How to Party in Dushanbe: A Guide

I’ll admit that Dushanbe, like anywhere else, has its advantages and disadvantages. In the disadvantage column I’d place the winter, the electricity outages, the lack of a national passion for coffee, and the Dushanbe airport. Fortunately, Tajikistan’s, and especially the residents of Dushanbe’s ability to surprise me makes up for these small disadvantages.

Also, corruption is bad. If you take a bribe, the government will feel sad and put up a billboard reprimanding you.

Generally, I’ve found that one does not make plans in Dushanbe. Plans happen to you, whether or not you expect them.  For example, on Saturday afternoon, a party miraculously formed around me, without any planning or thought on my part.

I managed to realize ahead of time that it was my host mom’s birthday. I also managed to avoid buying flowers that symbolized death or something else unpleasant (I’m incredibly afraid that one day the flower man will take advantage of my lack of flower knowledge and sell me death flowers…).

And so we settled into a big ‘ole Tajik party.

My host mom’s birthday was actually one of two Tajik parties that I attended this weekend. The other was an engagement party for my professor’s nephew. I love that in Dushanbe it is not at all strange to get invited to your professor’s nephew’s engagement party.

Here is how one parties at my host family’s house.
A. Eat a lot of food.  Fruit, Osh, nuts, sambusas, my host mom’s 6 homemade cakes, salads with mayonnaise, one salad without mayonnaise, chai, chai chai,  more Osh, more chai. I try to strategically sit by the salad without mayonnaise.

B. Turn on Uzbek and Russian music videos that typically look like they were made in 1980. Anyone who enjoys Bollywood films, moderately offensive cultural appropriation, or Ukrainian things will be amused by the popularity of music videos like this in my little corner of the former USSR:

C. Discover you have more host relatives that you previously thought. Every time I turn around they multiply. I’m pretty sure that at this point I am host-related to 76% of Dushanbe.

D. Listen to the debates that erupt. Common topics include: whether Tajiki or Russian language schools are better, whether the singer on TV is lip-synching, how the Prophet brewed his tea, how to say certain words in English (sometimes people don’t believe me…), the merits of Arabic script vs. Latin script vs. Cyrillic script, green tea vs. black tea, etc.

E. Never assume that the party is over. For example, I came home on Sunday evening to discover that late-comers had arrived a full 24hrs. after the party had supposedly “ended.” They were the Uzbek-speaking branch of the family, up visiting from Khatlon province (in the Southwest). They were kind enough to teach me several words in Uzbek, including “Antelope” which is “Kiyik.”

And that’s it! You’re all ready to party with us!

Two quick anecdotes before I leave you with a poem: First, we had an excursion to the “Artists Colony” of Dushanbe on Saturday. This is where all the Bohemian Dushanbe-ers chill. They wore berets and smoked a lot and looked like they were dropped out of the film Moulin Rouge.

They all have their studios there, and we got to see them producing their art. We also found a “lost Lenin”– Essentially, at the end of the USSR there were all these Lenin statues around, and they didn’t fit in with Tajikistan’s new nationalist history, so they ended up in the backyards of artist colonies, and other unexpected locales. Here I am with the lost Lenin:

Lenin and I can see something that you can't. It is over there. It is pretty exciting.

The youth population of Dushanbe seems to have decided that I am Santa Claus’ granddaughter (in Russian, she is called Snegurochka, or “Miss Snow,” and on multiple occasions, children have followed me yelling this). This is because I wear a large hat and am always bright red from the cold. Apparently, a fun game to play with Snegurochka (me) is to try to steal her (my) hat. They have succeeded twice… one time my friend had to chase after them to get it back.

This is Snegurochka. I don't see the resemblance.

Here’s a Omar Khayyam poem (Fitzgerald translation):

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

تا دوشنبه آینده،



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:

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