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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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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.

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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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The second night with my makeshift menorah

Before December runs out, I should probably do my Hanukkah post, right?

For the first time in a long time, I lit all the candles and said all the prayers for Hanukkah.  This is after years of dragging around menorahs and boxes of Hanukkah candles from house to house and not doing it.  So, sans menorah, unless you count a craggy piece of aluminum as such, candles warped from years of disuse, and a print-out of the blessings, I plunged forward.

There was something poignant about “doing Hanukkah” in a town where the only synagogue had been razed recently to make room for an ill-planned, unnecessary presidential palace.  Hearing the old words of my childhood in the prayers, sung to a half-forgotten tune, and then tearing into the presents so thoughtfully provided by Pangie — one for each night, first night I got a pack of Orbit, and the second night’s present is shown, wrapped, above — it was a bit of home, a bit of heritage for me in far off Tajikistan.

Can’t say that this led to a “personal relationship with God” as the fundy commercial goes, but I’m glad I did it.  Tribal blood and identity dies hard, and it struck a cord to see the Hanukkah candles in my window here, a place where these candles were lit for 2,000 years, but perhaps not for too many more with the Bukharan Jews mostly residing in Israel and Queens nowadays.

Candles from outside

Candles from outside

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Delicious and not quite nutritious

Time: 1:35 p.m.  Place: Dushanbe city, Shah Mansour district.  Cost: 6 somoni (approximately $1.45).

There’s something special about a Tajik-style hot dog.  It isn’t the dog itself, which is a garden variety turkey dog that’s been steamed.  And while the bun is okay, and certainly better than many American buns (though not reaching the heights of awesomeness of a New England-style hot dog bun), it’s nothing to write home (or on a blog) about.  Rather, it is the sauce, or I should say, the sauces — for a Tajik dog invariably is topped with both a weirdly spicy ketchup and a weirdly watery mayonnaise — and the shredded carrots that make it something different and cool.  Okay, cool may be too strong, but it definitely different and it is pretty tasty too.

That my Tajik-style hot dog was accompanied by an RC cola and some bizarre chicken-flavored salty, crispy snack, just brings the meal up a notch.  Add to this that the total cost was significantly under two dollars, and you can see why this meal just may be one of the things I miss the most about Tajikistan when I leave.  This and the mountains and the expats and the tree-lined streets and the odd happenstances.  But the Tajik dog is up there.

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An apology: my posting here has been dilatory.  Expect it to improve.  In case you were wondering, things in TJ are great and November was a terrific month for me, so nothing bad was keeping me from this blog.  Just being busy and being lazy in roughly equal measure.

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