in Tajikistan – Part 4
One thing you
can learn in other countries is creative ways of mixing different foods.
Today, I learned that you can put corn on a bed of rice, smother it with
some kind of white salad dressing, sprinkle it with parsley, and call it
So when your
travel agent tells you not to eat salads on your trip for fear of some
water-borne disease, take it with a grain of salt (and pepper),
at least in Central Asia. You've got to put your North American pre-conceptions
of various food types behind you. After all, salad doesn’t always mean
I was waiting for my chauffeur to bring the car around (a newer Volga -
not bad actually), when I looked out the window to see if he'd come yet.
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but I had the pleasure of watching a scruffy man with a pry bar trying
to break the lock on one of the caged stairways to the basement of another
part of the building. In broad daylight, no less (although it would
be hard to see out there at night, and I don’t imagine he can afford a
came, he would duck down or scurry over to the garbage pile and pretend
to sift through it. Eventually, another guy joined him. Not knowing anything
like how to call 911 or what to say in Russian or Tajik when they answered,
I didn't do much.
Then my ride
came. Not sure what came of it, since they weren't there when I got home.
And The Quest For The Holy Grail
Today is Saturday,
which means last night was Friday night. Now that I have MSN Messenger
working, I took the opportunity to do an extended chat with home. Tommy
(he’s 3) and I sent various emoticons (for the uninitiated among you,
these are those smiley face icon things you see all over the place)
back and forth to each other.
|I was also
able to see him on the webcam, if somewhat blurry.
My wife and
I tried a couple of online games, and now I will be able to play Tic Tac
Toe and Checkers against Jack (he’s 7), the lover of all games. It's a
bit slow on this end, but OK. MSN Messenger also supports voice and video
chat, so I decided to look for a microphone and webcam.
I also wanted
to test out my foreign tourist look in order to see what would happen.
Most of the locals wear dark colours, mostly black. You see lots of suits,
ties, long skirts, etc., along with the pointy shoes and the spikey heels
on some of the women. Many women also seem to have decided to dye their
hair, so you see the occasional blonde, and many very red-heads. I saw
one family today - the father was wearing a nice suit, the wife was wearing
semi-traditional garb, involving multiple layers, one of which is brightly
coloured - red in this case, the kids looked sharp, and the grandmother
was even more traditional. What made them stand out is that the wife's
hair was as brightly coloured red as her clothing.
put on my blue jeans, my non-dress shoes, and my new bright red coat. It
was just bright enough outside for me to want to wear sunglasses, but I
resisted, not wanting to look like a thug (so I'm told). Here the
thugs tend to come with a Mercedes, so it's not entirely an undesirable
look, although mine would certainly have been incomplete.
The thing I
can't figure out is why so many people were all bundled up. Hats, scarves,
etc. Heck, it was about 10 degrees above zero - I think most Saskatchewan
people would have been happy to go naked. I know lots of kids who would
easily be wearing shorts here. (That's how it is in Florida this time of
year too - the Canadians are frolicking in the surf while the Floridians
have their coats on.)
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Rudaki (the main drag), I came to the Tsum. It's Dushanbe's version
of the big Eaton's stores we got used to across Canada, before the empire
collapsed in a heap of dust. If you’re an American, think Macy’s. The Tsum
is in a big building, spread over three floors. In a way, it is like a
trade fair in the sense that it is divided into sections that seem to be
independently operated. Whether this is true or not, I can't be sure, but
you could buy just about anything here. Cell phones, shampoo, furniture,
flooring, clothing, electronics, traditional decor, clocks, toys, the ubiquitous
oil-filled heaters, towels, etc. It was kind of like a discount barn, only
better organized and with better music, except that I had been warned that
this was the place NOT to buy anything - better prices could be found just
about anywhere else.
I had also
been told that there were some computer stores in this neck of the woods,
so I continued my search. There were lots of places to buy Bruce Willis
movies on DVD, presumably dubbed in Russian. I found lots of money changers
and cell phone stores. Women's clothing, cafes, cell phones, a barber shop,
one-hour photo shops, battery stores, cell phones, telephone centres, and
perhaps an Internet cafe or two, more cell phones. Several store fronts
were under renovation. I wandered back and and forth, peering in to various
I spotted an HP logo out of the corner of my eye. I wandered in to a disorganized
establishment with an ATM smack in the middle of everything. I'm not sure
if it worked or if it was under repair. But the HP logo turned out to be
laser printer toner cartridges, and the place had some computer stuff.
But it seemed like a store with nothing on display.
The thing you
notice here is that if they sell complete computer systems, they don't
have them on display. The display cases are (full is too strong a word)
scattered with miscellaneous computer parts. Perhaps one or two of each
thing. They probably have more in the back, but you can't be too sure.
Anyway, I bought a Genius brand webcam and some Somic (not Sonic - those
were bad sneakers from Sears when I was a kid) headphones with a microphone
attached for a total of 102 c, which is about US$33.44, from a young guy
who spoke English. I gave him US$40, and he gave me 20 c as change, and
he did it all in his head. Calculate it out, and it’s almost dead on.
On the way
back, I caught a glimpse of some "Gold" brand food in a store, which
caused me to swerve inside. When I arrived, my fridge had been stocked
with a litre of 100% Gold Apple Juice, which was really really good. I
hadn't found it in my local shop, so I thought they might have some. They
did, for 4 c, which is a bit steep, but worth it. They also had some neat
candy, and an attached liquor store, where they had gin & tonics in
a can, just like a Coke. I don't know much about booze, but I'm sure that's
not normal back home.
So I bought
the apple juice, and for my first time in a store in Dushanbe, there was
a cash register, and I got a receipt right from the till! And she put my
litre of apple juice in an Estee Lauder bag! Worth every penny. I also
noticed that the 500 mL Coke was 3 c here, compared to the 2.40 c I pay
in my local store half a mile south. But they had 1 L and 2 L sizes, which
could be useful.
I walked back
along Rudaki toward home. Coming across my local neighbourhood grocery
strip, I bought more chicken noodle soup, Coke, a Mars bar, and some water
and set off home. Coming down my street, I noticed a fancy new house behind
big walls, and then when passing a dingy courtyard surrounded by tumble-down
buildings, a nice Mercedes CLK coupe in the middle. There's a restaurant
near here called Flamingo that has the reputation of being the most expensive
in the country. You can pay US$30-40 or more per person pretty easily,
so I'm told. This merits investigation someday. Maybe I could wear my sunglasses,
even though I will arrive by chauffeur-driven Lada.
are great, and the microphone tests out nicely too. While I was fiddling
with my new toys, I saw a laden woman come toward the building. (Being
neither African or European, I could not establish her velocity – that’s
for all you Monty Python fans out there.) She carried in her hands a bag
containing the Holy Grail - many bottles of Coke. It was Buba, the maid/housekeeper/cook/personal
shopper/invisible force. I rushed to the door and let her in. In no time
at all, she was russian about (sorry), doing dishes, cooking, filling the
fridge, taking my shirts to be ironed. It was like my mother-in-law had
just arrived (and I really mean that in the most complimentary way, Mom).
I now have
two pots on the stove - one for today, and one for tomorrow (she doesn't
come on Sundays), and two salad-like dishes ready to go. And in a flash
she was gone (on Prancer, on Donner, on Blitzen). (Memo to self - leave
out milk and cookies.) (Memo to self - leave note for Buba to buy milk
By now, I'm
sure you are wondering about my tourist experiment. Nada, zilch, nothing.
But for my language skills, I may as well have been a local (although I
couldn't tell you how the mashrutka (minibus) system works, or how to fix
the carburetor of a 1984 Lada). I think I got a couple of looks due to
my height, but my experience is that had I been in China, this might have
caused a scene. Here, barely a ripple. My self-esteem is shattered, but
simultaneously I'm relieved - it means I won't be seen as a goofy foreigner
going native when I buy a pair of pointy shoes.
spottings: Lincoln Town Car x 2, brand new Lexus RX330, big Mercedes with
diplomatic plate 001 001, Mazda MPV, Honda Accord, Honda CRV, Ford Taurus.
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