Archive for the ‘Tajikistan’ Category

Wanna change money? Buy a suzani?

I walk to work in the center of Dushanbe every day, and, along the way, I pass dozens of places to change money.  Most of them have signs identical to the one pictured above giving the exchange office’s buy (ХАРИД) and sell rates (ФУРЎШ) for the day on a variety of currencies against the Tajik somoni.  Invariably, the US dollar is one of the currencies listed.

Last week, the dollar took a real dive against the somoni.  Now, I don’t get paid in somoni (or dollars for that matter) and I make enough that most currency fluctuations won’t hit me too hard.  That said, it was a bit odd to see the somoni go from approximately 4.88 to the dollar on last Thursday, down to about 4.60 to the dollar by last Sunday.  I wasn’t aware of any macroeconomic event causing the shift, and I didn’t even hear anyone comment on the change.  Just — poof! — and almost 6% of the value of the dollar disappeared in a few days for no apparent reason.

The only thing I can figure is that the streetside exchange offices like the one above offer a market rate for money exchange that is often fairly different from the rate set by the National Bank of Tajikistan.  I know this because our contractors at work often whine that they are getting less than than expected when they get paid according to the National Bank rate rather than the market rate for contracts denominated in dollars.  Hell, I whine about that too when I get my dollar-paid reimbursements back in somoni.  So, I wonder if someone from the National Bank, or elsewhere in the government, leaned on the money changers for having a better exchange rate, which then caused the exchange offices to overcompensate with a rate worse than the National Bank rate.

Just conjuncture, who knows?  All I know is that this morning on my walk to work, I spied the market rate above, 4.81 somoni to the dollar.  Not exactly back to where we started, but it is quite a two-day rally for the dollar against the somoni.  Maybe it’s time to short the somoni, if you could do such a thing.

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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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Just passed the one week point of my stay in Zimbabwe and everything is spectacular in my new locale and with my lady.  We’ve been super-busy exploring Harare and environs together (stunning), drinking South African wine (a mixed bag, but great to have lots to choose from), watching the World Cup (congrats to Ghana, they deserved it), and buying home furnishings (shoe rack!).

What I haven’t done is gone through all my photos from the Pamirs yet, or at least, I haven’t picked and resized the ones for the blog yet.  Bad me.

Above the town of Roshtkala in the Pamirs

But I do have lots to share of the Pamirs, photos and anecdotes especially, so it will come soon.  Fingers crossed.

And thanks to U.’s photographic prowess (and awesome camera), lots too to share of Africa.  Finger crossed for that too.

At Domboshawa National Park, just outside of Harare

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Seen at the shrine in Langar

Ended up being 980 or so photos that I took during the Pamirs trip last week, and don’t you worry your pretty little selves, they will be shared on here.  Well, not all of them, but you’ll get the idea.  To get us in the mood, take a look at the photo to the left.  This was an inscription painted outside an Ismaili shrine outside of the village of Langar, which the last settlement on the eastern side of the Wakhan Valley in the Tajik Pamirs.  If you can’t read Farsi, here’s the English translation:

The greatest sin is fear.

I thought that was good, and it was something I kept in mind when I was hiking on inclines at altitude.

And I’ll share one other photo.  I had Asal, my traveling companion for the Pamirs trip, take lots of pictures of me in what I imagined were dashing poses.  Many weren’t.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t show one such photo here.

Notice the hipster Afghan scarf and my "tan"

Cool petroglyphs, huh?  They range in age from the Bronze Age to about last year.  More soon of the ‘glyphs and the Pamirs.

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A fun, whirlwind week of touring the Pamirs with our own driver(s) finished up today with a 6 hour drive back from Murghab in the eastern Pamirs, and I’m back in Khorog. Tomorrow the plan is to take a day trip up one of the valleys and see some more petroglyphs and Ismaili shrines.

It was an extensively documented trip thanks to an 8 GB memory card.  No pictures to be posted yet, however, as I can’t seem to find a way to upload them from the internet cafe (and the tots playing GTA next to me are too engrossed to help), but lots and lots to share when the time comes.  I’m sure some of them will even be cool-looking.  In the meantime, some more of my trip, by the numbers:

  • Three sticks of yak shashlik consumed (and a yak samosa for good measure);
  • Three Pamiri children who acted as impromptu guides for us (they bound from stone to stone like mountain goats);
  • Three pairs of Pamiri socks purchased;
  • Two different 4×4 vehicles used;
  • One homestay we stayed at that was without a bathroom or an outhouse (when we asked where the toilet was, our host swept his arm across the horizon);
  • One snow/hail storm we got caught in outside of Murghab on the Chinese border;
  • One book I finished reading (Animal Farm, can’t believe I had never read it before); and
  • Zero places to check internet.

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First off, let me apologize for being so bad about posting on this blog.  Part of the reason is that I was trying to wrap up everything at my job in Dushanbe in anticipation of the end of my contract on 1 June.  Another part is related to the new blog I’ve started about wine auctions (niche, I know) sucking my time — I’d be chuffed, as the Brits say, if you’d check it out at http://www.wineauctionspy.com.  Finally, I’ve been a bit preoccupied about moving to Africa in a couple of weeks (how’s that drop a bombshell as an aside) to be with my girl.  I promise, plenty more on that and my last days in TJ are to come.

But right now I’m on vacation in the Pamir Mountains in the Gorno-Badashan Autonomous Oblast (“GBAO”) of Tajikistan.  This is the famous mountainous eastern half of the country that I’ve been meaning to visit ever since I came here, and I was damned if I’d leave Tajikistan without coming.  So now I’m tapping this out from an internet cafe in the capital of GBAO, Khorog, a pleasant, leafy city surrounded by majestic peaks on all sides.

Getting here took some doing though.  Twenty-one hours by a beaten-up Land Cruiser to be exact.  That’s a long day of driving my friends, and it was a bit more intense than the yearly car trips my family took from Boston to South Florida at Christmastime when I was a kid. The trip included, in no particular order:

  • Three stops by the Tajik traffic police (not that many actually);
  • Two flat tires, one on our car and the other on another car in our convoy;
  • Two bowls of shurbo, one each for lunch and dinner;
  • Two tea cups full of fine, fine Tajik vodka;
  • One mini-medical emergency solved by pepto and/or zantac;
  • One mudslide blocking the road for over an hour until it was bulldozed out of the way; and
  • A partridge in a pear tree (well, not really, but I felt like we had to include it).

Photos to follow at some point, though possibly not until I get back to Dushanbe in 10 days or so.  Off to Ishkashim and the Wakhan Corridor tomorrow.

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  • ош [osh] n. an entree made from rice, shredded carrots, chickpeas, lamb, and often other ingredients, like garlic, all cooked in a cast-iron pot with cottonseed oil; the national dish of several Central Asian countries, including Tajikistan; also called plov and pilaf.

Delicious! (Most of the time anyway)

No trip to Tajikistan would be, could be, complete without eating ош.

Tajik cuisine has three standard dishes: osh (or as I typically call it, plov, its Russian name), laghman (a noodle dish, sometimes in soup, sometimes not), and qurtob (chunks of bread soaked in oil and spicy yogurt).  These recipes are also claimed by Tajikistan’s neighbors in Central Asia, and every country, heck, every region within every country, proudly say that they make the best versions of each of these staples.  I like the Gharmi version of osh the best, I think — the garlic they add tweaks the usual just enough, and in a good way, to make it stand out.

I’m going to have “TWotD” posts on each of the three key dishes of the Tajik people in the coming weeks.  Hopefully, I’ll post recipes too so all you enterprising home chefs can give them a try if you want, though the quality of meat at home is too high to get a true sense of the plov-eating experience here.

*** UPDATE: Of course, how could I forget shashlik?  I’ll be doing a post on that delicacy of meat chunks soon as well.

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You’ve seen some action shots and a sepia toned homage to the doomed, saddled fighters against the Bolsheviks.  Now, some character studies of the buzkashi riders.

Serious and not-so-serious

On the ridge, amongst the spectators

Sauntering and smiling

Looking up at the crowd

Sure you can lose a tooth or two playing buzkashi, but it's worth it

And now, we say goodbye to Gharm and buzkashi, the match is over.

On the way home...

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The consort of the acting Swedish ambassador asked me at lunch what the deal was with all the posts about buzkashi. Did I have a thing for buzkashi?

The truth of the matter is that I took a whole of a lot of photos and many of them came out well, so I wanted to share.  Added to that is that I may never go to something quite as, uh, different as a buzkashi match again, so I wanted to memorialize it.  Plus, there are pictures like this:

Me playing with sepia tone, him looking like a happy basmachi

In case you’re wondering, a bit about the basmachi.  They fought the Red Army in Central Asia during the Bolshevik Revolution in the early 1920s, including in Tajikistan, what was then the eastern portion of the Emirate of Bukhara.  They fought on horseback.  They lost.

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From Yarkhap village about 12 km outside of Gharm, let me present the riders in a buzkashi match, the chapandoz, up close.

Battling to grab the goat, in the scrum

Whip in the mouth, angling to snatch away the goat

Slouching outside the scrum

Striving for the tire-goal, where the goat goes

More to come…

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