Soviet blocks and another concrete factory

4 07 2010

View from the top of the hills above the village of Begar, north of Dushanbe,

I went to Dushanbe to avoid a trip to Dubai, which is fine for escapism but dull unless you’re travelling on expenses or meeting friends. As the Tajikistan Embassy in Kabul is closed for 2 months (hefty bribes excepted and accepted) I took a punt and arrived in Tajikistan hoping to get an entry visa at the airport.  

River Varzob, literally "fast water", running through a village north of Dushanbe. The rain runs quickly through the gritty soil to erode the river banks and often washes away the road.

I had heard mixed reports of whether it would be possible to enter this ex-Russian state with only my battered passport and a couple of photos. By the time I worked out where to go the Tajik consul’s office was already quietly and efficiently issuing people with their visas. Business at the Afghan consulate was not so slick but everyone wanted to help even if it meant giving the wrong information.  

Walking in the hills north of Dushanbe.

On the way back to my hotel a man with a radio (usually the sign of a member of the secret police in Kabul) came up to me asking for ID. My Turquoise Mountain business card seemed to be enough for him to leave me alone.  

There are a few Europeans and Americans in the city. These are either language students or special forces soldiers which makes for an interesting friday night out amongst the drug dealers and prostitutes of Dushanbe’s busier clubs.  

One of Dushanbe's main streets with typical soviet-style wide streets and long views

 80 years ago the city was a market village but grew fast with when it was made capital of a new Tajikistan. Industry and textiles flourished under the soviets and now the population is around 2/3 of a million, 100 times that of 1926. It was called Stalinabad for a while which sounds a bit rubbish but was reinstated as Dushanbe by Krushchev. Menus are still in Russian although unlike Uzbekistan, since independence anti-Muslim fears are subdued, ancient Persian leaders are celebrated and Tajik is a close relative of Dari as spoken in Afghanistan unlike the rest of the ‘Stans.  

Parts of Dushanbe's cement factory bear some resemblance to Kabul's own deserted industrial masterpiece.

 Like any good ex-soviet capital it has a concrete factory. I couldn’t help sticking my head in to compare it to Kabul’s own desolate graveyard. I almost lost my camera when an excited worker didn’t like me taking pictures. He was happy once he had held his camera phone to my face and smugly taken a photograph. There is still a soviet paranoia about institutional security that survives in this 21st century society.  

The mile-long street front to the cement factory tells the story of Tajikistan in tile paintings.

The factory still seems to work although recent disputes over a dam the Tajiks are building have caused Uzbekistan to restrict gas and electricity flowing to their neighbour affecting industry. However maybe friday is a quiet day for cement-making in this moderate Muslim country.  

Duncan DJ


Docile Dushanbe

1 07 2010

Arched monument to Amir Ismail Samani, leader of the region around 900 AD

I’m in Dushanbe for a short trip. In some ways Tajikistan is similar to Afghanistan but without the decades of war that decimated people’s attempts for a normal life. This is of course a generalisation as Afghanistan kept Russian presence out much longer than other Central Asian countries. It seems as if the peaceful, almost dull lifestyle in Dushanbe is a deliberate attempt to keep the troubles from traversing north across the Pamir mountains.

I was speaking to a 20-year-old Tajik at the Afghan Consulate who was trying to get Afghan citizenship and move to Kabul. He said he was fed up with Tajikistan but I warned him that Kabul would be even more depressing. I’m sure those of his family that are in Kabul have said the same. Sometimes in life you have to be careful what you wish for.

Mohammad Barid, Tajikman waiting outside the Afghan consulate to become Afghaniman

So Afghaniman is actually Tajikman about to become Afghaniman. I met him again on my third day at the Afghan consulate. He reminds me of one of the younger engineers I work with in Kabul. Although life in Dushanbe is quieter my new friend told me that the education in Afghanistan is much better. In Dushanbe the education system has crumbled, often teachers don’t turn up for lessons.

There is more to come on Dushanbe including thre real reason why you would visit this sleepy capital.

Duncan DJ