Thursday, July 19, 2007

Samani-a-good, Stalinabad

So this place is different. Normally I don’t start off with details about the country, thinking that if you cared you could google it, but this time I will make an exception as I am guessing most of the audience couldn’t find it on a map.

Tajikistan is the smallest and poorest of the Central Asia republics. It is bordered by Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, Afghanistan to the south and China to the east, though the border with China is disputed because, as we all know, China could dispute a border with an ocean. The capital is Dushanbe, which means Monday in Tajik. The town’s claim to fame was its Monday market before the Soviets arrived, built a railroad and named it the capital of the Soviet Republic they created. Before revisionists got into it in the early 1960s, however, it was called “Stalinabad,” which makes me think that it figured prominently in contemporary American spy movie spoofs. “Come now, comrade, we must change Stalinabad’s name. Capitalists – they laugh at us.” It is actually a fairly pleasant capital, however, as it was a planned city mostly built from scratch in the 1920’s. Lots of wide boulevards and tree lined streets. The shade is nice since it is well into the high 90s every day here.

In addition to the capital, there are four states in Tajikistan: Khatlon, Sogd, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, and, I shit you not, Rayons of Republican Subordination. It sounds like a game that Bush and Cheney play with tazers. I still haven’t figured out if it is just an awkward translation from Russian or what. I will let you know soon. I am going on mission to the Rayons of Republican Subordination next week. (Come on, how many of you have a work schedule that could double as Doctor Spok’s to-do list?)

Despite being only 100 kilometers from the Afghan border, Tajikistan is fairly liberal. I would say that less than half of the women cover their hair here, and the traditional robes are more just shapeless and gaudy than oppressive. Plus I have seen some impressive outfits on the younger tarted-up Russian girls here. I, as a former Long Island Catholic school girl myself, would be embarrassed to wear them to the beach.

Another weird bit of Tajik trends is the uni-brow. It is apparently really hip here. Some women obviously tweeze their brows into the uni-brow shape. I have even seen one or two that have filled in the thin part between their eyes with eyebrow pencil. It is can be distracting if you are talking to them too, especially in official capacities. You find yourself talking to their eyebrow.

With work, I haven’t gotten a chance to do much in the way of tourism. I did go down to see the only major landmark in the capital, the statue of Ismail Samani, the founder of the Samanid dynasty. It was erected in 1999, which was the coincidence of the 1100th anniversary of the founding of the dynasty and the 8th anniversary of Tajik independence. It also coincidenced with the end of the civil war and the need to replace the largest statue of Lenin this side of the Urals.

That is about all for now. I have to get back to shuttling between my 4 star hotel, which looks like the Winter Palace, and the office, which is nothing special. I will try to do some interesting sightseeing this weekend.

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