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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.
Jebel Hafeet, UAE
At the Camel beauty contest.
Al Dhafra, emirate of Abu Dhabi.
The following post is not following. It was removed to be sent off into the harsh and brutal ether of the publishing world, so you will unfortunately not be able to view it at this exact time in this exact place. But it was really good. This might’ve actually been one of the best ones. Man, it was like really, really good.
If you’d like to read this take on life and boredom and (dis)satisfaction and happy inter-religious exchanges: send an email with a sentence including the words “Abu Dhabi”, “gold vending machine”, and “Geoffrey Chaucer” to INGULFED at GMAIL dot COM.