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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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