finances. Thanks to their help I can not only walk, but also work.
Even though my whole family lives in Tajikistan, I would like to stay in Russia. How can I live in my homeland? I am Russian inside. My “russianness” is obvious. I love Alla Pugacheva (famous Russian singer), I cried when Gurchenko (famous Soviet actress) died. I love Russian food, I can prepare pelmeni. I even think in Russian!
My family is not aware of my diagnosis; in general, people there do not understand what HIV is like. Once I was asked to translate a memo about HIV to Tajik. I know my language very well, but I was surprised at the fact that even the definition of HIV was non-existent! To change the situation, I volunteer once a week and provide consultations on the topic of HIV in Tajik language.
Written by Ekaterina Ivashchenko
Pictures by Aleksandr Nosov
To read the story in Russian, please follow: https://migrationhealth.group/garib-tajikistan/