Years ago I worked for a UN agency in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. My boss at the organization often said that her main task was to “put Tajikistan on map”. She complained that people and organizations in the West willing to fund charity projects were reluctant to give their money to Tajikistan, mainly because most of them could not even tell whether the country was real.
Very little has changed since then.
Therefore, I understand why Tajikistan is sending a handful of athletes to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Although these athletes don’t have a slightest chance of winning medals, they are sent to Sochi precisely to “put Tajikistan on a map” (as well as to justify the Tajik president’s trip there). Millions of people around the world watch opening ceremonies for the Olympics. The ceremonies, featuring the various countries’ national teams walking behind their national flags, offer the little-known nations like Tajikistan an opportunity to tell the rest of the world that they exist.
The opening ceremony for this year’s Winter Olympics gave me an opportunity to monitor people’s online reactions to watching team Tajikistan enter the Sochi stadium. Below are just some of the most typical reactions, in English and some other languages (in cases when I could understand the meaning). These tweets show that Tajikistan is still an obscure “one-of-those-stans” or “it-is-Russia-right?” countries for most people in western countries.
sat watching #WinterOlympics opening ceremony. Convinced some of these country names are made up for a joke. Tajikistan????
— Dermott Hayes (@RGActiveCoach) February 7, 2014
— Chiemeka (@franqy325) February 7, 2014
— Dean Oxley (@Deanige) February 7, 2014
— Nelson Aquino (@AquinoNelson) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan ? C’est ou ça ?
— Simoη (@SDahirel) February 7, 2014
¿Tajikistán? ¿Qué es esa hueá?
— Carlos Huerta (@carlitos_huerta) February 7, 2014
I had never heard of Tajikistan.
— Ciara King (@iamCiaraKing) February 7, 2014
Ashamed to say that I have never heard of Tajikistan #mustimprovegeographicalknowledge
— Beth Randall (@bethalicious_) February 7, 2014
I think I’ve maybe never actually heard of Tajikistan before. Majikistan maybe… #Sochi2014
— Phil Moorhead (@philmoorhead) February 7, 2014
Never heard of Tajikistan before
— Marc Slazak (@maslazak5) February 7, 2014
I thought I knew all my countries until I found out Tajikistan existed
— Michael Macedo (@MickeyMoTiOnZ) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan. Azerbaijan. Kazakhstan. Wherethefuckistan
— NottsCo_David (@NottsCo_David) February 7, 2014
— TONI (@tonimcgurk_x) February 7, 2014
Seguro que se inventan países para las Olimpiadas. ¿Tajikistan ?
— fernando delaflor. (@F3rn) February 7, 2014
Seguro que se inventan países para las Olimpiadas…Tajikistan ???
— Caffrey (@GVazquezMora) February 7, 2014
— Margaret Anne (@m_antra) February 7, 2014
Now they’re just making up countries. Tajikistan???? What the fuck is Tajikistan???
— Wolfie (@Adam19__) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan? #os14 wait… vanessa may?
— Nadine P. (@nenzie) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan? Who knew that country existed? #Sochi2014
— Shaun (@Lufc_shaun) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan. Why do they even exist
— Danny Astbury (@dannyastbury1) February 7, 2014
— Steve Butler (@thesupernewfie) February 7, 2014
Where the hell is Tajikistan ??? #winterolympics
— luke cutforth (@lukecuts) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan? Hahaha where do these country’s come from
— Susan Boyles Minge (@Quinnstonberry) February 7, 2014
— Fabio Pittau (@FbaPtt) February 7, 2014
— Marma (@MattilaMarianna) February 7, 2014
I swear some countries are just made up for the Olympics. Who’s ever heard of Tajikistan before?
— Molly (@MollyMop221b) February 7, 2014
No Im sorry Tajikistan is a made up country
— Matt Slopecki (@mattslopecki) February 7, 2014
Also.. Tajikistan is not a country.. Has to be a wind up
— Tony Duck (@DuckTony) February 7, 2014
when making fun of random countires we always say ‘tajikistan’ and we forget it’s actually an actual country
— rurakami. (@HenryNoir) February 7, 2014
Every Olympic opening ceremonies enlightens me to like 20 new countries I’ve never heard of. Go Tajikistan! #Sochi2014
— Eric Fawcett (@Efawcett7) February 7, 2014
— Daniel Monaco (@danmon19) February 7, 2014
Die Olympische spelen zijn best wel leerzaam! Nooit geweten dat het land Tajikistan bestond..
— Red Sound (@M0ERMAN) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan should also be grateful to the team USA whose 230 athletes walked into the stadium just before Tajikistan’s two athletes, thus providing the latter with a great contrast that helped draw people’s attention.
Tough act to follow the USA in the opening ceremonies but seriously where is Tajikistan? Never heard of it
— Chris Blight (@Blightzkrieg) February 7, 2014
Poor Tajikistan. Six of them to follow the ridiculously huge American contingent. #Sochi2014
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 7, 2014
USA has 230 athletes then immediately after Tajikistan has 1..
— Yasin Mir (@YasinMir2) February 7, 2014
The mighty Tajikistan and their 4 athletes… #Sochi2014
— Andrew Cooper (@adcooper94) February 7, 2014
— Alexander Hart (@AlexanderHart17) February 7, 2014
such a letdown from America to Tajikistan
— Mitch Zerman (@bigmeeeeetch) February 7, 2014
Tajikistan is like “Move, bitch.”
— Norbert (@tejmeglekvar) February 7, 2014