Sunday, February 27, 2011


Well, it's time for another update from glamorous Dushanbe. I know talking about the weather *seems* boring, but when the weather dictates your quality of life, it becomes an interesting and pressing topic of conversation.

The Russians built most of the infrastructure in Tajikistan - and, until Tajikistan's independence, Russian engineers and professionals maintained all of the infrastructure here. The current president/dictator and his puppet government, unlike the Russians, have done nothing to keep basic utilities in Tajikistan.

The water never shuts off for too long in Dushanbe, mostly because Dushanbe is where the "president" lives. Sometimes the water is white/cloudy, or brown. Apparently after the civil war the international community donated $30 million to build a modern water treatment system… someone in Tajikistan absconded with the entire $30 million. 

So during the winter power normally shuts off at least once a day. Most homes here don't have central heating, so we rely on space heaters for heat. No power = no space heater. It gets very cold very quickly. Obviously my host family is lucky - we never lose power for longer than 4 hours. In the countryside people normally have about 4 hours of power per day - it's pretty common for impoverished Tajikis to freeze to death during the winter. Yep, the weather is that important. 

Roads and sidewalks (the few that exist) are riddled with potholes/puddles/trenches and the like - which makes running pretty interesting. Below I've included a picture of some sort of drainage/ditch thing. The city streets are lined with them. Sometimes there are bridges over them. Sometimes there aren't, which means I run very very carefully. 

My next post will discuss marriage and relationships in Tajiki culture - and the difference between the older and younger generation's concepts of love. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tajiki "Cuisine"

So Tajik food. Let's talk about it. Tajik food was described to me as "bland" and "oily" by several people before the trip. A warning that I didn't heed very seriously - after all, Arabs manage to make absolutely delicious food with what they have. Tajiks can do the same, right?

Let's take a look at the national dish of Tajikistan, (pictured above). Osh is… oily. And it isn't exactly flavorful. It's basically rice, carrots, and potatoes in oil and topped with mystery meat. Tajiks don't butcher animals (i.e. by body part, type of muscle, usage) the way we do in the U.S. They basically kind of hack away at a carcass until the meat is in smallish pieces. I mean, I'm all about using the whole animal. I just like to know what kind of animal, and what  part of the animal I'm eating. 

In any case, Tajik food seems to be designed to stretch meat by using rice, carrots, potatoes, lentils, and onions. Essentially you're getting a 2 ounce portion of mystery meat (where did this cartilage come from? Neckbone? Lamb? Beef? Shank? Rib? Wha?) and then lentil/rice/potato filler. I mean, we're certainly not going hungry. It just means that most Americans have their families send over Tabasco Sauce from the States. Below you'll find photos of typical Tajik dinners - note the presence of carrot, potato, meat. 

P.S. Yes I know you're not reading this blog to hear me complain about Tajiki food - I'll  update with more interesting content in the near future. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Fam in the 'Stan

I love my host family. I don't have pictures of all the members of my host family yet - Tajikis generally change into "house clothes" when they return from work or school, mainly to preserve their clothing. Basically, it's difficult to catch my host family members in normal clothing as opposed to PJs.

So this is Shukrona. She is my host granddaughter/sister/niece (the daughter of my host brother's wife) and very energetic. We've bonded over Hannah Montana (pronounced Khhhanna Muntana) and tic tac toe. We've even had decent rounds of hang-man, although I'm handicapped because I'm just starting to learn Tajik Cyrillic. She's pretty fond of pickles. 

Saodat, my host mother and the grandmother/matron of our household. She helps her daughter-in-law with household chores, plays Sudoku, prays 5 times a day, and keeps her grandchildren in line. 

One of my host brothers/nephews/family members Fairouz is pictured above, along with our Korean neighbor, Dimitri. My host brothers (Shorukh and Fairouz) love Age of Empires. Love it. In fact, we don't converse much because they're glued to the computer. The computer does not connect to the internet - but I swear, all it's used for is Age of Empires and Solitare. Mostly Age of Empires, although Saodat seems very fond of Solitaire. The host brothers remind me of my own blood brothers - Nick and Lance - except in America we trade the PC and AoE for an xBox and Halo. 

Muhabbat, my host sister/wife-of-my-host-brother is wonderful. She cooks, and launches into long Tajik diatribes when we converse. I may not understand half of what she says, but we had a very interesting conversation about Tajiki standard of beauty (unibrow) and watched what I interpreted to be "Tajikistan's Next Top Model" together. I don't see her husband, Jalol, very much, except at dinner and breakfast. Jalol works at a bank (not sure which one). 

I think the reason I love this host family so much is because the dynamics are similar to my own American family.  I have three younger host siblings, two of them are brothers and the youngest is a very charismatic sister. They don't speak any English, which is great for my Persian/Tajik. I've included some photos of the street I live on and the courtyard of my home below.

Friday, February 4, 2011


So, I'm here.

This post will be kept fairly short - it's purpose is to ensure friends and family (mostly family) of my well-being. I actually have quite a lot to say about life in Dushanbe, but I want a chance to take and post some pictures before I launch into a long blog post.

Dushanbe is very ... post-U.S.S.R. Much of the infrastructure here was built by the Russians, and most if not all signs are entirely in Cyrillic. It's currently snowing, which makes the ridiculously (awesome) Mongol-boots I purchased back in the States very useful.

I'm going to dedicate a post (with pictures) entirely to my host family, but for now just know that they're fantastic, and don't speak any English. We have a toilet (score!) and occasional hot water.

Pictures are in the works - be sure to check back in a few days.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Well, I thought I would take advantage of the free WiFi here in Istanbul to give you an update on the trip to Dushanbe thus far.

I flew out from D.C. on the evening of February 1st - I'll arrive in "the 'Stan" early in the morning of February 3rd. I essentially go through customs and then immediately meet my host family.

Highlights of the journey thus far include:
- Gruff and unsmiling German flight attendants unsuccessfully trying to get airplane passengers to fasten their seat belts.
- Ambivalent Turkish flight attendants not really caring whether seat belts were buckled, tray tables were up, or electronics turned off.
- Bored Turkish police officers reading books while guarding passport control centers.
- Scarily plastic surgery-ed  European women. Collagen has never seemed so terrifying.
- Unlimited free samples of Turkish Delight in Istanbul Duty Free Shops. It's Hazer Baba brand - pretty generic. But it's free.
- Knitting - on the plane, during layovers. I'm getting fairly good at it, and will most likely end up knitting one of my host siblings something over the course of my stay in Tajikistan.
- Europeans don't believe in water fountains. I had to pay 3 Euro for a bottle of water.

Concerns thus far include:
- Learning the Cyrillic alphabet. While Farsi uses, for the most part, the Arabic alphabet, the Tajik dialect uses Cyrillic and borrows words from Russian. I've managed to avoid learning a third alphabet - but I'll have to buck up and figure out Cyrillic.
- Meeting the host family. It's gonna be awkward. I'll be jet lagged, and we speak different dialects of Persian. Communication will be rough at first, so I'm bracing myself for the first week of life with my host family.

Worries aside, I'm thrilled. The "holy-crap-I'm going-to-Tajikistan" adrenalin rush has finally hit, and I'm ready to land in Dushanbe and get my "boots on the ground."