Sunday, October 10, 2010

Journey and First Impressions

Once again, I must ask you to watch the dates of the entries. I am apparently incapable of doing anything in a linear fashion.

Sept. 28, 2010

Stockholm Airport

I find airports to be at once fascinating and terribly sad. Fascinating for many obvious reasons including its value as a giant on-going social experiment, as in “lets lock thousands of people from all walks of life and different parts of the world into one building for hours when they are already cranky and sleep-deprived, and just DARE them tolerate each other.” Its the same effect as going to the zoo, watching all these people. In fact, I strategically positioned myself across from the “Smoking Capsule” which is exactly what it sounds like. A round, elevator-sized glass capsule intended to contain smokers. Its deliciously cruel, watching all these people cram themselves desperately into this tiny container with a bunch of strangers, exposed to amused gawkers like me.

Well, its my lucky day. A man accompanied by a helper dog just sat down on the other end of the Ikea-ish bench I've sprawled out on for the time being. The dog was carrying the man's briefcase by the handle in his mouth. Adorable! Smokers in a capsule, cute helper dogs, this wait will go by in no time. Once I get tired of sitting here, I might move over to one of the red egg chairs on a circle of shag carpet behind me and look out the window, just because it seems like a fun place to sit. Oh, and there's also a kitchen gadget store here that I might go back and look through again. Kitchen gadgets have recently and inexplicably become an interest of mine. I never buy, just look. Its weird. I'm holding off on buying anything at all here because I have no idea what Swedish currency is called or what the exchange rate is. It makes me feel kind of guilty.

Which brings me to the reason that airports are so sad. So here I am, looking at souvenirs from a city I've never seen and will not see anytime soon. The flight attendant, the guy that stamps my passport, and security people all say what I assume to be “thank you” or “good-bye” or “have a pleasant trip” in a language I don't know, and I never know if it is more polite to say “thank you” in English or stay silent. I feel bad for not have doing some research on Sweden before I got here, like it should be an expected courtesy to know a little bit about a country you are visiting before you get there. I know even less about Latvia, my next stop.

Sept. 30, 2010

I'm here! My very LONG trip went smoothly, and although it took an irritatingly long time to get past the border control guys (there were three of them, but they kept switching booths for some reason, causing all of the travelers to run from one line to the other and back again, trying to predict which one would get them through the fastest. I did a bad job picking. If everyone weren't so cranky it would have been hilarious).

I was met at the doors of the airport by my new office's driver and American director, and they quickly got me shuffled off to my temporary apartment, leaving me to sleep (it was about 5 a.m. at this point).

Incidentally, I am writing this now at 4:30 a.m. today because I unfortunately have a messed-up internal clock.

The apartment, which from the outside and stairwell looks exactly like every apartment building I saw in Kyrgyzstan (boxy, cold, gray, crumbling), is very nice and comfortable. Its pretty huge for just me, nicely decorated with new-looking furniture and fixtures (if you like Central Asian neo-baroque, or whatever you would call the style of home decorating that they prefer in this part of the world), comfortable, and spotless. Some perks: three big windows, big bed, new stove and oven that looks like its never been used, and satellite TV (BBC World and Aljazeera English!).

I woke up around noon, cleaned up, and visited the supermarket across the street to change my money and get something to eat. As soon as I poked my head out of the building, I noticed a woman bent over a cooking pot propped on bricks in small fire. Hooray, I'm in Central Asia again!

My apartment is in a quiet area near the central hub of the city. Two of the Americans who work at my office live on the same block, and besides the supermarket, there is also a Georgian restaurant that the thee of us ate at last night (leftover hachupuri—Georgian cheesy bread—is in the fridge for breakfast!) and, apparently, a small produce market that I haven't visited yet.

The driver came to bring me to the office in late afternoon (its in walking distance, but I don't know the way yet), just in time for a quick tour and then a little award ceremony and reception for the Tajikistani lawyers who went on a professional development/study tour of America in the summer.

I knew I would like working at the office as soon as I saw the ping-pong table directly inside the office's compound gates. On the other side of the courtyard, exquisitely ornate carved wood doors of the office's main building were thrown wide open to let in the sunshine and fresh air from the garden (by the way, the weather is absolutely perfect). Luckily, they decided to set up my work space in the bright reception area rather than the isolated classroom. My desk is set next to a large upper-level window that opens up into the garden, giving me the illusion of sitting among the branches of a persimmon tree now heavy with bright orange fruit.

My new co-workers are being so nice already. As I went around meeting people in the office, a few showed me my date of arrival marked on their calendars with prominence. They kindly suggested that I sleep in tomorrow and come in to the office whenever I wake up (such a switch from PC where we arrived in the wee hours of the morning and started our first meeting a few hours later).

My first impression of Dushanbe: in many ways it looks a lot like Bishkek, but with a completely different vibe. It has a certain vibrancy similar to southern Kyrgyzstan which I suppose comes from the bright sun, fruit trees, and colorful clothes. I didn't think it was possible, but there are even more shiny, sparkley clothes here than in Uzgen. At night the streets in this area are lit up with colored lights. This street has multicolored palm tree shapes.

Interior Design and Fashion

October 10, 2010

Hey, happy 10-10-10!

I'm finally feeling settled into my new apartment (my permanent place, not the first place). Somehow it only took a few touches to make it home-y. Sadly, I think that involved messing it up a bit. I've uncovered a few surprises since moving in. Only one is bad: I can't move couch out from in front of the window so to open it fully. Most are good: screens on the windows, a water filter, a few jugs of un-opened bottled water, lights in the stairwell, and satellite radio connected to my TV. That means I get NPR! I was actually happy when I heard Car Talk come out of the speakers. Technology is amazing. The best surprise is that one of my co-workers, a local who speaks fluent English. lives right downstairs from me, so he can help me with translation or whatever if I have any problems. This was a great coincidence, but wait for the crazy part: his wife, who also speaks English, studied abroad in Iowa. Even weirder, we realized that we were at the very same rally for Obama in Waterloo back in 2008. How do these things happen? “Small world” is far too cliché to apply to a situation like this.

This ex-pat thing is definitely an interesting experience, and I'm glad I'm getting a taste of it now. I'm in a weird kind of mindset now, torn between eating it all up and being a Peace Corps volunteer snob and turning up my nose at all the foreigners and their weaknesses for things like ice, diet coke, and indoor plumbing. In any case, this is a really great way for a mediocre, middle class, Midwestern girl to try out being fancy-shmancy once in a while. Like tonight—I attended a fashion show and dinner at the Hyatt to benefit victims of domestic violence in Tajikistan (incidentally, the government apparently censored the event, and the announcers were not allowed to talk about this problem at all. So strange.). In any case, it was a neat event, and I can't wait to get my hands on some Tajik silk—it is really some of the most beautiful fabric I've ever seen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One week in Dushanbe

Really, its only been a week?

So much has happened so far it seems like its been twice as long. I've been very busy with work and everything else, and have almost literally spent every moment I have at home sleeping. But I love it! Right now I'm part of a project that is helping a small and very motivated group of young people to learn English well enough to be accepted into an American law school. They are a really wonderful group, and their enthusiasm makes me want to work extra hard to assist them.

In other news, I moved into a new apartment yesterday! Its a great little place close to work and closer to the bazaar. Its really small, but that's perfect for me and the time I'll be spending there. All the appliances and fixtures are really new and clean and work well. The only problem I have with the place is that there is quite a lot of furniture for such a small place.

Now all I have to do is figure out those essential details such as: do I brush my teeth in the shower or in the kitchen sink? How can I position the couch so that it doesn't block me from opening the window? Where can I stash the giant stuffed gorilla that is sitting on the dresser?