Stanford senior’s “Journey of a Lifetime” airs on the BBC

Nicole Bennett-Fite
Nicole Bennett-Fite

Stanford anthropology senior NICOLE BENNETT-FITE earned a “Journey of a Lifetime” award to travel to Tajikistan this past spring and summer to produce a 30-minute audio documentary for the BBC about her experience. Bennett-Fite’s documentary is scheduled to air Oct. 2 on BBC Radio 4.

The Royal Geographic Society in the United Kingdom gives the award every year in partnership with BBC Radio 4. The prize offers 5,000 British pounds, or almost $6,600, and aims to sponsor “an original and inspiring journey anywhere in the world,” according to the award’s website.

Bennett-Fite, the only American to have won the award, used the grant to travel in Tajikistan for six weeks in May and June to explore the country’s customs, as well as women’s rights and issues.

A former satellite of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan is in a land-locked, mountainous region of Central Asia.

Because the country has a weak economy, every year about one-eighth of Tajikistan’s population, primarily men, leaves for work in Russia. Many of the men end up divorcing their wives at home, often over the phone.

Those women struggle to support themselves and to find work, said Bennett-Fite. They are hampered by their lack of educational credentials and the social barriers within the largely patriarchal society.

“I’m so grateful to have gotten this amazing opportunity,” she said. “My time in Tajikistan was eye-opening. I hope to tell the story of my experience there gracefully and sensitively.”

Bennett-Fite said she aspires to be a journalist.

“It’s a dream to get paid to go somewhere,” she said. “The fact that it’s happened so soon in my life is unbelievable.”

During her trip, Bennett-Fite traveled on foot and by donkey from the country’s capital, Dushanbe, to the Yagnob Valley, where she visited a small shrine to a woman who, according to a legend, chose to turn herself into stone to avoid being raped by marauding warriors more than 1,000 years ago. Along the way, Bennett-Fite met people who invited her into their homes for tea and meals.

“Tajiks are incredibly kind and friendly,” Bennett-Fite said. “Though many of the topics I was dealing with were tough, the whole country was like a choose-your-afternoon tea adventure. People just wouldn’t stop offering me tea.” She said the biggest lesson she learned in Tajikistan is that one should always accept a stranger’s invitation for tea.