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Legless Central Asian Wandering— Безногий Блуждающие в Центральная Азия

Tajikistan lake

Dushanbe

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. 

Tajikistan tallest flagpole

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.

Tajikistan's capital city

 

Tajikistan… If You Can Tajikistand It

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.

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A man, smiley: “London?”

Me: “America.”

“Los Angeles?”

“New York.”

“Ah.  California.”

“Well…”

“Schwartzenigger.”

“Yes.”

“Schwartzenigger!”

“Yes.”

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.  

Another silence. 

“Vandum.”

“What?”

“Vandum, Vandum: Vandam.”

“Ah, yes.”

“Jean-Claude Van Damme.”

“Yes, yes.”

 I asked my cheeks to lift into what I thought would be a smile.  Looking satisfied, he walked away.

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Dawn at the landslide — traffic halts for a day in the valley, across the river from Afghanistan.

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What happens just before Lyaksh stays just before Lyaksh — especially if the road is liquid.

 

Cool off the Press: Breakfast with the Taliban

For the original, from the Daily Outlook Afghanistan in Kabul: click here.

One Saturday in June, traffic was light on the road from Kabul to the town of Bamyan, nestled deep in a high valley lined with sandstone cliffs 240 kilometers to the northwest. But for all the paving efforts that have made it among the smoothest in the country, this route from the Afghan capital through the 10,000-foot-high Shibar pass is less than perfect. One week earlier, head of Bamiyan’s provincial council Jawad Zahak had been targeted and dragged from his convoy by the Taliban. Four days ago, they told me in the car, he was beheaded. Hussein pointed: “Right… wait — there.”

I had found a tour company online and guessed an email address from a mush of pixels. Success came in the confirmation of a car that would deliver me from outside the dead-bolted orange gates of my hotel in Kabul to their lodge in Bamiyan. At six a.m., I was late. The hubcap-less white sedan drew a stark contrast to the polished and armored SUVs that take westerners to get mango milkshakes. And there were four men inside. Open the mind’s floodgates: this seems infinitely more kidnappy.
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