Sunday, July 21, 2013

To Salt City!

Sorry for the long delay in posts. Last week was a series of midterms (4 to be exact) and I really just didn't have time to post. Or for that matter, anything really interesting to post.

But it's all worth it! Because this weekend me and two friends (Nick and Eric) went south to a city called Shahrtus. It was super hot but totally worth it...

*Interesting note on the name of the city. Apparently Shahrtus has a big salt mine, and so it's name comes from this. 'Shahr' means city and 'tus' is one way to say salt. So. Salt City. Cool huh?

We had initially hoped to go to Takte Sangin, which is on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It is a well known location and apparently really cool, but unfortunately we couldn't secure permission to travel there from the local military. One of the program's local contacts (who is AWESOME) recommended Shahrtus if we still wanted to go south. He also offered to negotiate our way down there.

Luckily for us, he has a friend who lives in Shartus. For a nominal fee, his friend drove 3-4 hours to pick us up to Dushanbe, drive back, let us stay at his house, provide us dinner and breakfast, then give us a guided tour of a number of sites in Shartus, and finally drive us back to the city. Worth. Every. Penny.

Here's a map of where we went- (the blue dot is me in Dushanbe and the red marker is where we went. Shahrtus is about 50km (30mi) north of the Afghan border. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

'Live Tweeting' a Day in the Dush

After discussing with some friends (Joe and Eric- whose blogs are conveniently located on the right), I came up with an idea to "live tweet" a day in the life in Dushanbe. Accordingly I went through my day and recorded a few things that happen (and that happen regularly). For those of my readers who aren't familiar with twitter (grandma, I'm talking about you) I recommend reading up on the basics.

Anyways, the live tweeting includes time stamps and all tweets are within the 140 character limit. Those of you that follow me on twitter as well may recognize a few of these tweets. Enjoy! :)

Oh yeah also you should know what Candy Crush is.

Nothing like waking up to the sound's of your family's pet prehistoric-bird. Seriously; pterodactyl + chicken = this thing 

Bathroom time in the US: >5 minutes
Bathroom time in Tajikistan: <5 minutes
#OneOfThoseDays #JKEveryday


Rapid succession police sirens down Rudaki Ave. No worries, just the taxi driving gang with their after-market [legal] sirens #GoodMorning

Twenty minutes for breakfast AKA twenty minutes spent waiting for my tea to cool down #Sweatin

All I can think while brushing my teeth is "don't swallow the water, don't swallow the water" #SickForDays

Why does this one stretch of my daily walk ALWAYS smell like feces? #HoldinMyNose

The crosswalk which gives me a green light to cross for 10 seconds and no one stops #DeadmanWalkin

The daily struggle to ask for water WITHOUT gas continues 

The hottest classroom (with air conditioning) award goes to... #Drumroll

MY CLASSROOM. I get to sit in this stagnant room for the next four hours and SWEAT

Already soaked. #SexyAndIKnowIt

Break! Candy Crush time.

I have a ten minute break and my teacher keeps talking to me <<<<<<<
#LeaveMeBe #BrainBreakRequired

Now that the "break" has concluded... on to some story I absolutely do not understand. 

Legitimately think that story is in a language other than Persian #TryAgainProfessor 

Breakkkkkkkk. Going to the "Wild Dragon Shack" for a bag of chips and a snickers... All for a dollar. 

Sorry prof, don't mind while I just sit here and chomp on my chips super loudly #NomNom

Tajik is seriously like another language. It is NOT Iranian Farsi lol #CyrillicBeLikeHuh

So hungry. Need food. One more hour.


When you're sitting in class talking about how to say all kinds of fruits in Tajik AND YOU'RE STARVING #ThatStuffIDontLike

Lunchhhhhhh nowwwwww.

And so commences the daily debate: sketchy (and cheap) Russian cafe or the Iranian restaurant. 

Justice prevails! Onward to the tasty Iranian food (Paniz).

Waiting for the bus means telling 27 mashrutkas that you're waiting for the bus #TheHustle

We're on the bus with the air freshener! If only there was more than one and it wasn't 110 out... #StinkSession

Paniz! Paniz! Paniz! 

Tajik waitresses that don't speak Iranian Farsi at the Iranian restaurant #RiddleMeThat 

Stuffed. God I love Iranian food.

We always say we want to "do something" but then we walk outside and we're like... Lets go to the place with air conditioning #TajikProblems

REVISION: we have decided to go to the bazaar.

We put our hand out on the side of the road and every single car pulled over and tried to pick us up. #MashrutkaTime

How many people do you think the driver is going to pick up?

Answer: 19. 19 people. In a van. No air conditioning. Where do I even go?

Bazaar!!!! :)



Bazaar :( let's go. I'm as wet as the ocean and I'm in the middle of a desert. 

Mashrutka number two of the day. Lets play #GuessHowManyPeopleCanWeFit!

This bridge looks like it's under construction... Traffic narrowed down to one lane each way.

UPDATE: Traffic limited to one lane ONE way... And guess what?? It's not the way we're going 

Whelp. Crossed the bridge. That was my #LifeFlashedBeforeMyEyes moment of the day... 

No I don't speak Russian, but thanks for assuming I do #EveryoneInThisCountry

Ahhhh the daily lecture from random Tajiks about the greatness of the Russian language, how useful,  important it is, etc.

No, I still don't speak Russian. 

Safely out of the car! I would kiss the ground right now if it wasn't full of trash #TajikProblems

Bahahah @JoeCalder fell in the joo!

Two words: air conditioning.

The need to go to the squatty potty can sneak up on one very fast #TajikProblems

Good thing someone left their homework here; I forgot my toilet paper.

Home! Predinner nap!

Anyone awake? I need some help on #CandyCrush

Doing Persian homework after doing Persian class and Persian speaking all day is frustrating. #BrokenBrain

Tajik TV, tho.

Bibijon just asked me why I wasn't married (again). Oh Bibijon... #IfOnlyYouKnew

That time of day when the city is breaking fast. In other words, DEAD SILENT all across the city. #NomNom

The silence only broken by my host brother and father arguing. Daily occurrence, nothing to worry about here folks.

Dinner wrapping up...

...false alarm more food has just arrived!

Host family is really concerned that I don't eat enough. They are easily the only people that think that. #FatKid

My daily argument with my host mom. She refuses to let me even take my dishes into the kitchen. It's no big deal- I have hands! 

Teaching my host brother and the neighbor how to play Rummy!

This isn't going well.

Okay... Rummy unsuccessful. Guess we'll play that Russian card game that they love so much. 

It's called like Kaldrogo or something. Never really sure what's happening in it. #IDontSpeakRussian

I won?! I think the kids I'm playing with are just as surprised as me! 

Fruit plate! Wahoooooooo

Goodnight Twitter, I'm going to bed! 

Cantttttt sleeeeeppppp

So hot. 

Haha this is amazing [RandomLinkHere]

Seriously I need to go to sleep.

Looks like it's supposed to cool down tomorrow- only 105! 

I love that there's a hot water heater right next to the toilet! #SaidNoOneEver

Immodium: my best friend in Tajikistan #TajikLife

Either I'm hallucinating or there's a small earthquake occurring. 

Why am I still awake?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Surviving in Dushanbe [A Guide to Surviving Everday Tajik Life] Part 2

With another month under my belt in Dushanbe, I thought it only appropriate to expand on my initial tips for survival in Dushanbe. Hopefully someday these guides will properly prepare you for your trip to Tajikistan (because you definitely plan on coming here, right?!).


1) Negah darid (neg-ah dar-eed): stop here
-This mostly comes in handy when you are on a bus and you've just cruised passed your stop (hey it happens!) or you're in a shared bus-taxi and you need to get out immediately. Or if you're just completely sure your driver is going to get you killed.

2) Quiamat ast! (ghee-a-mat ast): That's expensive!
-If you've been paying attention, by now you should know how to ask how much something in and determine prices. Now the next step is playing the haggling game. What better way to start then expressing your concern at the overpriced knock-off Adidas gear?!

3) Takfif darid? (tak-feef dar-eed): Do you have a discount?
-Always a great follow-up to claiming something is expensive, merchants will always be willing to give you a discount to bring down the price.

4) Ob-e Be Gaz (aw-bee bay gaz): water without gas
-It's 100-110 degrees every day. You're going to need to buy water (because trust me, you're not drinking the tap water). I don't know about you all, but that water with gas is basically not even water. Hence, the usefulness of this phrase.

5) Shahar (sha-har) and ruz (rooz): city and day
-So you're thinking how could the words city and day possible be 1) useful and 2) related? Well remember, Dushanbe literally translates to Monday... so you have to be ready to distinguish between what Dushanbe you're referring to. You'd hate to tell someone you'll meet them in Dushanbe at the library and be stuck waiting there until Monday.

6) Ob Bazi Konam (aw-b baw-zee co-nom): I want to play with water
-This phrase is obviously multipurpose. Dirty? In need of a shower? Done. Hot? Want to cool off in a glacier-water pool? Check. Nostalgic? Want to hop in the hose and relive those childhood memories? No problem. This phrase is for you. Not sure how to differentiate between uses? Join the club.

7) Piva (pee-va): beer
-Do I really even need to say anything?

*For my non-Persian speaking readers, read the words in parenthesis as if it were English for proper pronunciation.

Bathroom Tips:

1) All previous bathroom tips are worth re-reading, but this one particular point deserves a re-posting:
NEVER EVER EVER expect ANY location to have toilet paper/last week's homework. Thus, you should always carry baby wipes.

Getting Around Dushanbe:

1) Walking? Remember to "Mind the Joo".
-This catchy little phrase is very important, and while it may seem anti-Semitic from the onset I can assure you it's not. Dushanbe has something that vaguely resembles a sewer system, however it is not concealed like the systems in the US. So essentially, along the side of EVERY road (on both sides of the road) is a small trench that is two feet deep. In Persian, the word for stream is "joo" and so the logic follows quickly: "mind the joo" else you'll end up with a sprained ankle (or worse, a sprained ankle covered in sewage).

2) Cross with a Tajik
-If you're afraid to cross the street you have good reason. There's no shame in waiting for a local to come and crossing the street with them. Just follow them closely and you *should* be safe.

3) Cross like a Tajik
-When crossing the street, even at stoplights, be advised that a clear time to walk may never exist. In times like this you may be required to walk like a Tajik. That is, cross one lane of traffic at a time. As one might imagine, you may be doing this more often than not if you are taking the above advice into consideration.

4) The daily routine
-A fact of Tajik life is that once a day your life will flash before your eyes. 99 times out of 100, this comes as part of your daily commute in some bus-taxi or taxi. I've seen a surprisingly little amount of accidents here in the city, but it doesn't make what's happening in the car any less scary!

5) The Mysterious Mashrutka Numbers
-So there's busses and bus-taxis (mashrutkas). The mashrutkas follow the same route as the busses and, while they are a little more pricey, they're usually faster and more comfortable. Common bus/mashrutkas routes are the 1, 2, 3, and 8. There's a few less common ones, and then there's a few that I'm pretty sure just don't have a bus counterpart. The million dollar question: where do these mysterious mashrutkas go? As 67s, 16s,12s, and others pass you by, you'll certainly ask yourself (and even Tajiks) this question. But the real answer is, no one really knows where they go.

6) On the topic of Mashrutkas...
-This also applies to your regular taxis, but car drivers are particularly sensitive about only one part of their car: the doors. When getting in and out of cars, be sure to be ultra-careful while shutting the door. Really, the art of Tajik Door Shutting is kind of impossible; one must shut the door in such a way that it actually, well, closes... but with literally no more force than that. If the door makes too loud of a shutting sound, you're going to get an earful from your driver about shutting the door slowly and respecting his car!

7) On the topic of entering/exiting vehicles...
-Bus or car, it's worthwhile to mention that the appropriate time to enter/exit a vehicle may not be readily apparent. Most of us are probably used to a car or bus coming to a complete stop before entering or exiting occurs. In Tajikistan, the appropriate time is of course any speed below 20km/hr.

8) Flag 'em down!
-Here in Dushanbe, each bus is equipped with a small Tajik boy (sometimes a teenager) who collects fairs. If you are down the road and the bus is departing, you can wave down the fair-collector or bus driver and they will usually wait for you. This is pretty awesome! If you're a straggler catching up to a departing bus, tip number seven is particularly relevant information for you. Also if you're cool enough, busses will stop at non-bus stops to pick you up.

General Tips

1) Street Vendors are hit-or-miss
-This is pretty self-explanatory but it's worth mentioning. Some street vendor food is going to ruin your life for the next few days, while others won't give you the slightest issue. Moral of the story: eating street vendor food is like playing Russian Roulette with diarrhea.

2) Giant Asian Hornets
-Despite what locals say, these things definitely sting. And they're probably the scariest insect I've ever come face to face with. Mind your P's and Q's when these things are around.

3) Hate flys? Bring your own swatter
-Fly swatters, despite the high population of flies, are in low demand in Tajikistan. I've been hard pressed to find one here, so my advice is that if you despise flies you should bring your own swatter on the plane over.

4) Do all internet-related activities prior to coming here
-Seriously, do them in a country that actually has functioning internet.

5) The Hyatt Business Lunch
-One, two, or three course meal. Unlimited drinks (lemonade, iced tea, coffee, etc.). Amazing food (I had duck curry today). Reasonable price (for the US). One course meal is going to run you 55 som (==$11.32), two course meal is 65 som (==$13.37), three course meal is 75 som (==$15.43). Go for the two course, get the dessert. You'll be happy.

6) Small bills. Small bills. Small bills.
-Tajik Somoni can be broken down into 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 dollar bills. The game you will be constantly playing in Tajikistan is "Where can I break this bill?". You always want to have a 1 or 3 on hand (remember, busses are 1 som & mashrutkas are 3) because they probably won't be able/willing to break a 10 or anything larger. Smaller scale stores usually won't be able to break larger bills either, so always try to use your largest bill and save the precious small ones until you have to use it!

7) Chicago? Chicago Bulls? Michael Jordan?!
-All Tajiks know Michael Jordan. In fact, it's the only consistent knowledge any Tajiks have in regards to Chicago.

Happy Fourth... I think I'm becoming a Fruitarian

Don't get me wrong, I'm still pretty sure I love meat and I would order everything meat-related off of the Portillo's menu- but lately I've found myself really enjoying the fruits.

I gotta say that a lot of the reason this is the case has to be because Tajikistan literally has some of the best fruits. I don't think I've ever had honeydew like what I've had here (and had here, every night, for the past two weeks). It's juicy. It's sweet. It's tender. I have been eating just enough at dinner so that I start on the desert course; honeydew. 

Beyond the honeydew, which seriously I want to bring some of this home so I can share how amazing it is with you all, the watermelon is pretty fantastic too. You know how usually with watermelon, the only good parts are the super red parts? Once it starts becoming whiter it usually loses all its flavor. Well not Tajik watermelon! It's just as sweet all the way up until the purely white layer. 

The cherries. Wowwwwww. They have two different kinds (sweet and sour) and they are both incredible. The sweet ones are juicier than any cherries I've ever had in the US. But the sour ones have quickly become one of my favorite mid-day snacks. Just outside of our house we have a sour cherry bush, and every day I grab a handful. They are legit the sourest natural thing I've ever consumed. 

In our courtyard we have an apple tree, which has regularly rained apples down upon us for the last few weeks (I regularly refer to the tree as the 'darachte-seeb-az-mord' or the 'apple tree of death'). These apples are quite good when they're not smacking you in the back of the head. They're tart, and we usually use them as the basis for our compot (homemade fruit juice). 

On the note of apples, here are two of the best its-raining-apples stories. We eat outside in our courtyard. One day an apple fell directly into my tea cup and splashed tea all over the rest of the table. Awesome. Another night when we were eating, an apple fell directly on the edge of a glass bowl (it was holding the sugar for our tea) and was cut in half by the glass edge. Bibijan (grandma) then proceeded to grab a half of the freshly cut apple and eat it. Why not?!

I'm pretty excited because my host family has been talking up the melon that's suppose to be in season soon (unsure if its cantaloupe, but that's what I'm hoping for). Apparently grapes will also be in season soon, and we also have a few grape vines hanging above our courtyard so I'm pumped for that too.

Becoming a fruitarian isn't probably a long term commitment for me, but for now I'm definitely enjoying it.