Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Post-Soviet Chronicles Part 3": Three Inches of Snow in Dushanbe

Read part 1 here and part 2 here. Totally fascinating reads, I promise. 

Part 3" begins in Dushanbe with the thirteenth chapter of my Tajik visa drama. The details are largely unimportant because, whatever, but this chapter ends with me having to leave the Tajik borders and travel to another Tajik consulate/embassy to get a visa. The easiest/most obvious choice for an American is Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan because, well, no visa... but the Tajik government said that I can't get a visa from there right now, for whatever reason. So, the next few choices were Dubai, Istanbul, or Almaty (Kazakhstan).

Kazakhstan? Why Not!

Getting a visa to Kazakhstan was the next big hoop I had to jump through. Luckily there is a Kazakh embassy in Dushanbe, and thanks to some knowledgeable friends I found the embassy pretty painlessly.

Unfortunately, the embassy operates on an apparently very strict schedule. They accept documents only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9am until 12pm, and then give visas on the same days from 3pm to 5pm. I of course arrived at the Kazakh embassy with all necessary documents on a Tuesday at 3pm where they politely told me I could wait until Thursday morning to submit my documents, and it would then take 3-5 working days to provide the visa if my application was accepted.

So, keep in mind that if I wanted to not stay in Tajikistan illegally I pretty much had to fly out on the following Monday (six days away). Obviously I was a little concerned about this Kazakh visa process. The following Thursday morning I arrived and luckily there was a consular officer there who spoke some (but not really all that much) English. I explained to him the situation and asked if there was anyway I could get the visa by Friday (the next day). He said he would try his best, and with that told me to return Friday morning.

On Friday morning, to my pleasant surprise, the same gentlemen let me know that I could get my visa that day so long as I went and paid the visa/consular fee at the Kazakh bank. After some searching, I found the bank, paid it off, and got my visa as soon as I returned to the Kazakh embassy. I was feeling pretty excited, but deep down I knew that it went a little too smoothly...


Yeah, not really exaggerating on this one. 3", maybe a little more, shut down the city entirely. Taxis stopped running, Rudaki Avenue (the main street of the city) was essentially empty, and of course the airport was closed. This next part is going to sound awfully familiar (or identical, haha) to my grandma and mother-- so you guys can glaze over this part if you like...

The Airport Fiasco

Stressful does not begin to describe Monday morning. As you might suspect, the internet was pretty miserable at updating the status flights in Dushanbe. The flight status literally said the flight would be on-time for the entire day, and in the morning after watching the Super Bowl I decided to head to the airport. I was 99.99% sure we weren't flying out, but I called Somon Air and they said the flight was on although though the airport wasn't opening until 10am. *roll eyes*

I made it to the airport after some surprising difficulty-- usually one of the major marshrutka routes runs there, but the snow came down in Dushanbe and I guess no one wanted to drive the entire route. There was literally two hundred Tajiks all crammed into the super small pre-security area of the airport and there was no official staff anywhere-- just police. They made an announcement about the Moscow and Almaty flights still being on while canceling a bunch. So I was freezing my butt off thinking "how long am I going to end up waiting here?" when not five minutes later they make another announcement, in which they literally list every flight scheduled for the day (10-12?) and delay them all until 1:00pm.

At this point it's maybe 9:30 in the morning and I'm pretty positive my toes are frostbitten because my socks got wet on the journey to the airport. I decided to head home. Current/former roommate who I took the apartment from had a scheduled flight that morning that obviously didn't leave, so we went for breakfast. I probably called Somon Air 20 or so times asking for updates and they literally kept telling me that it was on time and departing at 10:40am. 

Eventually a friend of ours came and I asked her to call them for me, and she got all super-in-your-face Russian with them and it turns out my flight was rescheduled for 2:15pm and check-in was happening at the moment. So I ran back to the apartment, grabbed my stuff and commandeered a taxi to the airport, only to find the same two hundred wet smelly Tajiks crowding the ONLY entry point into the maybe five check-in counters. Obviously they are only letting people on certain flights through but that wasn't stopping everyone from crowding this teeny entry point and preventing the rest of us from entering.

After some legitimate elbow throwing on my part, I made it close enough to yell to the security guard and ask him if the Almaty flight was allowed through. It was kind of epic because all these Tajiks that were super talkative and  completely surrounding me kind of shut up and were like "white guy speaks Tajik?!". Then I got a 'da' from the security guard and parted those Tajiks like I was Moses and they were the Red Sea.

We then sat on the runway for another two hours and that kind of sucked but whatever at least we took off. Flight was actually smooth too! I made it to Almaty much later than I had hoped, and unfortunately the Tajik consulate in Almaty had closed already. My initial plan was to head over as soon as I landed to get the ball rolling (again, Tajik visa drama lesson #1-10) but it would have to wait until the next morning.

Next stop in the post-soviet chronicles: Almaty! 

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