Patience dear reader

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

  • Шашлык [shashlik] n. grilled meat, typically served on sticks or skewers and prepared over hot coals; commonly found in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia.


To echo something I said in the last installment of Tajik Word of the Day, no trip to Tajikistan would be, could be, complete without eating шашлык.  Ground lamb шашлык, known as farsh, is being prepared in a riverside park in Khujand in the photo above.

There’s a wide variety of types of шашлык, ranging from simple chunks of meats on a skewer to more elaborate, and typically fatty, concoctions.  For example, roulet is a type of шашлык in which strips of lamb meat are rolled together with strips of lamb fat to form little swirls, which are then skewered and grilled.  Yum, lipids.  Шашлык also comes in a wide variety of different meats.  Lamb and beef are the most common here in Dushanbe, but I absolutely loved the yak шашлык I had in a re-purposed storage container in the Murghab bazaar.

I need to start figuring out how to get yak meat in Harare.

Extreme zoom!

As you can see, no stick of шашлык is complete without a pile of raw onions on top.  A liberal dousing with vinegar is also a must, at least for me.

Is it wrong that one of the things I’ll miss about Tajikistan is the шашлык?

And soon, the Pamirs

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.

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.

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.

Friend-of-Friejose Cedric to continues with his incisive and thought-provoking analysis and commentary on the NBA playoffs, in French:

Oh Ronny Turiaf! Too bad you're not playing in the playoffs anymore.

De retour avec une nouvelle analyse de la NBA a la francaise. Que dire des playoffs en general maintenant que la competition a atteint les phases de finales de conference? En gros pas grand chose. Les favoris sont passes et il n’y a eu que tres peu de surprises… et de batailles dignes de ce nom. Les Lakers, Orlando et les Celtics sont passes sans problemes en balayant leurs adversaires, les reduisant ainsi a des simples spectateurs, a de simples joueurs de playground. Parce que c’est cela en verite la difference. Les equipes qui ont fait face aux quatres dernieres equipes en liste n’ont pas reussit a jouer au basket. Ils ont tous utilise la meme tactique qui consiste a donner la balle au meilleur joueur de l’equipe (par example, Lebron a Cleveland ou Smith a Atlanta) et a attendre qu’ils fassent des miracles. Mais les dieux du basket ont preferre donner la victoire aux equipes, c’est a dire un groupe de joueurs jouant ensemble, se faisant des passes et defendant. La statistique de ces playoffs sera donc la perte de balle. A vouloir jouer seul, on en fait trop et le ballon nous glisse des mains. Donc Cleveland, Atlanta, Spurs (peut-etre une petite exception a la regle) et Utah dehors et a l’anne prochaine.

Maintenant que reste-t-il? De bonnes equipes. Serieuses et avec des entraineurs qui connaissent leur metier et les phases finales. Bien que j’aurais aime voir en finale les Suns de Phoenix qui ont brille par leur support contre la loi discriminatoire passes par l’etat de l’Arizona en changeant le nom de leur equipe pour “Los Suns”. Mais qui ont aussi brille par le coeur qu’ils on mis a l’ouvrage en battant les Spurs. Ils meritent une finale (la premiere depuis 1993 et le depart de Charles Barkley). Mais les Lakers de Kobe sont forts, tres forts. Et demain soir se joue le match decisif qui donnera peut-etre l’avantage a Los Angeles ou nourrira l’espoir des fans de Phoenix.

A l’est la bataille semble deja perdue (au grand bonheur de Josh) car les Celtics ont encore creuse leur avance sur une quipe d’Orlando jeune et decevante. 3-0 pour Boston et c’est l’espoir des Floridiens qui s’envole. D. Howard (tres irregulier en attaque mais brillant en defence) et ses coequipiers vont devoir mettre les bouchees triples pour battre Boston qui se dirige vers sa dizieme confrontation en finale avec les Lakers en 30 ans. Autant dire un classique. Le ballon dore reviendra-t-il a l’est? Phil Jackson gagnera-t-il son 11eme titre? Pas facile a predire. Une chose est sure: faites durer le plaisir. il y en a marre des victoire 4-0 cette annee qui ont du faire perdre pas mal d’argent aux chaines de tele et a la NBA.

As usual, translation of Cedric’s post courtesy of Google Translate, not one word has been changed, as you will believe when you read it:

Back with a new analysis of the NBA has the French. What about the playoffs in general now that the competition has reached the final stages of conference? Basically not much. Favorites are passes and there was very little that surprises … and battles worthy of the name. The Lakers, Celtics and Orlando passes without problems by sweeping their opponents, reducing them to mere spectators, just players playground. Because that is what in truth the difference. The teams that have faced the last four teams in list have not succeeded to play basketball. They all use the same tactic to give the ball to the best player of the team (eg, Lebron in Cleveland or Atlanta Smith) and expect them to do miracles. But the basketball gods are preferable to give victory to the teams, ie a group of players playing together, making passes and defending. The statistics of these playoffs will be the loss of ball. Wanting to play alone, it makes us too much and the ball slipped from his hands. So Cleveland, Atlanta, Spurs (maybe a small exception to the rule) and outside Utah and the next year.

Now that he is? Good teams. With serious personal and coaches who know their profession and the final rounds. Although I would like to see in the final of the Phoenix Suns that shine by their support against discriminatory legislation passes by the state of Arizona by changing their team name to “Los Suns”. But that also shines by the heart they put it in a book by beating the Spurs. They deserve a final (the first since 1993 and the departure of Charles Barkley,). But the Lakers are Kobe’s strong, very strong. And tomorrow night is played the decisive match that will perhaps benefit in Los Angeles or nourish the hope of the fans in Phoenix.

To the east the battle seems already lost (to the delight of Josh) because the Celtics are still digging their lead a team of young and Orlando disappointing. 3-0 for Boston and the hope of Floridians taking off. D. Howard (very irregular in attack but brilliant in defense) and his teammates will need to act swiftly to beat Boston triple headed toward its tenth in the final confrontation with the Lakers in 30 years. In other words, a classic. The golden ball does come back he is? Phil Jackson does win his 11th title? Not easy to predict. One thing is sure: make it last. he is fed up 4-0 this year who have to lose a lot of money on tv channels and the NBA.

Les Underdogs

And now for something completely different, Friejose in TJ is teaming up with friend-of-Friejose Cedric to provide commentary on the impending NBA playoffs, and here’s the twist, in French on this blog.  Why?  Why the hell not?

That's "Lorsque se produit étonnant" to you.

For the French-impaired among us, like me, Google Translate will be used to translate every entry into English, and the translation will be posted immediately after the French version.  Cedric certainly could do a better job translating considering his English language fluency, but again, why not use a website for translation, just for the hell of it?

So, without further ado (adieu?), Cedric’s first NBA playoffs post en français:

Ca y est, finalement le moment que tout fan de basket qui se respecte attend: les phases finales du championnat NBA. Bien sur on connait les equipes qui y seront pour sur: les Lakers, Celtics, Cleveland et autres Dallas. Mais ce qui compte, ce sont les challengers, les “underdogs” comme les appellent nos amis americains. Nous, nous n’avons pas de mots pour ces equipes qui tentent de defier les statistiques et de creer la surprise.

Cette annee, les surprises sont de tailles: Oklahoma defie les champions en titres. Bien qu’ils aient perdu le premier match, les Thunder de Kevin Durant ont fait bonne impression malgre le retour fulgurant de Bynum. Et l’equipe de MJ alors? Les Bobcats de Charlotte n’ont pas reussit l’exploit de battre les finalistes de l’an passe, Orlando. Cela a peut-etre quelque chose a voir avec les neufs contres de D. Howard. Ils tenteront de franchir le mur mercredi ou se retrouveront a son pied.

Les autres? Pas de grande surprise si ce n’est la victoire de Portland sur un des grands favoris Phoenix. Cleveland, Celtics, Atlanta, Denver passent. Le duel des duels, finale de conference avant l’heure entre Dallas et San Antonio tourne pour cette fois a l’avantages des Mavericks. Parker et les siens ne laisseront surement pas Nowitzki marquer autant mercredi prochain.

Translation (courtesy of Google Translate):

Is it, finally, the moment that any basketball fan who respects himself awaits the final stages of the NBA championship. Of course we know the teams that will be there for about: Lakers, Celtics, Cleveland, Dallas and others. But what counts are the challengers, the “Underdog” as our American friends call them. We, we do not have words for those teams who try to defy the statistics and create the surprise.

This year, the surprises are sizes: Oklahoma defy the champions title. Despite losing the first game, the Thunder Kevin Durant made a good impression despite the return of Bynum dazzling. And while the team of MJ? The Charlotte Bobcats have not passed the feat of beating the finalists of the year passes, Orlando. That might be something to do with the new cons of D. Howard. They try to cross the wall will meet Wednesday or at its foot.

Other? No big surprise if this is the victory of Portland on one of the favorites Phoenix. Cleveland, Celtics, Atlanta, Denver pass. The duel of duels, the final conference before the hour between Dallas and San Antonio turns to this time has the advantages of the Mavericks. Parker and his family will leave Nowitzki probably not score as next Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of the NBA France Facebook page.  Become a fan, dammit.

The past few days have seen the rule of Kurmanbek Bakiyev dissolve into riots, gunfire, and confusion.  For those of you who are interested, the revolution is being tweeted.  I have tried to collect relevant people on Twitter here:

Also, check my direct Twitter feed as I will be retweeting relevant posts as much as possible.  Here are a couple to check out whether I retweet them or not:

  • David Trilling of Eurasianet is on the ground in Bishkek, has up-to-the-minute tweets, and is a very strong reporter;
  • The new interim president of Kyrgyzstan, former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva, is also tweeting (on background I’ve heard from knowledgeable people that she is smart and a democrat, so fingers crossed);
  • Mirsulzhan’s tweets have been really informative, which is unsurprising since he’s a Kyrgyz political scientist; and
  • Check the #freekg hashtag on Twitter, which is aggregating all of the relevant links.

Some of these tweets are in Russian, but Google Translate — http://translate.google.com/#ru|en| — works a charm to get a rough and ready translation in seconds.

Trilling’s latest piece for Eurasianet, “Bishkek Hesitant as Otunbayeva Forms New Government,” gives a very good sense for how things are now in the Kyrgyz capital.

  • 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.

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...