Archive for the ‘Dushanbe’ Category


So the transition back to Tajikistan has been strangely easy, what with the great friends who are still in town and that work is busy and interesting. Plus, I know my wife is on her way soon.

But looking at houses has been pretty intense. I’ve seen 20+ places in three days, and I’m getting a bit burnt out. Bedrooms who’s only window faces a hallway? Always a bad idea, self-evidently so, one would think. But I’ve seen it in almost every house here. And some of the wallpaper is beyond garish. That’s just the cute bad stuff too; it leaves out the very questionable wiring and weirdly nosy landlords living next door.

I think I found a cool place, nevertheless. Hopefully they’ll come down off their excessive price (which would be sadly reasonable in Harare). Pix of that place soon … if we get it.

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…and I’m back in Istanbul airport waiting for my Turkish Airlines connection to Dushanbe.  Sounds like déjà vu, feels like déjà vu, must be déjà vu, right?

Anyway, I spent 14 months in Africa, and you got, like, three posts.  One of which was an apology for not posting.  Poor.  I do have some more in the hopper, I promise, and hopefully, my flights back-and-forth to Europe next week will give me time to pound out some more posts on Zimbabwe and my Southern African experience generally.

In the meantime, here’s the brief version of what’s the what:

  • Moving back to Tajikistan for work;
  • Hopefully will be there a while;
  • Had precious little paid work in Zimbabwe;
  • Got married in December;
  • And again in June (to the same wonderful woman, for legal reasons); and
  • Expecting a baby in January.

So, it’s been an eventful 14 months that I’ve been essentially silent on this blog.  I’m going to see that the eventful next months aren’t so quiet here.

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Chateau Haut-Brion is one of the most-storied and beloved chateaux in Bordeaux.  It was classified by the French government as a “first growth” chateau in the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines.  That means that it was considered at the time, and is still considered by many people, to be one of the top five wines produced in Bordeaux, one of the top wine regions in the world.

Fine Bordeaux red wine has never been cheap — in fact, the first growths were initially chosen by determining the five most expensive Bordeaux red wines — but the modern price leaps of Bordeaux have been exponential, rendering most of these great wines undrinkable as they’re just too valuable to pour down your throat.  Of course, this is an incredible shame as wines from these five chateaux are typically some of the most highly rated wines to drink in the world according to experts.  It also means that I have only had a few opportunities to try these wines, mostly when I was I teaching assistant for the Introduction to Wines course at Cornell in the mid-90s.

Needless to say, I didn’t think my next chance to have one of these stellar, pricey vins would be in Dushanbe.  I was wrong.

Expat oenophile and friend Oleg found a bottle of 1993 Ch. Haut-Brion tucked away on the shelves of a Dushanbe grocery store near the train station.  Now, the stores located on this strip of Rudaki Avenue are where we usually go to stock up on imported Russian beer, but finding a fine Bordeaux there?  I mean, no way.  Except this time, there it was, an almost 20 year old bottle of the good stuff.

How good?  Let’s look for empirical evidence at two of my favorite online wine resources:

  1. Price average $281 per bottle from http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/haut-brion/1993; and
  2. Rating average 93 points from http://www.grapestories.com/wine.asp?iWine=7064.

That’s pretty good.

To his everlasting credit, Oleg bought the bottle to my final dinner in Dushanbe.  As we sat on the tapchan, surrounded by non bread and Tajik vodka, we had the chance to sip one of the finest wines known on Earth.  I didn’t write any tasting notes, but I remember the intricate flavors, the smoky fruit, and the surprising strength of a wine that old.  Taking off my wine snob hat, let me just say that it was a damn fine wine.

An unanswered question is: how the hell did a ’93 Haut-Brion find its way to Tajikistan?  There were no tax stamps and no back label, which suggest that the bottle came from someone important’s private cellar.  The skittishness of the seller, as reported by Oleg, and his vagueness about the bottle’s provenance support that guess as well.  Could we have enjoyed some of President Rahmon’s private stash?  Who knows, but I like to think that we did.

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The buzkashi riders post (“a character study of the chapandaz”) may happen later today, but it may have to wait for the weekend.  In the meantime, and since I’ll be laying the hash trail with Fla5her, No-Name Susannah, and Shag Hooker on Saturday morning (DH3 Run № 281), I wanted to share a view of the hilly countryside surrounding Dushanbe as seen from a trail we set a couple of weeks ago.

Looking to the east of Dushanbe towards Varzob

This is a very typical Tajik semi-rural scene, with the unterraced hillside fields, boxy houses, and towering mountains in the background.  Are you glad I share these things with you?  How else would you all be able to enjoy an early spring landscape in Tajikistan?

Thanks to the Dushanbe hash visitor Bang her & hash who took this photo at the hash flash overlook.  I swiped this from her Facebook page!

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цирк du Dushanbe

Shane has a really nice post up on his blog about our trip to the Tajik State Circus last week.  He exactly describes the vibe as we found our seats in the faux-futuristic spaceship of the circus arena:

Inside a smiling rotund lady in a purple overcoat guides us to our grooved seats. We sit amongst the buzz of excitement and balloon-dogs, the masses are anticipating a comedy, and the three westerners are expecting a tragedy.

Our fears were misplaced.  As Shane points out, watching this circus transported us, jaded Westerners, back to the 1940s, or earlier.  There were lots of simple sight gags and simple tight rope routines, and nothing with glitz or gloss.  Yet the Tajiks loved it and we found it oddly endearing.

You could do nothing other than be taken in by a level of humour our grandparents appreciated. Sat on my left a Tajik father burst into uncontrollable laughter as a coin, miraculously discovered behind a small boys ear, bounced into a tin. His laughter was infectious.

It was the sort of event that would have bored the average American kid to tears and which would have left me disappointed at home.  No lions or elephants?  No super-dangerous high wire flips?  No funny jokes, just a succession of broad slapstick from the clowns?  Only one midget?  No, no, no, that would not do in a world of Gameboys and ADHD.  But here in Dushanbe, well, that was a different story.

Just coincidentally, us housemates watched the 29th Monte Carlo Circus Festival on the Polish television station TV Puls last night (which raised a few questions: when did Princess Stephanie get so old looking? why are they showing dubbed circus festivals from 2005 in 2010? would they ever show anything like this on American TV nowadays?), and that performance highlighted all the technical deficiencies of the show in Dushanbe.  But the show we saw last week made up for it in a commodity we don’t always value in the go-go West: charm.

(Photo from Suratgirak’s photo stream on Flickr.  Unfortunately, my camera is not working for some reason, so no photos from the circus by me.)

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They don't seem so intimidating during the day

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.

(Photo is courtesy of Steve Evans on Flickr via Wikipedia Commons)

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Seen in Dushanbe recently

Sometimes the overwhelming shoddiness of Tajikistan strikes me.

Finish painting (see below)?  Nah.  Finish paving (see above)?  Nope.

It’s impressive when a hole in the road manages to swallow a decent-sized chunk of truck.  It is even more impressive when this happens within sight of the so-called “Palace of Nations,” the president-decreed and Orwell-named monstrosity that resulted in the razing of an entire neighborhood.  Sure, let’s spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a gauche eyesore that looks like Versailles as designed by Imelda Marcos that no one even uses.  Let’s do this while people in the countryside starve, huddled in their dark, mud brick hovels.  But to not even bother to pave the road a couple hundred feet from the gates of said “palace” and across the street from the KGB headquarters?  Well, that’s just laziness.

Actually, I probably shouldn’t rule out ineptitude.  It is entirely possible that this road was paved relatively recently, but that that workmanship was so bad that it just disintegrated post-haste.  Living around civil engineers for years at university didn’t teach me what subsidence means; within weeks in Tajikistan I couldn’t help but learn what it means, as I traveled over road after sunken road that were sinking due to poor engineering.  I googled potential ways to avoid this in about 0.45 seconds, but why bother when you can just let the road fall apart, right?

There’s lots to love about this odd, little obscure mountainous country.  The inability to make things work ain’t one of them.


A SIDE NOTE: According to the VOA, among others, there was a significant earthquake in the Vanch district of Tajikistan, about 400 km from Dushanbe.  If my friends who read about the earthquake from abroad hadn’t asked if I was okay, I wouldn’t have known a thing about it.  We didn’t feel a thing in Dushanbe.  Luckily, it doesn’t appear anyone was killed in this latest quake.

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