I’m sure Dushanbe is a lovely city, but for me it was the place where I was still sick with diarrhea from Tashkent, and then also had a sore throat I was worried would be strep, and then intestines healed, but then turned out to have a bad cold.
When I arrived in Dushanbe, not into the home of a fellow CouchSurfer as I had originally planned, I checked into a pretty standard soviet hotel. I think it would have been grand back in the day, but it’s time as home to rebel fighters during the civil war here in the 90s, plus way too many coats of bad paint, leave a bit to be desired. I was in a shared room, meaning there are two beds, and I would be placed with another woman. My first night the other bed was occupied by a nice woman/young daughter duo on their way to Iran to visit the girl’s father. I also tried the first afternoon to explore the city in the hopes of getting a detailed Tajikistan map, mailing some things home, seeing small city life, but I didn’t get too far before an intestinal attack came on, so I spent the evening with bread, cheese, and a banana in bed.
Day two was much of the same. CouchSurfing host turned out to be a bit of a dud. I’m really not going to end up leaving a hotel. During the day I got as far as mailing a package home, and losing my wallet. The postal experience was entertaining, if nothing else. The office I went to was the main one in the capital, therefore the epitome of postal service in Tajikistan. Firstly, I couldn’t mail some of the things I have bought just before I left Iran. Basically, anything the woman couldn’t recognize, I couldn’t send. Dried berries, saffron, and saffron sugar crystals were a no go. So was a special travel bottle with suncreen remnants (and a few shells from Moynak I had shoved inside).
Once the package I was actually sending was determined, each item was individually weighed. I filled out forms in triplicate, twice, as I had mad small errors, and scratched out letters were not allowed.
Then was the issue of a box. In Canada (and Turkey and Iran so far on this trip), one can go to the post office and buy special envelopes and boxes to pack things in. Not so here. The woman tracked down an old box which didn’t quite fit one of the larger items I wanted to send, so she deconstructed and reconstructed it to fit. Badly.
She shook her head at the result, so I offered to try. My result was better, but I would have felt much more comfortable if it had had ten layers of packing tape around it. I suggested I could go by some “scotch” but she shook her head disapprovingly; not sure if this was because it wasn’t allowed or she wasn’t a believer in tape. Instead the “box” was fastened with twine, the corners barely stable with bent cardboard stuck in the wide gaps.
The next step is even more entertaining. She judges the size of the non-rectangular box, and goes into the back room to sew a cotton sack to fit over it. She comes out once to try the fit, and goes back to make alterations. The sack finally firmly over the box, she closes the end of the sack like wrapping paper and sews it shut with individual stitches by hand. She runs out of string at one point, and shakes her head as if she should be able to judge appropriate lengths of string needed by this point in her career. I agree.
Finally, the cotten sack firmly sewn shut, she dabs hot wax from a tin under the counter along the hand sewn seams, and seals each glob with a Tajik postal service stamp. I write the destination address in permanent marker on the cotton fabric.
I have no idea if this is going to get to Canada, but her and I high-five it anyway.
I then went a little bit further for a walk, before I decided my intestines couldn’t handle it. Then I realized my wallet was missing. Whether it had fallen out of my pocket/bag or someone helped it to fall, I don’t know. Luckily I was only out about $40 and a photocopy of my passport.
And then, my final bit of entertainment for the night was dinner with Sino, the alleged CouchSurfing host. He treated me to a traditional Central Asian dish of lagman (noodle soup) and a RC Cola, after I had waived away his interest in getting wine or beer. I think all my stomach could handle was broth. I apologized more than once for my lack of energy – it wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm, it was just that I wanted to curl up in a ball on a cool bathroom floor. He shared some opinions on the history of the Soviets in Tajikistan. How during Soviet occupation, Tajiks thought Russians were the hardest wokring people. The brought electricity to Tajikistan. Tajiks say that the Sun is the light from God. Electricity is the light from Lenin. Since Tajikistan reluctantly declared independence, apparently the Chinese are considered the hardest workers.
That night I shared a room with Russian business woman (I think). I only saw about 30 seconds of her, which probably suited us both.
The next morning I resolved to change hotels. It was pretty clear Sino wasn’t going to work out, I wanted to pamper myself and get better. I splurged on a bed and breakfast with a lovely room and private bath. It included wifi (yay!), laundry service, and even driver service. The manager freaked out as I accidentally unplugged her computer. This was obviously a tragedy for her, and she let me know over, and over. I got her back by asking to borrow paper scissors and using them to cut my toenails.
My first day there I only ventured outside once. I got as far as the main street before it was apparent that my intestines didn’t want me to do any exercise. Sino picked me up and drove me around the city in the late afternoon, showing me the main buildings and monuments. I retreated to the bed and breakfast, and ordered dinner in.
The next morning I resolved the day to be my last day in the city. I enjoyed breakfast with a US researcher staying in Dushanbe for a few weeks. When she found out I had been through Iran, she mentions she was originally from Iran and asked me how it was. She hadn’t been there since just before the revolution in 78. I asked why she hadn’t gone back. Her family is Jewish and is well known there, and her brother is still in Iran and is an active lawyer. Apparently going back isn’t an option. I answered her questions the best I could.
Sino had made plans to meet me at 11am, but he never materialized, and I gave up.
My final two tasks that I needed to complete before I left the city were to get some money out (while ATMs are common here, most are out of money, or only let you withdraw a paltry some of something like 300 somanis, or about $65. Not worth the $5 international transaction fee) AND get my camera lens fixed, as it was still stuck on full zoom. Sino had suggested going to a deparment store on the main street and asking around, which I was suprised to find actually worked. I was directed to a hole in the wall (literally, it was a 2 foot square hole in a wall to access the “fixer man”. We agreed I would pay him the equivalent of about $40 if he could fix it. For some reason I almost hesitated, then shook my head. Why would I pass on possibly my final chance to be able to take wide angle photos for a paultry $40? I watched him work for a while, then went to a hip cafe across the street and got iced tea and a raspberry cake that reminded me of summer in BC. When you imagine me in Central Asia, I’m sure you don’t have a picture of me sipping iced tea in an italian cafe with wifi, do you?
Later, back at the hole in the wall, I found that the zoom was now working, and he was slowly putting all the pieces back together. The camera reconstructed, he tested it and found the automatic focus was now not working. So I watched him take the whole thing apart again, and the back together. Success. I was thrilled, and took a photo of him and his friend, with a wide angle zoom. They kind of reminded me of a Tajik version of Flight of the Concords.
With my camera in tact, and happy that I had been out and about for a few hours with seemingly improved intestinal fortitude, I ventured out a bit longer and walked a bit around the main street before heading back to the guest house where I enjoyed my takeout leftovers, the BBC, and wifi until bed, at which point I knew my sore throat had turned into a full blown cold.
The next morning I took advantage of the guesthouse’s driver service, as the driver not only took me to the place where shared taxis to Khorog leave, but also found a vehicle and negotiated a price. Splurging for the guesthouse definitely paid off.
Overall Dushanbe seemed like a nice enough town, though I didn’t get to truly enjoy it. It is the last town for the next few weeks where the culinary options are plenty (Indian, Chinese, etc) so I’m sad to be sick and not be able to enjoy them. The abundance of treed streets were lovely after the barren scrub of most of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. But the capital is not my reason for being in Tajikistan, the mountains are. I’m excited for what is to come.