Gulbahor Nematova, FLEX’95

It was 1993 – a year after the Civil War in Tajikistan has commenced and four years before it came to an end. The Civil War changed everything around me, including my dreams which turned into rather modest hopes for a better tomorrow.

Every morning I’d ask God for a good day filled with peace without bad news, firefighting or shooting. And God, the Mightiest and Merciful heard my prayers. That year, God sent me several good days – the days which returned me back to normal life, the days which helped to temporarily forget about the ruined houses, refugees, armed men, and so on. These good days gave me confidence to look into the future with less fear.

These good days brought my dreams back:

The dream to pass the first FLEX examaccompanied by my English teacher, there were four of us from my district: two boys and two girls. Three of us passed the first round of exams; this was a very high rating given that our district was represented by least number of schoolchildren…
The dream to pass the second FLEX exam – there were some 20 minutes left before the time for essay writing was up. I could not help myself and quickly looked around and learnt that I am the only one who is still writing…

And the dream to pass the FLEX interview – among 16 kids, I was the only one from rural area. Others were from the regional center and their super urban confidence was really making me nervous. Thanks God my mom was with me. She told me I should not think of my origin but of the fact that I am at the same level as all other kids are and this helped me to overcome my fear of failing. You might ask me why I broke one big dream [of going to US] into smaller ones. My answer is I was not sure whether tomorrow would come for many reasons like:

Gulbahor NematovaOn the way home from FLEX exams, I and my mom had to walk 40 kilometers, since official road and public transport was considered very dangerous. Two things I remember from that walk: the bridge and the endless road.

The bridge was some 300 meters long connecting two edges of a mountain. It was located some 100 meters above a huge water reservoir. It was scary because neither I nor my mom could swim, but I think even if we could, we would not survive, since this place was not meant for swimming. It was also scary because the bridge was basically the mountain railroad with large loop holes where my feet could easily get through. But the most dangerous part was the train that could come anytime. If it did, we would lose the balance. Thanks God the train did not come.

After the bridge, we had to walk along the endless road. While walking along the road for several hours, we did not see any people or cars passing by, but we were expecting them to appear any time. The only thought in my mind was, if we got shot here, no one would find our bodies.

Now the bridge posing obvious threats did not sound as scary as the quiet, but unpredictable road.

Why did I choose telling you this part of my story? I just wanted to say that my FLEX experience started well before I was chosen as a finalist. We have chosen the noisy bridge and the quiet road as an alternative and less risky route home to avoid armed men on check points. My lesson from this long walk was: each decision we make in life has its own risks. I think it is precisely my risk taking and risk management capacity that my employer appreciates in my performance. It is my ‘bridge and the road’ experience that helps me to effectively manage the program with over 100 employees and annual budget of USD 10 million. It is precisely the one lesson out of many others which I would not have without participation in FLEX.

By Gulbahor Nematova, FLEX’95, Tajikistan