Friday, July 27, 2007

Mission to the Rayons of Republican Subordination (and back with fleas)

So not too much interesting going on here in Dushanbe. I am have been trying to get out of the city a little bit, partly to see this weird wild and wooly country, and partly because, like I mentioned, not too much interesting going on in Dushanbe. I had grand plans for a cultural tour last weekend, historic sights, museums, shopping, all cut tragically short by bad doner kebap. I spent all night Friday and most of the day Saturday battling massive food poisoning. I got up Sunday morning with the grit and determination of a passenger on a cruise ship under fire. I was going to have FUN god-damned, and no amount of personal discomfort was going to stop that.

I decided to head out to Hissar, which used to be an 18th century fortress run by the local big man under the emir. That was of course before the Red Army blew the whole complex into dust. The government has gamely gathered enough of the scattered stones to reconstruct the gate, which is nice enough. There are also a couple of big hills on either side of that gate, which the Lonely Planet promised would offer panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. What I actually achieved was scratching the hell out of the palms of hands as I tried to use thorn bushes to slow my decent as I slid and scrambled up the nearly sheer face of this stupid hill. (The thorn bushes that covered the mountain side did at least have interesting flowers on them, which I dubbed Taliban flowers in honor of their beards.) The view was less than spectacular. I decided I had had enough cliff for one day and took the long winding path down the backside of the hill, carefully avoiding all the Tajik couples making out – completely oblivious to the presence of both me and the sensitive Taliban flowers. At the base of the gate, there was a Tajik wedding going on. It seemed mostly like an American wedding, except for the bride having that strange uni-brow thing, and the fact that all the music sounded like a snake charmer’s cover of the Star Wars Cantina. At the caravan house museum across the road, I saw some dusty relics and befriended five Canadian kids working here for the Aga Khan foundation. I used some of my copious World Bank per diem to buy them lunch, they used their Russian and Tajik skills to half the amount of time it took me to get there anywhere on the local public transportation system. Fair trade in my book.

First half of the week centered on me working in the office and getting my questionnaires ready for pilot testing. The last two days in the field. I spent an inordinate amount of that time worried about fleas. You see, the consultant that I was working with went to do some pre-pilot testing among poor communities in the capital last week and came back covered in welts. She explained that most poor people in this country have fleas and that you very often catch them from proximity. Isn’t it the same in Africa? [Editor’s note: NO!!!] She then told a “humorous” story about the last Washington consultant that she worked with, who got fleas during pilot testing in the mountains, brought them back to her hotel room, where they got into her luggage, brought them back across the ocean, where they multiplied like a Bulgarian wildfire, and infected her entire family and household. Cost a fortune to kill them all. Hardy-fucking-har, that story is a laugh a minute.

So I *really* don’t want to get fleas. There is just something about those little bastards breeding in my hair that makes me a little uncomfortable. Stomach parasites, ants, scorpions, snakes, I can deal with. No fleas.

With this perpetually in back of my mind, I got all gussied up like a Moron missionary for my foray into the countryside. We went to a cotton growing area on the border with Uzbekistan. It took a miraculously short two hours in the morning to navigate the protocol, my favorite being the stop at the local mayor’s office. He had a dilapidated desk adorned only with a tiny Tajik flag and a MASSIVE red plastic rotary phone.

The trip out went past women in brightly colored robes working in the cotton fields set against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains. The mosques have checkerboard roofs and elaborately carved doors. What was really striking though is the fact that there were no men. Anywhere. This time of year, men are either working in the city or in Russia. Only young boys, old men, and the poorest that cannot afford to go anywhere to work are left in the town. The women and children were pleasant enough though. I took some of their pictures so you can see what they look like. I also took a picture of my piloting team and our government minder, so you can see who I was working with. My mom digs that kind of slice-of-life thing.

Anyway, I got back from piloting yesterday, preoccupied with my potential flea problem. I came back to my hotel room, went immediately into the white tile bathroom, stripped down, filled the sink up with as hot water as I could, threw my clothes into it, and got into a shower hot enough to sterilize myself. Went I got out, I carefully examined myself for anything that could be a flea bite, and the sink for anything that might be a drown flea. You can bet that I am going to do the same thing today when I get home. Every itch is a sign of my coming infestation.

That is all for now. Tonight I am going to fly to a town in the mountains and take a little tour around there for the weekend, so hopefully I will have something interesting for next week. Enjoy your flea-free life in the first world, I am going to go back to itching.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Dear Kristen,
Great pictures of the people and do please leave the fleas there!
Love, Mom