Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In the Dush

I am behind a bit on the updates, so I will update at present and work backwards to Krygyzstan.

We left Bishkek for the Manas airport around noon.  This was my second trip to Manas, as I had been the night before to send off the Dellas' mandolinasta Jenni Lyn.  Jenni was on her way home early (scheduled) to be with her sister for the birth of her first niece.  Jenni was up for the longest birthday of her life, beginning with a flight at 4:45am to Istanbul.  Not being the best of travelers, I had hoped to facilitate the process, but flying the friendly skies in Absurdistan is never easy.  The security wouldn't even let me and our embassy friend to the ticket counter to escort her.  Yes, there was security that blocked us even before the check-in gate.  We tried to talk our way in but to no avail.  We had a cell phone for Jenni to keep us posted on her progress, which we had planned to have her give to security once in- a usual courtesy to the embassy but even that was refused.  Our embassy friend got a random Kyrgyz woman to call with updates to let us know she got through without problems.  Once we got the ok, we headed back and I got home and asleep around 4am.

I woke up the next morning, packed up my stuff and we headed on to Manas airport.  With the usual a-stan confusion, we made our way to the gate after random delay.  We had to pay $18 for overweight charges.  I gave the woman at the counter a $20, and it became an affair to get change.  I tried to tell her to keep the change, and that I would simply take the fake roses or the Manas Airport flag, but apparently change is change.  We finally got through customs and on to wait at the tiny gate.  On the tarmac were scores of grey US airforce transport planes, as Manas is a transit center.

We climbed on Tajik Air's finest, a little puddlejumper, which was akin to Southwest with no assigned seats, and akin to Absurdistan with no order.  That tiny puddlejumper climbed up into the friendly skies and over the majestic snow-covered mountains.  Probably the most beautiful flight I have had since flying into Tibet.  On the flight, they served us cold roasted chicken and warm tea.

Our little minnow landed and we entered the chaos of the Dushanbe airport.  Lines convulsed at the passport desk, but thankfully we had an expediter to expedite our arrival.  But with one problem, the Foreign Ministry official was out to lunch.  After watching the shoving matches at the passport desk for about 30 min, eventually the fellow came back.  He shepherded us into his office, and required passport photos we were told we didn't need.  After a little wrangling, he agreed to issue our visas.  He sat under a picture of the prez, which he bore a striking resemblance  through eyebrows and hair-parts, and printed out and stuck on our visas.

In a glorious bit of confusion, the expediter led us around the passport desk, which then had the border guards chasing after us in a huff, and we went to get our bags.  Once we found our stuff, we found a rugby scrum of chaos of fellow passengers trying to shove their way out.  Three flights had arrived at once and scrum was big enough that the expediter thought it best that we wait.  I took one look at the scrum, with bags being held overhead, and agreed.  We spent another 30 minutes, waiting and watching with an anthro delight.  We ate peanut butter covered in cholula hot sauce with bits of dark chocolate toblerone bar.

When we saw another flight arrive, we decided it was best to try to push through the line rather than wait even longer.  We formed a wedge to try to get into the line to get out.  Thankfully, when an older gentleman saw a score of American girls, he pushed back on some of the shabab to let the Dellas through.  We got ourselves out of the customs line and into Tajikistan for the last stop on the tour.

So here we are in Dushanbe.  The City of Monday.  Formerly known as Stalinabad ("The City of Stalin").  I will take a city of manic mondays over Stalin's city any day.

Tajikistan feels like a return to Central Asia.  Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were far more Asiatic in mien, but the Tajiks have a Euro-Asiatic countenance.  Back to the bushy eyebrows, ruddy faces and colorful gold-teeth smiles under colorful head scarves.  Tajikistan is a bit of an outlier, as the people speak farsi here.  And thankfully, Tajikistan reversed its Facebook ban just days before our arrival ("like").

We went out to dinner with our embassy hosts.  The most interesting thing from dinner was the Tajik lemon tea, which was sweet and tart.  It had a half a special Tajik lemon squeezed into the pot, and was wonderful.

We had a rest day today, and I wandered around the city a bit, past tree-lined parks and a statue of a king crowned in gilded resplendence.  The embassy section invited us out for lunch, and we had the national dish of Tajikistan: qurotob.  Qurotob is a flaky bread that has been shredded then covered with a thin yogurt sauce, tomato and onion slices then topped with dill and flaxseed oil (linseed oil said one fellow, and I told him that linseed was usually for polishing furniture and softening baseball gloves, so probably not). It was served in a giant wooden bowl for sharing, and it was delicious.  Surprisingly light and very yummy.

After lunch, we visited a textile center for Afghan refugees in Dushanbe called Loomis, that helped give work to Afghan refugees residing here.  The Dellas hung with the ladies, and bought a number of handicrafts.

We returned back, and after a nap I went out wandering.  After a little Turkish food, I met two Iranians students living here who had been forced to flee first Iran then Afghanistan.  We chatted for a bit, and I took them out for beers.  We chatted about best asylum places, and life in America.  They both really wanted to go to America.  I told them that I wished it was so easy, but at least America could buy them a beer.

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