Dushanbe. Do, Shanbe! Douche-on-Bay.
That’s the one that sticks — the city’s name like a news headline, one in some buried middle England sports section: some asshole is out yachting.
Douche-on-Bay. That’s the legend, in my mind, and now the whole town is named for it. The day when the patriarchal douche took to the lee side of a crescent harbor, not for sport but for better beer access. For chicks.
Every summer, there is a festival in Douche-on-Bay. We remember our heritage, of lazy questing and selfish relaxation, and we take to overcalm waters.
What I mean is: today, I am a lazy explorer. Body tired (too much to learn the ways of the marshrutka skittering about the flat city), my mind wanders around the capital I don’t know.
I know its name, though. That’s all I have. Dushanbe. It means “Monday” in Tajik. The country’s largest city by fourfold, and it’s christened for everyone’s least favorite part of the week. What a downer.
Local cognac and shisha. No hands but for sipping. Rooftop in the Dushanbe “twin towers” — a new pastel centerpiece already scarred with electrical burn marks. ”If there’s an earthquake, run,” said one UN guy. ”It’s coming down.”
A salad in the menu: ”Salmon of weakly salted.” That’s about how I feel — a fish just about as far from an ocean as it can be, still on earth. Weakly salted. Maybe they are only salted weekly. Today is not this city’s day, but one day — I’m looking out at the world’s tallest flagpole — I think it may be worth its salt.
I’ve been scolded for taking a picture. Not allowed. You can see the whole city here, and it’s all off limits. Forget about the close up — after the Soviet Union left, and the sound came up on the young republics — our Tajik Norma isn’t ready even for the wide shot.
It’s Thursday evening now — as far as I can get from the city’s namesake. I won’t know it now. Instead, I’ll quest lazily and selfish, a reckless wanderer through total nonsense. I like spending time that way — tethered by just a few real letters. I’m at sea, but I’m sheltered somehow by the faintest hints of something true. What a way to travel.
Hell, it beats most Mondays.
Story-hunting in one of the world’s top seven -stan countries — let’s blame the terrible titling on the 80 hours it took to get here.
But at least there are the cultural car crashes that expose man’s natural urge to play pop culture Battleship. We’ve got no languages in common, among the three Tajiks know well, and the three I can make sentences in, but we do have a code: those references. It’s hard to know anyone without talking — it’s easy to get crazy, to assume the worst, to find fault — and yet, when the Wandering Tajik fires a random name at a Wandering Jew, and when there’s a sound not of empty echo but of a clink against something solid — we know we’re at least playing the same game. Direct hit.
So, here: a conversation in the shared taxi “terminal” in Dushanbe, waiting hopelessly to set out on the the “15-” (read: 35-) hour trip to Khorog.
A man, smiley: “London?”
He seemed to be searching for more points of connection. I was out. “Ruski znayet?”
“No.” It was strange: me, the caucasian, ignorant in the lingua franca of the whole Caucasus. But I was too hot to be apologetic.
“Vandum, Vandum: Vandam.”
“Jean-Claude Van Damme.”
I asked my cheeks to lift into what I thought would be a smile. Looking satisfied, he walked away.
The third annual Afghan Ski Challenge kicks off above 10,000 feet in central Afghanistan. For the first time, the festival holds a race for Afghan women, seven skiers and a snowboarder.
All powder, no nonsense.
I originally filed this video/pics/article for the Al Jazeera English Magazine. Check it out here.
Afghan photos and more at a-vl.com.
Do not let the fires fizzle. I am still angry and sad and confused and resolute.
Read my take over at The Huffington Post.
Share, comment, mock — it’s all good.
The rerelease of this legendary and illustrious video is dedicated to Joshua “Issa” Casteel, an endlessly positive Middlebury Arabic scholar with the power to brighten every door, the kind of soldier who returns home not with enmity but with curiosity and compassion — a true Muathifakhr if there ever was one.
In 2010, a group of Middlebury Arabic School students left nothing on the rhyming fields of Oakland, California. Two years later the ornery former director of the program, who shall remain nameless in this sentence, achieved a lifelong goal and had the masterwork taken down from video sharing sites, including انتم توب. Kenneth S. Habib’s image has been removed.
But the message lives on.
On the grounds of Mills Young Ladies Seminary (as it was known in 1852), the Thalith Alif Allstars rhyme about a life with thoughts in one language and speech in another. Words divide, but they also unite, and in this grappling with confusion we can follow new pathways to understanding. Like the diverse coalitions still struggling for freedom across the Middle East, this group — which features an Arab doctor, a UN relief hero, a veteran, scholars of the Middle East, and Jews — is united in its message: we shall not be divided by language if we recognize difference not as obstacle but opportunity. And if we take silliness for what it is.
Issa, this one’s for you.
This is INGULFED‘s 200th post! A thousand shukran for coming back again and again.
عبر زقاق القرصان : من اليمن إلى الصومال بسفينة — Across Pirate Alley : From Yemen to Somaliland by Boat
A story and some travel tips for that trip you’ve always been talking about.
Or, abiding by YouTube copyright restrictions:
Jebel Hafeet, UAE