Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings from Dushanbe

The big New Year tree in my neighborhood. I have been thinking that Dushanbe is such a pretty, neat and well-kept city until they started decorating for New Years.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

October 23, 2010
Ack, the dust! I could probably get some pretty decent cement out of my mouth right now. After cleaning my apartment thoroughly, I have decided to keep my windows closed until it rains.

Today was the first day since my arrival that hasn't felt like summer. It was still beautiful and sunny (though dusty), just a little bit cooler. Love the sun, hate the dust.

I'm as busy as ever and still love my job, possibly even more so now that I have really begun to get to know my students.

Dushanbe never ceases to amaze me with the strange variety of things it offers. In the past week or so I attended an international film festival, saw a performance by Native American dancers from the States, saw a belly dancing show and a performance of the opera Aida. Tomorrow I plan to go on a hike to see dinosaur fossils.

Maybe it's because I so recently lived in rural Central Asia, or maybe it's because whenever I read a news article on Tajikistan, it almost is always referred to as “the poorest of the former Soviet republics” or something of that nature, but I was impressed with the interior of the Opera Ballet Theater that is situated just on the other side of a small park from my apartment building. Not only was the theater beautifully decorated, but the place had the most comfortable theater seats that I've ever sat in. I could have taken a nap in that seat, but the performance of Aida was actually quite entertaining. The number of empty seats in the place was depressing, however. With the huge cast, there could have hardly been more than two audience members to each performer. With tickets at only $4, I don't know how they managed to finance the performance.

November 6, 2010
It's a holiday weekend! One great thing about the former Soviet Union is the multitude of holidays that are nicely spread out. I'm writing this while watching a concert on TV. Actually, its on EVERY Tajik channel (all four, that is). I have sputnik TV, so I have options, but I'm mesmerized by this concert. So far, it has mostly consisted of pretty girls in various varieties of national dress walking around in formations and occasionally dancing or braiding each other's hair in rhythm. There was one dance entirely choreographed around one woman's ridiculously amazing hair: it literally brushed the floor. In any case, it's not the most interesting thing I've ever seen, but there's so much sparkle and color, I just can't look away!

I spoke Tajik at the bazaar today! I can't believe how quickly I'm picking up the basics of this language. Only about half of the words I've learned so far are completely new. Many words are similar enough to Kyrgyz/Uzbek to be easily remembered, and all the borrowed Russian words are the same. Surprisingly, there are more than a few words that are related to English or Romantic languages. Mother is “modar,” father is “padar,” bad is “bad”. Awesome!

Also at the bazaar today, I realized I've been spending too much time in Central Asia. There were some women selling steaming-hot boiled sheep heads out of big tubs, and as I was walking by and caught a whiff of the boiled meat, my mouth started to water and I started thinking about what I was going to have for supper. Hard to believe that just a little over a year ago I would have forced back the urge to vomit at such a sight.

If you were wondering, I did NOT eat a sheep head. I had mac and cheese. Thank God Tajik people appreciate good cheese. Why it was so difficult to find edible cheese in Kyrgyzstan, I'll never know. I actually have big chunks of cheddar and swiss in my fridge right now.

November 14, 2010
Reasons I know I've spent too much time in Central Asia:

  • At a party, I feel much more comfortable dancing in a Central Asian style than like an American.
  • My kitchen perpetually smells like cumin.
  • I've come to appreciate the beauty of a finely groomed uni-brow.
  • After one month in Dushanbe, I've already bought two pairs of sparkly shoes.
  • I'm more surprised to see a dog on a leash than I am to see a leashed goat, sheep, or even bear in the center of the city.
  • I'm mesmerized by the weather girl on Tajik TV. I wish I could point at a weather map with as much grace as she does.
  • After hearing that broccoli was sighted at the bazaar, I spent my whole lunch break searching for it with no success.
  • I got really excited when a co-worker gave me an avocado.
  • I know what persimmons and quince are.
  • I haven't figured out the complex system of street crossing yet, but I do know that it helps to find the most formidable-looking middle aged woman with the glittery-est clothes and keep pace with her.
  • I recognize that it is actually bad manners to buy something without bargaining for a lower price.

Reasons Dushanbe is an amazingly terrible / terribly amazing (depends on your opinion) place:

  • Fried Chicken. There are at least 3 different fast-food chains in the city: “SFC” (Southern Fried Chicken), “New York Fried Chicken,” and “Kantri Fried Chicken” (I think with this one they were going for “country,” but they decided to spell it in Russian letters). They all look almost exactly the same. “SFC” (called simply “Chicken,” in English, even by locals who don't speak English) is dangerously close to home for me. They actually have really good pizza, too.
  • Sawdust on your head is apparently adequate warning that a tree branch is about to be cut above the sidewalk you are walking on.
  • An equally adequate warning is a plastic bag on a stick next to an open man hole.
  • Fountains everywhere!
  • Hate the chore of sorting your recycling? No need to in my neighborhood. I just take all my trash to the dump, and some poor desperate person will, as soon as my back is turned, jump on the bag, collect all my plastic bottles, brush off the bag the trash was in, fold it up neatly, and presumably will be able to sell all these things. I can't tell whether it would be nicer for me to just hand them the things that they might want rather than making them have to tromp through the trash to collect it.
  • Have I mentioned the bear on a leash?
  • The routine for getting bread for lunch at my office is as follows: 1. Leave the office compound and walk a few yards down a narrow alley. 2. Knock on an unmarked blue door halfway down the alley. 3. Wait a few seconds and knock again. 4. I the door opens, you are in luck! You can buy fresh hot bread straight from the bakers at whole-sale price. 5. Run back to the office, tossing the bread back and forth so as not to burn your hands. 6. Enjoy.
  • Living next to a kindergarten = happiness.
  • Keeping my window open = a dusty apartment.
  • A reincarnation of the WWII-era Red Army marched down the main street on a Saturday afternoon. I'm talking long coats, furry hats, shiny black boots, rifles slung across the back, the whole shebang. I looked around for movie cameras or something, but this was the real thing. Allegedly they are from the police academy. I knew they weren't much for investing in new uniforms if they still have old ones that will do, but these guys looked fresh off the time machine.

November 16, 2010
Another holiday today. I was really looking forward to sleeping in this morning, but unfortunately I was awoken at 7 am by loud knocking at my door and children's voices yelling “do you have bread?” (At least this is what I think they were saying. I only just learned the verb “to have.” It took me only a peek out the peep hole to figure out that there was something of a trick-or-treat thing going on. I ignored the knocking until 9, but the kids were just so darn cute that I started giving out cookies. By 11, it was finished. Why didn't anyone tell me this would happen? And why do they do it so early in the morning?

December 3, 2010
Everyone keeps saying, "winter is here" but there are still roses blooming in the garden, and I eat lunch outside everyday without a jacket. It is chilly in the morning and evening, but I'll take that in exchange for warm and sunny afternoons! My Tajik teacher predicts that it will "barf" this weekend. I can't say I'm looking forward to that.