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.

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