Archive for the ‘Dushanbe’ Category


So there you have it – I went to Haiti.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up writing there. But, I plan on writing at my next posting.  And where is that? Good question.  Right now, I’m in Toronto. I decided to go domestic for a year and see what normal life is like.

I spent the summer lying in parks and riding my bike – an amazing change from Port-au-Prince where walking is off limits for most NGOers.   It’s been 3 weeks since I started my new job and I’m already bored. Not a good sign.  The job itself is great (I work for a non-profit  as a Program Manager – not an INGO so I don’t get to leave the country…)

The problem is me.  I’m different. What I find interesting and engaging has changed. Or perhaps, I’ve always been this way but I am just more aware of it now.  I can appreciate why it’s amazing to be able to work 7.5 hours a day instead of 10 or 12, meet friends for drinks, or grab some sushi, effortlessly stream endless TV shows and download movies, feel safe, feel free, visit family regularly, go shopping, buy stuff you don’t need. 

What I can’t wrap my head around is how I’m supposed to live with not leaving the country more than once a year (and for only TWO WEEKS!), not meeting anyone new in months, not obsessing about my work (It’s engaging but not at the levels I’m used to….), not going on RnR, not feeling deprived of everything I love and then feeling  insanely appreciative to experience it all again….

By the time I left Haiti I was DONE. I was tired, burnt-out, frustrated, confused –  and not sure if I wanted to do this work anymore.  By the end, I was dreaming of normal life and all it had to offer.  Now that I have it. I’m  not sure that I’m going to make it to Christmas. There are moments when I am seriously tempted to pack up my bags and jump on the next plane to anywhere.  

I’m wondering if I’m in a rehab of sorts  – suffering from withdrawal from my old life  and need time to re-acclimatize to normal.                  

As if normal is a place….     

11 months to go….Wish me luck.


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The Civil War

In 1992, the civil war broke out.  The causes of this war were complex and relate to some extent to the ethnic and regional tensions that emerged from the formation of the new Soviet Republic in 1924 (once again artificial lines on a map – created by outside forces – lead to conflict!) and to premature attempts to liberalize the Tajik political system.  

At the end of the Soviet period, power in Tajikistan was tightly guarded by representatives of the Leninabad district in the North.  Other regions of Tajikistan were demanding:  equal participation in the political process; and the communist party to abandon its monopoly on political power, in favor of a multiparty system.

The refusal to share power coupled with a lack of political maturity on the part of the opposition- led to civil war.

The war was devastating.  

It compounded the economic disruption caused by the break-up of the Soviet system and the people of GBAO  (the Pamirs) and Karategin/Rasht found themselves virtually isolated from the outside world.   People were starving.   The mountainous terrain that protected them from the majority of the violence also contributed to their inability to access food. 

Many had lost family members during the war and the country was crippled economically.  Jobs were almost impossible to find. Public services, like schools and hospitals were in a shocking state and business nearly non-existent.  The feeling of unease was perverse –with gunmen openly walking the streets, murder, robbery and kidnapping rampant.  Gas , electricity and water were often cut and the winters long, dark and cold.

20,000 people died (of a population of 5 million) and around one in ten had fled their homes. 

The organization that I work for is well respected in this region not only for the projects that they currently fund but for the humanitarian assistance they provided during the war.     The crisis was largely ignored by the rest of the international community: few had heard of Tajikistan and many considered it Russia’s problem.   

Help was not on its way.


In 1997, a peace agreement was reached.  And to date, the peace process had been very successful. A result of the war has been a push for promoting cultural pluralism.  

The economic situation in Tajikistan remains the most precarious of all of the Republics, however, the high level of literacy and the secular education achieved under the Soviet Union coupled with the political maturity of the parties since the 1997 peace agreement, offers hope that Tajikistan will prove more stable than its neighbors.   

The People of the Pamirs

The Pamirs has been mostly protected from outside influence and occupation due to its isolated geophraphic location.   This mountainous area, a large part of which is located in Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan, is one of the most inaccessible in the world.  

Local tradition holds that the Pamirian people descended from the leaders of Alexander the Great’s invading army, who reached the area in fourth century B.C. 

This may in part be true but their ethnicity can also be traced to the tribes that lived in Eastern Iran.  Today, the Pamiris live in southern Central Asia, primarily in southeastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan.

The Pamiris are not a homogeneous group.  They are composed of people who speak the Pamiri languages, (some are quite similar, others not easily understood among the different groups) the indigenous languages of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan region and in the Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous province in Tajikistan, and adhere to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam (followers of the Aga Khan).  Aside from the Kyrgyz-speaking people in Murgab (more on this later) most people that live in the GBAO are Ismaili.

The Pamiris share close linguistic, cultural and religious ties with the people in Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan, the Sarikoli speakers in Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang Province in China, the Wakhi speakers in Afghanistan and the Wakhi speakers in Upper Hunza Gojal region of Northern mountainous areas of Pakistan.

During the Tajikistan Civil War from 1992–1997 the Pamiris were targeted for massacres, especially those living in the capital Dushanbe and Qurghonteppa Oblast.

In the early 1990s there was a movement amongst Pamiris to separate Gorno-Badakhshan from Tajikistan. This did not happen but the Pamirs remain an autonomous region of Tajikistan (you need a visa to get in).


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Where to begin.The flight from Dushanbe was one of the most intense experiences of my life.  No joke. I thought I was going to die at least twice.  I’m not particularly known for my calm under pressure but even the most avid adventurer would have said a little prayer before getting on that flight.

As soon as you get in you are strapped down, passed a pair of gigantic earphones and a paper bag.  I tend to get motion sickness and in all the excitement had forgotten to take my extra-strength gravol. There is a 15 pound weight limit to get on the flight and my bags were a bit over the limit….

The security guys  at the airport refused to budge on the rules (not even by a pound!).  Tajikistan has a lot of rules – a relic from the Soviet Era – but that’s another post.   Anyway, the gravol  ended up packed and on its way to Khorog via land cruiser.

When the heli took off  it hovered in mid-air before making a hard left and starting its ascent. It’s amazing how maneuverable they are – when it turns it actually turns on its side.  Hence, the necessity of being strapped in.

It’s nuts.

As you can probably tell – this was my first time on a helicopter.  And what a strange sensation – you can feel every single bump and its VERY loud.   Admittedly, I’m used to having my air travel coated with a pleasant feeling of motionlessness –  chased down by a strong drink.   And this experience was the exact opposite of that.

A) no booze allowed.

B) even if there was booze you wouldn’t want to drink it (Oh, the stomach)

C)  I was aware of every moment:  every sound; every bump; every air pocket; every hover.


Once we were in the air for about 15 minutes, I started to relax a bit.   Big mistake..  Up until then we’d been cruising through open air.  Nothing in the way but clouds.   At one point, patting myself on the back for being so brave – I ventured a look out the front window and was rewarded with enormous mountain peaks looming in front of me.


The Pamir mountains are a mountain range in Central Asia formed by the junction of the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush ranges. They are among the world’s highest mountains and since Victorian times they have been known as the “Roof of the World”.


There are two ways to get to Khorog – you can drive for 12 hours ( a beautiful journey across the country) or you can go by air (commercial flight or helicopter –  1hour).  The helicopter is known to be the safest of the two flying options.  That whole maneuverability aspect.

Both are insane.

During the Soviet  Era, the pilots were paid danger pay to fly this route.  Thankfully, its safety record isn’t bad: one flight went down in the 1980s, and that was hit by a rocket from neighbouring Afghanistan (slim chance of that happening now – what with the war and all…).    Since then, “tales abound about the crazy turbulance,  snow-scraping near misses and rubber-shredding landings.”

As we approached the mountain peaks, I started to feel a bit uneasy.  The pilot does this three times a week.  He’s a highly trained expert who is used to flying around royalty, dignataries and diplomats.  Unfortunately, the highest ranked individual in the heli was me – a lowly intern.   I figured if he was going to drop the ball – this might be the day….

I think the pilot’s assitant could tell that I was a bit nervous – he kept looking at me, giving me the thumbs-up sign and grinning like an baboon.   I loved him for it.

The pilots' assistant

The most terrifying part of the flight is last the 20 minutes.  There are some very narrow  (read: deadly) mountain passes to get through.   And helicopter pilots have a lot to worry about – air pockets, altitude – and other techincal jargon.

The point is –  it takes some serious concentration and skill.    And A LOT of hovering.

At times, we were just hovering in mid-air as the pilot  attempted to shimmy (yes, SHIMMY!)  the craft through 35 meter-wide mountain passes.   That doesn’t leave a lot of room on either side.  I could see black sand on the peaks shimmering in the sun – not just patches of dirt –  but individual GRAINS of sand.   That’s how close we were.

And lots of snow.

And jagged edges.

 And it was incredible.

DSC00841And beautiful.

In between the mountains, I could see green valleys with villages built on the edges of the bluest rivers.   You can’t help but feel the ancientness of the place.  People have been living in these valleys – in this remote part of the world – for thousands of years.


That said, I am planning a trip back by car.

Not because I’m scared   – and I am – but because the drive is supposed to be an adventure through shallow lakes and winding mountain roads.

Lots of gravol.

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Boyz from the Hood

I’m playing catch-up.

This is my last post about Dushanbe.  I wrote it the night before I got on one of the deadliest flights in the world to Khorog (Pamiri Mountains).  I’ll get to that exhilarating terrifying experience in my next post (hopefully with video attached!).


(July 16, 2009)

I had my first encounter with the mafia the night before leaving Dushanbe.

Tajikistan is a transit route for drugs coming out of Afghanistan and headed to Europe, North America – you name it.    The budget that the police and drug enforcement agencies have to fight this problem is paltry at best.

Before moving to a country that you’ve barely heard of – located in a region that you’ve barely thought of –  you tend to do your homework.  So it wasn’t a shock to learn that there are Mafia walking the streets of Dushanbe.  Yet, you still don’t expect to actually bump into them at your favourite cafe, while enjoying  a glass of Moldavian red and desperately trying to upload pictures to facebook.

I’d had a long day.  It was hot.  I was grumpy and looking forward to a last meal and some internet.  I met up with Persia (she picked that pseudonym herself!) late in the evening at the cafe across from our flat.  Aside from us, there was a middle-aged couple enjoying each other’s company, some business men having a beer and a group of  men enjoying a meal and some vodka.

There were a ton of waiters working the floor but it still took about 15 minutes for me to order a glass of wine. The large group of gentlemen in the back were keeping them busy.

I didn’t think much of it.  I was too busy obsessing over the slow internet connection.  It was 10:00pm, the cafe closed at 11 pm and I had a ton of photos to upload.

At 11:05 pm, I had uploaded 40% of the 200 photos I had selected as my “best work”….

I looked around. Most of the tables had been vacated with the exception of the couple –  clearly in love and clueless,   the group of gentlemen behind me, and Persia and I.   I was packing up, cursing the internet, Facebook, myself and Tajikistan in general, when a group of five very large men walked past my table and plopped themselves down like they owned the place.

It was a strange scene.  I sensed a heightened tension in the air.  The cafe was obviously about to close …

There was a momentary lull in activity before the waiters soared back into action.  The chairs – that had moments ago been cleared – were pulled down.  The lights were turned back on and the place was bustling once again.

Drinks, food and snacks were delivered to the new arrivals.  The couple – still focused on each other – continued to enjoy their evening.  The group of men behind me made no effort to move.  The new arrivals greeted these men and then made themselves comfortable at a table of their own.

I called over the waiter that spoke English – a South Asian guy from Kashmir (more on this to come).   Before I could open my mouth he said, “stay as long as you want, we will have to stay open now.”

Persia and I sat in fascination.   Slightly paranoid about drawing too much attention to our table, I secretly IM’d her.

Me: Mafia?….

Persia: No!….Really?

Me: Holy Crap!

Persia: Should we go?…

Me: No way! I’m at 46%!


A couple of the guys looked over at us – we avoided eye contact.  Then decided to move.

Samir, the waiter from Kashmir, supported that decision.

We moved to the steps near the exit – close enough for me to still have access to the wireless connection but far away enough to feel as if we could bail at any time.

Persia and I wasted no time asking him about the new arrivals.  He was kind enough to fill us in.

Yes, they were Mafia. No, not Russian as I first assumed, but Tajik.

He went on to complain about the fact that they’d shown up so late.  Now they had to stay open until they left.  The staff was tired. They worked 12 hour shifts, six days a week.

While the internet crawled along, we asked him to tell us about himself.  How did a young man from Kashmir end up in Tajikistan?

He was 27 and had grown up in Kashmir.  He’d left home a while back to find work.

That search had taken him on a great adventure across the globe.    He spent a couple of years in Kazakhstan before the cost of living got too high.    He then moved to Kabul for 2 1/2 years before heading to Turkey and then finally ending up in Dushanbe.

Since his departure from Kashmir he’d picked up a  quite a few languages: Turkish, Tajik, Russian and Pashtun.  This in addition to the three he already spoke:  Hindi, Kashmiri and English!

I was impressed.

I’d been struggling to wrap my head around Tajik – a language that insists on putting the verb at the END of the sentence!

But more impressive than his obvious gift for languages was his love of travel.  He was crazy about visiting new places.

He’d only settled down in Dushanbe to pursue his studies in medicine.  He had a year to go before becoming a doctor.   He was working at the local cafe because it was good money – a lot of tourists ate there (in search of internet!) and left decent tips (not a regular custom in Tajikistan).

By the time Samir had finished recounting his adventures it was pretty late.   I had a flight to catch the next morning and Persia was getting impatient.   My pics were at 75% but my computer battery was at 11%.   Some quick math revealed that this was a hopeless battle.

We were packing up to leave when ‘the boyzs’ stood up, paid, and walked down the stairs to their car:  a silver SUV, double parked on the wrong side of the street.  They loaded in, started up the engine and sped off – making the stereotypical screech as they quickly accelerated into a U-turn down the street.

I have to admit that I felt some relief when they’d driven away.   We headed home -still a bit uneasy about our close encounter -but excited to share the news with our roommates who had opted for a quite night at home….

Next stop: Khorog.

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(entry from July 14, 2009)

The Russians left more behind than a proud but crippled nation, rusted tanks and decrepit buildings.  Despite having a predominantly Muslim population, Tajiks  (my Pamiri friend has just corrected me on this) Pamiris drink vodka.  Under the Soviets, vodka became somewhat socially acceptable and regularly makes an appearance at Pamiri meals (if there are guests present) and gatherings (weddings/parties/celebrations).

From what I’ve observed, Pamiris drink vodka like the Russians:  a bottle, shot glasses and a steely resolve to get the job done.  Guests are considered a special honour  and are often celebrated with shots of vodka.   In Tajikistan, the unspoken rule is that everyone drinks until the guest refuses.  Guests  (especially foreigners trying  not to offend) tend to be hard-wired to accept rather than refuse offerings, which can lead to some very drunken gatherings.

On a serious note, men tend to drink a lot more than women and in some communities alcoholism has become a societal problem (so has heroine use but more on this later).

I’m not a connoisseur of vodka – I much prefer a glass of red to hard liquor-but I am one to throw myself into a new cultural experience.

And this time, I nearly drowned.

After a long day of picture-taking, Rachel (roommate) and I were aching for a break from the sun.   We found a nice terrace, filled with people sitting under parasols and enjoying the spray of the water fountains.   Tall pints of cold DRAFT beer and bottles of vodka dotted the tables.

Off to the side was a huge barbecue serving up delicious looking shashleek (beef kebabs on a skewer).

I was sold.


En route to a free table by the fountain, we eyed a group of expats with twice the number of pints as people at their table.  A quick exchange of eye contact and we were invited to join them.  Turns out they were from England.

Now, I hate to judge but I have yet to have an encounter with an expat from the UK that did not descend into a drunken mess.   This has not, however, stopped me from looking forward to these random encounters.  They are a hilarious people the Brits  –  and they know how to have a good time!   They also have no limits and an extremely high tolerance for all types of alcohol.

A generalization I have yet to have proven wrong.

These three young chaps in their mid-20s managed a mining company about six hours outside of Dushanbe.  Yup, miners – interesting company for two development workers, I know.

They’d spend two weeks in the mountains and then four days in Dushanbe.   One of them – a handsome brown-eyed, blonde with a great tan matched by an equally great smile – had been in Tajikistan for over a year and planned to stick around for another year or so.

I’m not sure how it came up but at one point – somewhere between round 2 and 3 of the local brew- we mentioned that we hadn’t tried the local vodka.   This was met with looks of incredulity, another round of pints, a bottle of vodka (quickly downed and replaced), and a tray full of shashleek (beef kebabs).  According to the Brit to my right – they were beginning to blur into one being- it was customary to take a shot of vodka, followed by a piece of shashleek.  I’m not quite sure where the beer fit into that equation…



This went on… And on… And on…And at some point, with the sun going down, four full pints of beer on the table in front of me, the remnants of cold shashleek to my right and my dear friend Rachel- head in hands – moaning to my left, I realized that it was time to make a discreet exit.

By then, two out of the three Brits had mysteriously disappeared (they’d had a head start on the festivities).   And I was having some difficulty deciding on the best course of action. Tajikistan. Public place. Early evening. Rachel = a mess. Me = holding it together, barely.  Home?  Good question …where was that again?!…

I decided to prolong serious decision-making for the time being and started feeding Rachel glasses of water.   I left  the remaining Brit in charge of this duty to make a third trip to the bathroom – I also made some calls – I needed back-up.

I don’t know how long I was gone. I got distracted by the fried chicken served at the fast food joint across the street.  But when I got back, our roommates had shown up (somehow I`d communicated our location), the final miner had disappeared and Rachel….well… apparently, we’d given her too much water…


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The Twilight Zone

(Entry from July 12, 2009)

I had one of the strangest evenings of my life here the other night.  We were on a quest for food.  A few nights in Dushanbe and we’d had some pretty bad experiences with the local cuisine.  Tajiks use A LOT of oil when cooking…

Most of our meals had been pretty bad and we’d basically given up on eating all together.  No joke, I’d already lost five pounds.   We’d attempted to make our own meals which basically consisted of a lot of watermelon, nuts and dried fruit (the produce in Dushanbe is AMAZING!).  But fruit and nuts just weren’t cutting it.

Not wanting to judge an entire culture’s cuisine on a few bad restaurants, we decided to give it another shot before succumbing to hunger and the expat joint across the street serving spaghetti Bolognese.

We headed for a restaurant owned by a Tajik that was supposed to be Chinese-Euro fusion (OK not exactly local but owned by a local).  A little Russian, a little Tajik, a little Chinese.  I had my heart set on some chicken balls.

The restaurant was darkly lit and decorated with elaborate gold drapes and old crystal chandeliers.   Red and green strobe lights danced off the walls, Tajik music blasted in the background and a heavy layer of smoke hung in the room.   Only a few of the tables were full, a mix of Russian and Tajik customers.

Ordering food here is always an adventure. The menus are generally in Russian (sometimes Tajik but rarely in English).  Russian is not a language that you can try and decipher – you can either read it or you can’t.   We can’t.  And the waitress didn’t speak English, or much Tajik.

We have one person is our group who speaks Farsi/Tajik (and she has been an amazing asset). But even she was having a hard time figuring out the menu (she can’t read Tajik because they use the Cyrillic alphabet as opposed to the Arabic script used in Iran) and couldn’t communicate with the waitress very well.

In the end, I ordered chicken kebabs and rice.   There must have been some sort of miscommunication since I’d asked for a side of yogurt (similar to Indian Raita) but got ketchup instead.   And the rice never came, which was fine by me since the chicken had a nice layer of oil on it.  I cut my losses and washed it all down with a beer.

About half way through the meal, the music changed, the strobe lights got more intense and a petite Russian belly dancer stepped into the middle of the dance floor.   I haven’t seen a lot of belly dancing in my time, but I’m pretty sure that it isn’t usually done to Shakira.

At the table next to us, a group of Russians were on a double date.   The table was filled with food, beer and a couple bottles of vodka.  Not to mention about six packs of cigarettes.  They’d take a bite of their food, down a shot of vodka and take a puff of a cigarette. Another bite, another shot, another puff….

Once the music started they were up and on the dance floor.   I was quite fascinated by them.  There are quite a few Russians around but not as many as there used to be (most went to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union).

Regarding those that still live here, I’m interested in better understanding the relationship they have with Tajiks.   I’ve heard a lot of different things from Tajiks regarding Russia. In many ways, the situation for women was better under Soviet rule (more equal rights, less religious conservatism, etc).  All were educated, which is why the literacy rate in Tajikistan is so high (over 90%), jobs were available, food was abundant and the country was fairly developed.  Of course, there was racism and religious oppression as well.

After one week here, I don’t pretend to know much.    But it’s an interesting history.

Back to the Russians.  They found us quite entertaining.   Apparently in Russia my name is a boy’s name.  The girl version just doesn’t exist.   With broken Russian, I found out a little about them.  The men were on leave.  They’re in the Russian military.   Not the first time I’d bumped into Russian military in Tajikistan.   The women worked here.  And they knew and liked Canada.

At one point during our “conversation” one of the girls mentioned her love of Lenin.  The largest of the males stopped what he was saying, slide his finger across his throat and started laughing hysterically.   The stench of vodka was overpowering.  We didn’t hang  around to hear his views on the matter.  We’d had enough excitement for one evening.

We paid the bill (they’d added an extra $10 US charge for the entertainment….) and headed for the door.

At one point in the evening, sitting in that smoke filled room with oily chicken in front of me, a group of drunken Russians to my right and a belly dancer giving her all to Shakira on the dance floor, I started to laugh.  And I couldn’t stop.  I was in Tajikistan.  T-A-J-I-K-I-S-T-A-N.

And it felt like the twilight zone.

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We spent our first night in Dushanbe in a hotel room that could have been Anna Karenina’s bed chamber.  20 foot ceilings, gold wall paper, red embroidered drapes, crystal chandeliers and rich dark wood furniture.  It was a fitting introduction to this country’s complex relationship with the former Soviet Union.   And, a great place to end up after a long a flight.   The hotel was out of our price range so after the first night we decided to rent a flat in the centre of town for the rest of the week.   It’s in a great location right in the centre of the action.

Dushanbe is a lovely city. Russian-colonial buildings line the streets and the architecture is quite beautiful.  Many buildings have been converted into spaces for stores (clothing, electronics etc.) filled with products from China (its neighbour to the east).  There are restaurants, cafes and a lot of outdoor spaces to cool down, socialize, have a drink and eat beef kebabs.

 There is a huge park near the apartment and at night it fills with families taking a break from the heat and enjoying the colourful water fountains.  Tajiks love their kids.    This is a culture that allows children to be children. Kids run around and do mischief but they are rarely chastised for being themselves.  I’ve noticed that the men here spend a great deal of time with their children.

 People are very gracious about having their pictures taken.  I think it’s because they don’t get a lot of tourists here.  I have found myself the subject of quite a few photos as well!    The people here are really friendly and  often approach me for conversation.   But it’s difficult communicating because most people don’t speak English.

A lot of people ask me where I’m from.  They usually assume I’m American but when I explain I’m Canadian they nod in acknowledgement.  I’ve given up on trying to explain where Jamaica is –  I’ve even tried throwing out Bob Marley but that usually gets me blank stares in reply.

The teenagers here are great.   We spent a day at a camp about an hour outside of Dushanbe.  It was 36C and by the time we got there I was sure  I was going to faint.  I don’t know how people function in this heat.   I lived in Uganda for 10 months so you’d think I’d be used to it…

The “camp” was housed in a former Russian hotel.   It’s built on the side of a river with mountains on every side.

 The kids were celebrating their final day at camp.  They had prepared a show and we were the guests of honour.  And what a show!  This was my first experience with Tajik (Pamiri Ismaili to be exact) cultural dance, poetry and song.   The traditional clothing is very colourful and the girls weave red ribbon through their hair.

Tajikistan is a fairly liberal country and even knowing this I was surprised to see how bold the boys were in asking the girls to dance.   It’s a striking difference from the other Muslim countries that I am familiar with.   The men here are quite friendly but respectful.  They pay women a lot of compliments.   I don’t blame them, the women here are breathtakingly beautiful!  I have never seen such beautiful shades of hair colour, from the deepest black to the lightest copper (and even some blondes and red heads!).   It doesn’t surprise me that many foreign men end up getting married here.

 To celebrate their final week at camp, a local band came to play.  They played modern Tajik music and the kids loved it.   They forced us to dance (they are amazing dancers!) and taught us some of their moves in exchange for some of our “American dance moves.”  I did my best to represent.  At one point, I found myself in a dance-off, surrounded by a group of 20 kids clapping.  It was a really great time.

The language barrier here is a real challenge.  I like being able to socialize with people but since I don’t speak Russian or Tajik (which is a form of Farsi) I have to rely on my Russian phrasebook.   I have spoken a bit of French though.  There are some French soldiers here and the occasional Tajik who has studied French.

 So far, I’ve spoken to several shop owners, Russian military, students and a nice older gentleman on the bus.   I have a new appreciation for Russian – it’s a tough language to read but it’s fairly easy to pronounce.   Tajik eludes me.  I will begin my Tajik language lessons next week and am excited to speak to people in their first language.  But, I won’t get much practice in Khorog, it’s a region where people speak another language, Shugni.  This is an oral language spoken by Pamiri people.  I wanted to stick to Tajik because it’s close to Dari (the language spoken in Afghanistan) and Farsi (Iran).  So I will likely get the chance to use it again.

Because of the heat, I’ve been spending quite a few hot afternoons at a coffee house across from our apartment.   I’m leaving for Khorog on Thursday where these small luxuries (espresso) will be unavailable, so I don’t feel too guilty about having a cappuccino (and air conditioning) here and there.

In the mornings and the late afternoons, I explore.  I love photography and haven’t been disappointed by the sights.    So far, I’m having a great time!

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