Tales from Tajikistan

"Which Stan do you live in now?" is a question I get all the time. My friends are used to my somewhat unconventional assignments, but Dushanbe, Tajikistan seems about as far as possible. This blog attempts to describe life in Tajikistan, from the eyes of an Western outsider, while sending a sign of life to friends who think I've dropped off the planet. Close, but not entirely.

Monday, October 30, 2006

On the Silk Road-- Birthday in Bukhara

When I was assigned to Tajikistan back in October 2003, I had visions of frequent road trips to some of the ancient Silk Road cities in neighboring Uzbekistan-- Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva. Unfortunately, our relationship with Uzbekistan went sour quickly after an incident in Andijon in May 2005-- they kicked out our military base, started closing down U.S. funded NGOs and made it hard for Americans, particularly diplomats, to get visas. My boyfriend Evan happened to get a three-year visa in early 2005, but I had to use my personal passport and pay for a letter of invitation for a single-entry one month visa.

We left on Saturday, October 21-- my birthday-- and crossed the border about 30 miles east of Dushanbe. On the other side, we found a taxi to drive us 6 hours across the desert to Bukhara. It was hard to imagine camel caravans going back and forth across the bleak terrain -- or why Bukhara became the spot in the middle of nowhere that sprang up as a center of Islamic study.

Bukhara felt like a living museum-- gorgeous architecture, tiny alleys, beautiful booths selling handicrafts, but very few people out and about. The very few restaurants served typical central asian fare (kebobs, rice, flat bread) and seemed geared entirely to the busses filled with Europeans, and we were often the only table not part of a group. Despite the chill between our governments, the Uzbeks we talked too seemed surprised and pleased we were Americans, and noted that before the base clsoed, many soliders had come to Bukhara on the weekends.

Here are a few shots of the many islamic schools and covered bazaars.

On Monday, we took another cab three hours to Samarkand. Samarkand is a bigger city, with more of the same architecture.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tales from Tajikistan

So I'm not exactly one of those techno-saavy "world flatteners" that Tom Friedman praises, but I've finally created a blog to describe life in Tajikistan and provide a sign of life from the other side of the world. Friends and relatives kept asking,"You wrote such nice emails from Pakistan. Don't you do that any more?" and since I didn't have casts on both arms and I do have a computer, I really didn't have an excuse. My friend Sheri Shuler assured me blogging was painless and easy, so here it goes.

I've been in Dushanbe a year already. Tajikistan is a remote, fascinating place, heavily influenced by 70 years as part of the Soviet Union. There's not much to do by Western enterntainment standards-- hiking and bowling, with occasional music events sponsored by different Embassies. No movie theaters, no jazz clubs. The symphony, theater or opera exist in theory, but can't afford regular scheduled performances. Dushanbe has a lot of mediocre restaurants, with a few exceptions. One Russian restaurant makes sushi rolls -- go figure, although sushi is really trendy and ubiquitous in Moscow, so it's not a totally surprise it's made it way here, although this sumer the often didn't have most of the things on the menu, including miso soup. Still, we ordered a lot of cucumber and salmon rolls and were happy to have that.

Tajikistan is really poor-in Soviet times, it was the equivalent of Alabama or Mississippi, heavily subsidized by Moscow. Geography and nature work against Tajikistan, which is 93% mountains. and doesn't have the oil or natural gas that have driven Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan's economic growth. The economy is only now recovering from the 1992-1997 Civil War which pitted several regions against each other. In the year I've been here, there are positive signs: more cars on the road, new small local restaurants and more goods available in the small groceries. The buzz in the international community was about the constant supply of avocados in one new store. Apparently they are hard as rocks and take a month to ripen, but avocados they are nonetheless.

I just returned from almost four weeks of vacation, in Minnesota for my sister's wedding to Dion Evans, followed by two weeks vacation in Greece with my boyfriend Evan. Greece was a dream--a healthy mix of beaches, ancient and medieval sightseeing, tasty food, plentiful coffee, good wine. We moved from Rhodes to Patmos and then to Samos (when we decided that the rocky, dry beauty of the Dodecanese Islands, minus the Aegaen sea, reminded us a little too much of the Tajik mountains.) Samos was wonderfully lush, with pine forests and mountains. It was the perfect vacation, and we returned refreshed excited to get back to work.

The weather now is early fall-- still warm during the day, but cool when the sun sets. No danger of sunburn while hiking anymore, but not yet time for the wind and rain jackets.