On the fringes of Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, 27-year old Zebo opened a tiny shop she hoped would lead her family out of poverty. Instead, it has become the millstone around her neck.
It was 2010 and her parents, both poorly paid government workers, decided to take out a loan to fund the new business. The store is a blink-and-miss-it affair — a kiosk tucked between two apartment blocks. The income Zebo makes there goes toward feeding 10 people and servicing the family’s debt.
Zebo embarked on the enterprise in the hope of better economic times, but the optimism was ill-founded. The combination of a downturn in oil prices and economic sanctions hit Russia hard — and, as a result, Tajikistan even harder.
“People are panicking, salaries are tiny and prices are growing. People are economizing, they’ve stopped buying meat, butter and candy. Only the absolute essentials — flour, potatoes, carrots, vegetable oil. But we cannot cut our prices, because what we pay for the groceries is already high. We too need an income,” said Zebo, whose surname was withheld out of concern for her safety.
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