Playing in the “Barf”: My triumphant return to Tajikistan

Before anyone gets grossed out, let me clarify: “Barf” means snow in Persian. There is even a brand of washing detergent called “barf.” The Persian-speaking world is delightful, no?

Anyways, I’ve been doing a lot of “barf-bahze” (snow-play) since I’ve been back in Dushanbe, mostly because my host siblings have decided that that’s what their weird foreign house-guest is good for.

That’s right… you read correctly. I’m back in Dushanbe! And glad to be here. I thought I would struggle, missing the comforts of Europe. But really, who needs escalators and well-organized mass transit? I’ve got mashrukas and space-heaters and loads of tea!

Of course, getting back was a bit of an adventure.

First, Paris: Paris was wonderful. Magical. Exactly how it should be. Last time I was in Paris, I saw a great many wonderful things, but as a non-French speaker, felt fairly lost. Thanks to Rocío’s French prowess and awareness of the city, I could enjoy some of its famous magic this time. Its still not a place I could really imagine living– but it was a wonderful visit. It also involved a lot of things I realized nostalgically, I’d be doing for the last time for a few months. Cooking thai food. Touring interactive museums. Drinking wine that’s not from Georgia or Moldova. Staying up late watching cheesy at a friends house. Skim lattes.

Rocío and I in Paris!

And then, the actual trip. Flying into Dushanbe is strange, but I was prepared for it this time. The weirdest bit it that there are no lights on the ground below for quite a while as you descend. Its just empty and dark. I don’t know how the pilot manages to even find Dushanbe. But he does, and as we get really near, I can make out the outlines of the largest streets, and even some of the major landmarks. Also weird– no announcements about connecting flights. Implication: there are no connecting flights. Welcome to the end of the road.

The Dushanbe airport is unpleasent. You get off the plane (its 4 am and FREEZING), and then a bus takes you to the “arrivals terminal”… everyone rushes the single door of what is essentially a small pavilion. And then you have to fill out a registration card… you write as fast as you can, because the more quickly you write, the more quickly you can get on line.

But no matter how fast you write, there is always the chance that the passport control fellow will decide to go have a tea just before your turn, and disappear for about 10 minutes. And even though there are tons of other passport control fellows walking about, none of them will take his place. Once he comes back, its not too bad… a young foreign woman speaking Tajiki at 4am can be confusing… and after glancing at your passport he waves you along… to the endless wait for luggage.

Its endless because you know that outside there is a driver waiting for you, and that of course, your flight was late, but if you go outside to let him know that you’ve arrived, you won’t be allowed back in. Also, because there is typically about a 50/50 chance your luggage ended up in Australia, or maybe Brazil, or maybe Mongolia.

Fortunately, my small bag made it to Tajikistan, and I made it back to my host family’s house, and to the routine that I found I was craving: warm tea while watching Russian cartoons, my gym, walking to school to make coffee, playing with my host baby (who, in my absence, increased both her vocabulary and her variety of dance moves), evenings spent reading and studying.

And speaking Persian. I didn’t realize how dang much I missed speaking Persian. When I got here, it just all spilled out, and still, all I want to do is talk. I thrust concerns about grammar and dialect to the side, and just let all the words tumble out of my mouth.

I’ve actually been surprisingly busy, given that classes don’t start until next Monday, and the vast majority of my classmates aren’t back yet. I’ve been organizing to volunteer for an English class next semester, meeting with my speaking partner, practicing the ghichak, getting coffee and lunch with friends who are around, working on some school work I’ve put off, spending extra time at the gym, and learning to play computer games from my host brother.

I’m happy to be back. And I’m happy I’ve got another 4 months here. Not only did I not realize how well I knew Dushanbe until I got back, I also didn’t realize how much I liked it here. Even though I know about the difficult things to expect from this semester (cough- electricity, I’m looking at you- cough), I’m weirdly really excited. I have a feeling its going to be awesome.

Here is a verse by Jami, a 15th century Sufi poet:

The eyes, like dew, should receive the seal of a dab of tears.
Non-existence has an image and a world of its own.
Realities are sometimes created in the footprints of passerby.
No one could help rid me of my dual self.

تا دوشنبه آینده،


The View from Outside Tajikistan

Happy New Year! I celebrated in Austria, which is really where one should always celebrate the New Year… but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, some reflections from the first two weeks I’ve spent outside of Tajikistan!

Statistics: Since leaving Tajikistan, I’ve been in five different airports. I currently possess six different currencies (I’ll give 10 somonis to the first person guess them all). I’ve learned new words and phrases in three different languages. And statistically, I’ve spent more time feeling warm in the last two weeks than I have in the last two months that I spent in Tajikistan.

I managed to fit all of my belongings for the next month in this little carry-on: quite proud!

Story time: Two weeks ago, I was fretting about whether I’d make it out of Tajikistan. A giant snowstorm had hit Dushanbe, apparently breaking a record, or something. I was convinced that with all the ice and snow there was no way the Dushanbe Airport (which is among my least favorite places in Dushanbe) would remain open.

But somehow, suddenly, we were off to Europe, to Turkey, to Istanbul, to steady electricity.

Enjoying Turkish Coffee with my friend Mike in Turkey

Although I was only in Istanbul for about 30 hours, I was totally enamored with the city. It felt like the Center of the Earth. Of course, this may have been caused by jet-lag, or by the fact that for the first time in 4 months, I rode on an escalator! And an elevator. And saw hundreds of cafes, and millions and millions of people.

Did you know that about twice as many people live in Istanbul as live in Tajikistan? This is true. According to Wikipedia, source of all truth, nearly 14 million people live in Istanbul, while just over 7 million people live in Tajikistan.

Chris and I think Turkey is great!

In any case, after a delightful day spent in Istanbul with friends, I was off to London.

Airports are the same everywhere, I think (except in Tajikistan, the only country where it is acceptable for the customs official to propose that I marry his son). I’ve spent a lot of time in airports over the last two weeks, and they are comforting. The coffee chains, the cool upper-crusty British female voices announcing my flights, the confused looks from customs officials about the “weird bits of paper” I have in my passport (my Tajikistan registration cards).

But after so much time spent in airports, it is refreshing to spend time in the comfortable abodes of dear friends and family; to plop myself down in someone else’s world and feel comfortable in it, for a few days. In London, for the Christmas holiday, I stayed with my cousins. I don’t think I have felt quite so comfy since leaving home last August. Something about the holiday season, combined with being with family, combined with pasteurized milk made me feel o-so-very-cozy.

With my cousins Emma and Kaitie in London

After spending several days running in the cool English weather, relishing in the ability to put milk in my tea, enjoying delicious food and drink, watching far too much English-language television, and having a generally wonderful time, I went into Central London to stay with MUWCI friends.

If you know me at all, you’ve heard me talk incessantly about MUWCI, my school in India. But one of the most wonderful things about MUWCI is that no matter how long its been since you’ve talked to or seen a friend from there, there are always a million things to talk about, and conversations and friendships fall right back into place. I stayed with a MUWCI friend, and we met up with more MUWCI friends, and things sort of fell back into place. We even found an Indian grocery store, where we bought maggi masala, the instant noodle brand so popular as a nighttime snack back at MUWCI.

After about 20 hrs. in Central London, I was once again in an airport, on my way to Austria, to stay with my dear MUWCI friend Lena for the New Year.

As my flight hovered over Innsbruck, I felt quite silly. Here I was, going to yet another mountainous, snowy country, after just leaving Tajikistan 1o days earlier! But I really do enjoying spending a holiday with Lena and her family in Innsbruck: it is the perfect combination of outdoorsy and hot espresso. Also, Lena’s apartment has central heating.

Snowman that Lena's family built outside of their house

On New Year’s Eve we went tobogganing, which is like sledding but involves a 2 hour hike and the ability to steer a toboggan. My steering abilities are weak, but I enjoy tobogganing.

Lena and me, after walking to the top of the Tobogganing trail

Our New Year party was a quiet affair, which is how I like it. A group of just seven, we shared delicious food, and listened to jazz records, and drank champagne out under the stars and fireworks as the year 2012 began.

And now its 2012. I’m still in Innsbruck, although we’ve discussed going to Germany tomorrow or day after. If not, the stops left on my trip are: a return to England, another stop-over in Istanbul, and several days in Paris. Not a bad way to spend my time outside of Tajikistan, I think.

Poetry: Omar Khayyam:
And that inverted bowl we call the sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help – for it
Rolls impotently on as thou or I.

(PS- No, its not Monday. But I’m also not in Dushanbe. I’ll try to update this blog once more over winter break, possibly from Istanbul or Paris).

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