Long Walks and Depressing Zoos

Have you ever had a nightmare in which animals escape from the zoo, and are upset about their maltreatment and charge around the zoo in a mad frenzy?

In Dushanbe, this happens. Sort of. On Saturday, we went to the zoo. My friends had already been, and warned me against it, but I was insistent. It is The Most Depressing Place on Earth. Only in Dushanbe would the “reptile house” consist of a bunch of cages filled with dead snakes. Only in Dushanbe would a house cat qualify as a zoo animal. Only in Dushanbe would it be appropriate to keep two bears in a tiny enclosure about half the size of my bedroom. The whole place is filled with the howls of forlorn animals. I’ve never felt particularly strongly about zoos, but the Dushanbe zoo Should Not Be Allowed to Exist.

I like camels, even when they're in depressing zoos

And then, just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, we saw one poor ram, desperately trying to get out of his enclosure. “It looks like it might escape,” I said. And then it escaped. It mostly looked confused about its newfound freedom, and I’m sure they sent someone to put it back in the cage and duct-tape up the hole soon enough, but we didn’t stick around to find out.

Escaping Ram! Watch out before it rams you.

Alright, enough with this depression. Sometimes bad things happen to good rams. Lets move on.

On Sunday, I wanted to walk. I like to walk long distances. I particularly like to walk between cities or towns. So I decided to walk to Varzob, the village where we often go for hiking or relaxation by the river. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make it all the way there. After walking for about 2.5 hrs. my friend passed me in a mashruka (share van), and I decided it was time to hurry up and get somewhere, so I caught a ride the rest of the way.

But I wasn’t particularly concerned about making it the whole way. It was just wonderful to get out of the city, and see some villages. I rode the bus out to the edge of the city, where it turns back into the collection of small villages it really is at heart. Dushanbe, for those who didn’t know, was founded in 1924. Before then, “Dushanbe” was a village of about 215 people. Where the city sits now was a collection of 10 or so small villages.

I’m very sunburnt now. I explained the concept of a “farmer’s tan” to my host mom, and she told me that I had a “farmer’s red.”

The other bit of excitement this week was teaching English at the National Library. The National Library was supposed to open in September. But it didn’t. It opened last month. Which, given that this is Tajikistan, is actually pretty much on time. The English class that Joey and I teach through the U.S. cultural center was moved there.

The weird thing about the Tajik National Library is that I didn’t see any books there. I’m told they do possess books. In fact, I know they do, since every school child in Tajikistan was required to donate 5 books to the library (this policy is exactly as terrible as it sounds). But I’m going to have to go back and search for said books. The Tajik National Library also has an escalator (the second in Tajikistan as far as I’m aware) but its not yet in operation.

Here’s a conversation I had in a share taxi the other day:

Driver “What’s your name?”
Me: “Amanda.” (Usually I Tajik-ify my name to Umida, but I forgot this time).
Driver: “Commander?”
Me: “Erm, yea sure, Commander.
Driver: “Did you know that Commander is Russian for ‘Farmandah?'” (That’s Tajiki for Commander).
Me: “Really?! That’s so strange! Alright, let me out here.”
Driver: “Goodbye, Commander.”

Here’s a quote from Shams Tabrizi, a Sufi teacher of Rumi

Joy is like pure clear water;
wherever it flows, wondrous blossoms grow
Sorrow is like a black flood;
wherever it flows it wilts the blossoms.

تا دوشنبه آینده
Amanda

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Saying “Turkey” in Persian

Farsi, Dari and Tajiki each have different words for “Turkey” (the food you eat at Thanksgiving, not the country I’ll be visiting in three weeks). In Farsi, its بوقلمون / Buqalamun. Oddly, Buqalamun means chameleon in Tajiki. In Tajiki the word for Turkey is мурғи марҷон/ Murgh-e Marjon, which literally might mean “Coral Chicken,” if I understood my professor correctly.  My favorite, however, is the Dari word,  فیل مرغ / Feil Murgh, which literally translates to “Elephant Chicken.” It reminds me of Dr. Seuss.
(Also, if you speak Persian, check out this VOA Dari clip about some Turkey farmers in the US. Why exactly this clip is on VOA Dari is a little beyond me, but I’m really glad that it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPGWK6aPP60&feature=channel_video_title)

This is how you make Thanksgiving dinner, Tajik style.

I was lucky enough to get some delicious Elephant Chicken this Thanksgiving, despite being in Tajikistan. We had the day off for Thanksgiving. While our professors and administrators prepared Osh and Turkey in the very-advanced-technology you see above, we sat inside and drank coffee and watched Charlie Wilson’s War (three lines in Dari for the win!), and eventually emerged to make some hot apple cider and enjoy the feast.

giant VAT OF OSH

Obviously, it wasn’t the most traditional of Thanksgivings- there was Osh, after all, but the Osh had cranberries in it, and there was Apple Pie for dessert, and it was spent in good company. We stood around the courtyard and discussed the various terms for Turkey, and used the hot apple cider to protect agains the cold Dushanbe weather.

Also, I should mention that Tajikistan’s National Flag Day happened to coincide with U.S. Thanksgiving. What an incredible coincidence! Except that no one in Tajikistan seemed particularly excited about Flag Day. I mentioned it to my host family, and asked if they’d gone to the parade, and they laughed at me and said they didn’t even know Flag Day existed.

Our Thanksgiving Turkey! On a lunch tray... on a ping pong table. Pretty freaking classy.

Despite the fact that Thanksgiving was delectable, it was not, in fact, the most exciting food related event of my week. That took place on Saturday, and began, as all good things should, with a long walk. I was visiting a friend who lived on a backroad, and decided to take a meandering path to get back to the main street. It was snowing and beautiful out: I’ve come to believe that Dushanbe is miserable in the rain, but absolutely delightful in the snow.

Anyways, I wandered along, found a quaint little park and some interesting looking neighborhoods, and just as I was starting to feel cold and hungry, the side road I was on opened up onto Rudaki Ave, and I found myself next to a small Iranian Kabob Shop I’ve been meaning to try for ages.

It was perfect. It was filled with elderly Iranian men joking in Farsi, the Iranian version of MTV was on, and since the menu was in Farsi script, it didn’t take me several hours to read! I had kubideh kabob and a big pot of tea, for less than 3$. I plan on frequenting this place very often.

Afterwards, I walked to Rudaki Park to enjoy the beauty of Dushanbe in the snow for a little while longer, and took several pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Rudaki in the Snow

Ismail Somoni, AKA the Wizard of Dushanbe, and his snow lions.

View of the Park

In other news, its getting pretty close to winter break- in just about three weeks I’ll be boarding a plane to Istanbul. I am very glad that I am coming back to Dushanbe for a second semester after break. I am equally as glad to have a few weeks off, and incredibly excited for the steady supply of strong electricity and even stronger coffee in Europe.

Before I go, here’s a quote from Hafez,

“Good poetry makes the universe admit a secret:
‘I am really just a tambourine, grab hold
and play my music against your thigh.’”

تا دوشنبه آینده
Amanda