After watching yet another blowout on AFN, M.L. and I managed, shockingly, to snag a taxi on Rudaki at 2:45 a.m. to take us home. The cabbie dropped him off near the Pedagogical Institute, which is close to his house, and then continued south on Rudaki towards my part of town. Because I was having trouble communicating with the cabbie, I had him drop me off at the Somoni statue, which isn’t far from my place.
That was a mistake.
As I walked briskly past the statue on my right, all the horror stories about being harassed by the militsa, the catch-all term for Tajik police, in front of the Somoni statue or on Rudaki or both entered my mind unbidden. Shane and Carly stopped for no apparent reason while walking home and taken to a police station for no apparent reason; well, the reason was to get a bribe, obviously. Flasher told me once that the overnight militsa “shift” at the Somoni statue was a bunch of criminals who were often drunk. Our intern over the summer getting stopped by a militsa guy, giving him 10 somoni to stop the harassment, and then the same cop following him every day for the next two months demanding more and more money. These sorts of stories are legion among expats here, and the above are just a small, small sample.
It was as these tales were running through my head, that I heard the whistle. My natural reaction, unfortunately, was to look to the left where the sound came from, and there he was, the militsa guy with a whistle in his mouth, sitting with his feet up in a niche window of the Main Post Office. He saw me look, and blew the whistle again and motion for me to cross the street.
My first thought: fuck that.
My second thought: the bastard doesn’t have a gun.
My third, fourth, and fifth thoughts: I’ve done nothing wrong, my papers are in order, and traffic cops like him don’t have the legal authority to stop pedestrians like me.
My sixth thought: let’s see if he gets off his lazy ass to follow me.
So, I almost unwittingly shook my head slightly, faced forward, and continued walking. I ignored his sing-songy shouts of “hello” and “stop” and several more whistle blows. I kept telling myself, “be cool, don’t speed up, don’t slow down, just keep walking and be cool.”
As I rounded the corner, I considered and rejected ducking behind a restaurant to hide. Still walking, whistles and what I presumed to be Russian curses ringing in my ears, I tried to determine how well the militsa guy could see me under the flickering street lamps. Finally, around the KGB building, ironically enough, the whistles and shouts died away, and I kept walking. When I turned the next corner, into the street/driveway that leads to my house here, I figured I was home free.
Stepping into my house, I realized that I was fairly calm. Perhaps I had been subconsciously preparing for the day that someone from the militsa decided to shake me down, so nothing that happened was a big surprise. Perhaps I counted on my NGO worker ID card from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and my American indignation to get me through should the cop have actually followed me.
Most likely though, I wasn’t afraid to bet on the profound dissoluteness and turpitude of the average member of the Tajik militsa, and wasn’t shocked when the guy just sat there blowing his whistle and nothing more.