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Archive for July, 2009

I’m taking off to the Tajik countryside this weekend, so posting will be light non-existent.  Hopefully, I’ll have some sweet pictures of the lake and mountains in the area I’m visiting when I get back.

For a taste of what you might see if I’m able to take some evocative photos, check out the “A Long Ride Home” amazing photo of Iskanderkul.

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As part of my book club in Boston, we read Margaret Atwood’s book, Oryx and Crake, a dystopian imagining of the near future in which everything goes off the rails for humanity.  Fun, huh?  It was interesting enough as it had the type of propulsive plot you’d expect from Atwood, though I felt it was a bit heavy-handed.  (Here’s an interesting site discussing the book in more detail for those who are interested.)

The part about the book that I most enjoyed, or found the most disturbing, or both, was Atwood’s description of numerous bio-engineered, genetically modified animals that existed in the world of her novel.  There was the chicken that scientists developed to have basically no head (or brain), but numerous breasts, all the better to harvest chicken cutlets.  There was the oversized pig — created by splicing their genetic code with human stem cells, and enabling it to grow extra organs for human transplantation purposes — called a pigoon.

The scariest of all had to be the wolvog — the heart and instincts of an angry, hungry wolf and the sweet appearance of a domesticated pet dog.

Not a wolvog, it's my boss's dog Pika, though she acts wolvogish at times

Not a wolvog, it's my boss's dog Pika, though she acts wolvogish at times

What was so scary about wolvogs in the book was that they looked like cute puppies and they used their charm to come close to people.  Once near, the wolvogs viciously and mercilessly attacked.

I am reminded of wolvogs whenever I walk around in Dushanbe in the evening.  The Tajik street dogs come out after the sun sets, and although they do not bother humans, they seem menacing as they travel in packs along darkened streets.  Sometimes you can see these streets dogs growl, bark, and fight with each other.  And in the night, especially walking home after an evening out at the Irish Pub, there’s something unnerving about a mangy Tajik street dog staring you down under a black sky.

So, whenever I see these dogs, who look like our pets at home (and who clean up nice like Pika above, who is a rescued Tajik street dog), but exhibit the behavior of wolves running in primeval forests, I think of Atwood’s morality tale and shudder a bit inside.

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Actually not a Tajik herself, but a Canadian who’s working for a local NGO in Khorog in the Pamirs. I liked her first in-country post about her initial impressions of Dushanbe:

http://worldtravelnotes.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/a-taste-of-russian-opulence/

I haven’t done a lot of the sort of post linked to above, and maybe I should do more impressionistic stuff. In the meantime, enjoy this one; I did.  I also added a permalink to her site on my blogroll under the “Tajikistan” section.

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When Tajikistan became independent in 1991, it had no history as a nation state.  Before being overrun by the Tsar’s armies in the nineteenth century, the area that now comprises Tajikistan belonged to a variety of emirates and principalities.  Most prominently, the Emirate of Bukhara vied for control of the region with the King of Afghanistan and the Khan of Kokand.  Of course, none of those places were based in the current territory of Tajikistan, whose crazy-quilt borders, along with those of the neighboring states, were drawn to deliberately destabilize Central Asia by Stalin in the 1920’s.  Along with the jigsaw shape of the country, Stalin’s machinations insured that Tajikistan and the Tajiks therein had no common heritage or heroes upon its independence, as the historic seats of Tajik power and culture were outside of the new nation’s borders.  Enter Ismoil Somoni:

The Ismoil Somoni statute in downtown Dushanbe

The Ismoil Somoni statute in downtown Dushanbe

Ismoil Somoni was an emir who unified a goodly chunk of Central Asia around 900 A.D., and was the first local ruler in the region to be de facto independent of the Arab caliphate, in this case from the Abbasids in Baghdad. Upon Tajikistan’s independence, while groping for a unifying figure, the Tajik leadership seized upon Somoni. Somoni was refashioned by the Tajik political class, changing from an obscure leader from a millennium ago, known mainly by scholars, to the proud ruler of a proto-Tajikistan, free from outside control. Part of this nationalistic transformation of Somoni included the construction of the enormous Somoni statue in downtown Dushanbe.

Close up of the Somoni statute, notice the symbols of independent Tajikistan held by the old ruler

Close up of the Somoni statute, notice the symbols of independent Tajikistan held by the old ruler

According to one journalist,

The Somoni monument, which cost $20m, was inaugurated in 1999, when the state budget was $250m. Symbols are highly valued in central Asia, and the cult of this long-lost dynasty is taken seriously in Tajikistan and beyond.

Signs of Somoni are everywhere in Tajikistan, as the national currency is named after him and he appears on its largest bill, the 100 somoni denomination (which is worth about $23).  One of Dushanbe’s main streets, and the one on which the U.S. Embassy is located, is now Avenue Ismoil Somoni.  Restaurants, shops, you name it, are now called Somoni.  Even my credit card from Orienbank features the iconic Somoni statute.

The Visa Classic from Orienbank

The Visa Classic from Orienbank

Has all this nation building by creating a national mythology worked?  That’s hard for me to gauge not speaking the language and being so new to the country.  Maybe to an extent it has worked, the country has been relatively peaceful for over a decade.  But when I see Lenin statues throughout the countryside and hear taxi drivers wax nostalgia for Soviet times, I wonder.

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  • тарбуз [tarbuz] n. watermelon

As in, I have had more тарбуз in Tajikistan than at any other point in my entire life.

A common sight in these parts

A common sight in these parts

People here are always carrying watermelons around with them, as ungainly as that seems and actually is, because watermelon is served at practically every meal and occasion.  The typical Tajik watermelon is more spherical than the oval type that I’m used to from the States, and it fairly bursts with flavor.  They are like watermelons on ‘roids, which is a good thing (so long as ‘roids haven’t been used in the actual fertilization process, which I don’t believe they have).

Hurray for тарбуз!

Thanks to Hive Mind search at Flickr for finding the photograph.

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Mystery solved: an auxiliary pump was indeed installed in the basement of my building, so that accounts for my water reappearing last week. I would’ve been just as happy to learn that Kang and Kodos had been toying with me and decided to let the water run from now on, so long as I had water.  Of course, it would’ve been nice had my landlord 1) told me that they had installed the pump, 2) told me that it was “not good,” as I later learned, to leave the pump switched on when water wasn’t running, and 3) told me where to turn the pump on and off.  Baby steps, baby steps.

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When I arrived to run in my second hash last Saturday, I discovered that the organizers found out about my blog post about my first run.  Damn teh Google!  Now that I know that I’m being watched, I’m not sure how I’ll respond.

Anyway, the hash last week was a complete fiasco.  It was too short, the weather was too cold, the village children spoke fluent English . . .

No, wait, that’s not right.  The hash went swimmingly.  No hash in the history of hashing, from 1930’s Malaya to the present day, has ever proceeded with such aplomb, such élan, such esprit de corps, such je ne sais quoi, such voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir.  My knowledge of French cannot express the waves of goodness and well-being that washed over me before, during, and after last week’s hash.  My only fear in going to the hash next week is whether my corporeal self can handle the transcendence that is sure to follow.

Developing . . .

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Yesterday I had the great good fortune to escape the 108 degree heat of Dushanbe and head out to the Romit Valley.  Along the Sardai Miyona River, which furiously rushed by powered as it was by glacial and snow melt, we frolicked in a pool that, for once, was not grody to the max.  Unfortunately, the river icy cold was too much even for me; my memories of swimming at Nauset Beach in June as a child didn’t make it easier to swim in a 45 degree heaving river currently.

The resort in Romit

The resort in Romit

Just on the left you can see the dastarkhan, or low-slung Tajik table, at which we reclined and nosed on shashlik.  You can even see M. of our group lounging there and reading a rare copy of In Style.  The pool is in the background to the right near the umbrellas.

Another view of the Romit resort

Another view of the Romit resort

The above view shows the scene from the balcony of the hotel.  In case you’re wondering, rates start at $60 USD a night but go all the way up to $24o for the suite.  Posh.  Only foreigners and mobsters can afford those prices.

Looking down the river

Looking down the river

Finally, take a look at the river and the surrounding countryside, even though the photo doesn’t do justice to the strength of those rapids.  For about two months of the year in the summer, the Sardai Miyona would be spectacular for whitewater rafting, but apparently there are no companies that take rafts out on the river.  There was a rumor that a rafting outfit was going to start up according to S., but that’s it.  Yet another Tajik business opportunity for all you entrepreneurs out there.

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My lovely mother reads this blog, which means sometimes I elide the truth here.  Well, that’s not exactly right.  Sometimes I let discretion be the better part of valor and I don’t share certain things on a timely basis as I don’t want my dear mom to worry about her son off in the wilds of Central Asia.  One of those things that I haven’t been entirely forthcoming about is that I haven’t really had water in my apartment the past week or so.

Doesn't look that difficult in this picture

Doesn't look that difficult in this picture

I’d come home at night and I’d hear a hissing sound for awhile when I turned on the tap, and then nothing.  Dead silence.  There’s something ineffably sad about a water faucet turned all the way on that is completely silent.

So the first day this happened, I figured that it was probably something that was affecting the whole neighborhood, or at least, my whole building.  And when I saw my neighbor carrying buckets of water from the pump in the basement to his apartment, that seemed to be the case.  I also had the folks from my office (i.e. people who speak Tajik) check, and it appeared to be a neighborhood-wide issue that would be resolved in a day or two.

But as the days passed, my water would only return intermittently.  I’d check the faucet every time I got home, and if I had water, I’d run to the bathroom and do my business knowing that I could flush now.  My roommate when I was studying abroad was a bit of a hippie and his saying, when it came to toilets, was: if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.  That became my motto of necessity.

Then I discovered that the water pressure was a bit better early in the morning.  I started getting up around 6 a.m. (I know it’s not that early for some of you, but here, that’s practically getting up yesterday), and lo and behold — water.  Or, at least, a trickle of water.  Enough for me to squat beneath the tap in the shower and wash up some, though there was nowhere near enough pressure to actually use the shower head.  Any ill-fated attempt to do so was met with the spooky, aforementioned hissing and no water.

I discussed the problem far and wide among my expat buddies.  Some were convinced that an auxillary water pump would fix the problem.  Others thought I should just move out.  While still others advised me to keep large jugs of water on hand for emergencies, like having a brown situation that could not be allowed to mellow, even in the absence of water.

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Then, when I came home from dinner last night, I noticed that my landlord, or their agent as we say in property law circles, had been in my apartment.  They had been kind enough to install a landline phone, but more importantly to the present story, the water seemed to be fixed.  There was a strong, steady stream from the kitchen sink.  Check.  The bathroom sink worked as it should.  Check.  Even the shower had enough water pressure to allow for a real shower.  Check.

Oddly, it appeared that small bomb exploded near the base of the toilet.  It, thankfully, wasn’t anything vile I don’t think, but the mess instead seemed to be chunks of rubberized caulking from where the piping met the floor and other, indeterminate stains that I didn’t wish to overly analyze.  In typical Tajik landlord fashion, nothing was cleaned up, but everything was moved.  I was so relieved to have water back, though, that I  joyfully scrubbed with Barf-brand cleaner regardless of the fact that the owner really should’ve handled that.

You don't know how much you love it til it's gone.

You don't know how much you love it til it's gone.

All worked according to plan this morning, even the hot water which has also been in and out, and I had a nice, long shower.  Apparently, there was some sort of blockage of the pipes somewhere, or that’s the logical conclusion I drew from the circumstances of last evening.  I’ll have to get one of my co-workers to call the landlord and see if we can’t pry details out of them.

Everything was so dreamy, I decided to treat myself to some real coffee.  But when I went to boil water, and the coffee-in-waiting was some hand-ground Starbucks I had lugged from the US as whole beans, the power cut out repeatedly.  I gave up on the coffee dream after a while; going outside of my apartment to throw the circuit breakers every 25 seconds for a cuppa was a bit much for me.  I guess you can’t have everything in this life.

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Lower Rudaki Avenue on a beautiful June day

Lower Rudaki Avenue on a beautiful June day

One of the beautiful June days we had here in Dushanbe, looking to the north on Rudaki with my back to Rudaki Park.  This is about halfway in between the Hotel Tojikiston (sometimes the name of the country in transliterated from Tajik Cyrillic with an “o” rather than an “a”) and the Ismoil Somoni statue.  I have some decent Somoni statue pix on my hard drive, so I’ll share one of those soon.

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View of my backyard

My backyard viewed from my porch; not my van

My backyard viewed from my porch; not my van

So, my rear porch feels like it should be the front porch due to the kinda wacky alignment of my apartment.  But when you stand on it and look around, then there’s no question that it faces the back.

That van has been parked there for a couple of days now, and it makes me wonder if the city government isn’t too serious about enforcing the supposed ban on parking behind buildings.  If I can park back there, well then, maybe there is a Niva in my future.

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