The third largest aluminum factory in the world!!!!!

So guess what!? I survived February in Tajikistan. I think I should get a t-shirt. The beginning of March and the return of temperate weather means that I haven’t fallen down lately, there’s no need to constantly wear long underwear, and even my giant amusing hats have disappeared from my wardrobe. Here in our little Persian-language-learning world it means we get sit outside and study or nap in the courtyard. It ALSO means that leaving Dushanbe for day trips is becoming sort of possible. We had one this Saturday. We went to… THE THIRD LARGEST ALUMINUM FACTORY IN THE WORLD.

Undergrads/boren scholars/Eurasian Regional Language program repping.

I know. Extreme excitement coming outta this blog lately.

As you may have noticed from my previous posts, Tajikistan has a lot of natural beauty. But apparently (unfortunately), countries can’t survive on natural beauty alone. They need industries, I’ve heard. Hence, big aluminum factory in Western Tajikistan (thanks Soviets!).

Supposedly, this thing takes up somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of all of Tajikistan’s electricity supply. So, when I was freezing my butt off due to electricity outages all winter, I had this place to blame.

The pouring of aluminum

When we got to the factory (which is called TALCO, short for Tajik Aluminum Company), we were greeted by our “minder.” This man didn’t seem to have any particular knowledge of the factory or the small museum that accompanied it, but was really great at reading signs and pointing out the obvious, eg: “These are stones.”

In the museum there were lots of awards and presents from other countries and signs promoting Tajik-Belorussian friendship. The factory itself was much more interesting. First of all, the entire place was magnetized. So, things like coins and keys all stuck together. Evidence below:

o hey, look at these dirhams sticking together. magnetism.

Second, the whole thing looked like something out of a nuclear apocalypse. There was old Soviet propaganda everywhere, everything was grey, and sometimes I swear I saw particles of aluminum just hanging in the air. At the end we asked our minder-person how many on-the-job injuries took place there each year. He shook his head and said “That’s a secret.” We were pretty lucky to be able to get in though: not many foreigners have been, and they often forbid photos.

This sign says something like "Glory to the winged aluminum producers." Or something. Its in Russian so I don't really know.

They did several demonstrations of aluminum pouring for us. We were warned not to wear any baggy clothing, or touch ANYTHING, as this might lead to spontaneous combustion and/or third degree burns. Afterwards, we went to another, much smaller factory in a village somewhere. I am a little unclear on what this factory did. They definitely husked rice, and maybe did something with wheat. They weren’t actually operating, but showed us the rice husking machine and looked confused when I asked how people had husked rice before electricity. I also bought flaxseed oil for my host family there.

Nope, not Osh. Its a giant boiling pot of aluminum.

On a side note, the TALCO plant is a major point of political contention between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (though what isn’t?). If you’re interested, you can read about it here or here.

When I got home from the trip on Saturday, I found that my host family wasn’t home, and I was locked out. This wasn’t a big problem… I walked over to my host grandmother’s house and found them all there. I hadn’t been there since coming back from break, and actually had a really lovely time.

As the sun set, I played soccer with my host cousins in the courtyard. I am not a good soccer player. However, I was also the only person over the age of 9. The kids thought I was pretty good. They said “Amanda, you’re Messi!” “No! You’re Ronaldo!” Kids are the same everywhere. Its reassuring.

One of the interesting things about taking only Persian classes is that at least 3 times a week my professors spontaneously burst into poem. Here is one my professor quoted by Rudaki this week. Its about a time when Ismoil Somoni (aka the Wizard of Dushanbe) went off to Herat and didn’t want to come back to Bukhara. Basically, its flattery. (I actually quoted a different part of this poem once. Its one of Rudaki’s most famous).

Long live Bukhara! Be thou of good cheer!
Joyous towards thee hasteth our Amir!
The moon’s the prince, Bukhara is the sky;
O Sky, the Moon shall light thee by and by!
Bukhara is the Mead, the Cypress he;
Receive at last, O Mead, thy Cypress tree!

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Dushanbe: Land of Adventure and Mystery

Adventure One: Tajikistan v. Japan

Friday after class my friends and I headed to Tajikistan’s National Stadium to watch the Tajik National Soccer team take on Japan in what I believe was a qualifier for the qualifiers for the World Cup. As far as I’m aware, Tajikistan hadn’t scored a goal yet this year. Last time they played Japan the score was 8-0, Japan. As such, we weren’t too hopeful about their chances. Spoiler alert: Tajikistan lost. Also, they didn’t score a goal. Sadness.

گل شد؟ نه، گل نشد 😦

In any case, there was still plenty of fun to be had at the stadium. The first challenge was getting in. Because we got out of class after the game started, we got there after they finished selling tickets. The guards were also chasing people away from the entrance with horses, which was a little terrifying, as I’m not sure any of them actually knew how to ride a horse.

In any case, I pushed myself up to a guard and asked if there were any tickets left. Answer: “No.” But, this being Tajikistan, I wasn’t about to give up. I asked another guard, who informed me I could get tickets by pushing to the other side of the crowd. The guard there once again informed me that tickets were gone, but his co-worker noticed my funny accent, funny clothes, and the fact that I was a female trying to see a soccer game and said “no, no, they’re foreign, let them in.”  So my friends and I triumphantly walked into the stadium, where we were greeted by more guards, and went through a fairly similar experience… “No, you can’t go in,” No, you need a ticket,” “O, its fine, they’re foreign.”

The stadium

The stadium itself is maybe not exactly state of the art. From what I understand, the Japanese team was less than thrilled to be playing on Tajikistan’s field, because its not properly mowed, or something (bunch of whiners, if you ask me). The game was kinda depressing- Tajikistan lost 4-0, and by the end Tajiks were cheering every time Japan made a goal, I assume just to have something to cheer about. We did the wave for a while; the stands got really into it. Also, women don’t really watch soccer games live in Tajikistan. Not a big deal, just further cause for the “eh, weird foreigners” look.

At the end of the game a car was auctioned off. I believe it was from about 1992, had possibly served as a make-shift tank during the civil war, and probably had about 3 days left in it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to win it, because I didn’t have a ticket. Darn it.

Adventure Two: Zurkhaneh

A Zurkhaneh is a traditional Iranian gym type place where, according to the article I got from my professor, champions train. It is a pre-Islamic tradition, and the sports done there are called “Champion sports.” Basically, just really intense, really ancient-style weight training. The dudes were pretty intense: they wrestled, lifted things, ran around, and did some crazy workouts. As you can see fro the photo below, I am not particularly intense:

Lifting the heavy weight things at the Zurkhaneh

And, for comparison, here is a picture of the intense dudes lifting even heavier stuff:

Well, dang boys!

I have some pretty neat videos from the Zurkhaneh that I’ll try to upload next week… youtube is being slow.

Adventure Three: Korvon Bazaar

On Saturday, we caught mashrukas to the outskirts of Dushanbe to do some shopping at the massive and overwhelming Korvon Bazaar (Korvon means Caravan).  We had also been their the week before, but found it way too overwhelming, and decided we needed a full day to explore. On our way there, we stopped for Uighur food. Uighurs make the best food in Central Asia, in my (admittedly, very limited) experience. It has spice in it, which is always a treat.

Korvon is pretty difficult to describe. It goes on for miles. If you lose someone in there, you will probably never find them again. It is crowded and confusing and not exactly clean and pretty stereotypical of a Central Asian Bazaar. There is a constant buzz of sellers shouting:  “Eh, dedushka, be-ahid!” (Russian for girl, Tajiki for come here).

There is a lot of really, really bizarre crap for sale. Boxers with pictures of Euros on them. Hats with Tajikistan misspelled. Really terribly made Chinese goods that probably contain led. Pleather jackets, pleather pants, pleather shirts, pleather shoes. Amid this mess, you will occasionally find a gem, like very warm, giant Pamiri socks. (They’re keeping my toes cozy right now.) We spent about three hours there, wandering the tiny alleys, laughing about the confusing English printed on t-shirts and pushing past old ladies who think tiny alleys are great places to stop and drink some tea.

One last adventure: Mountains

Last monday, when we had off school, I went hiking with some friends. I’m sure everyone’s really tired of hearing about how much I like mountains, so instead, here’s a short video clip of the view at the top of the mountain we hiked.

Here’s a quote from Hafiz:
If seekers after rubies there were none,
Still to the dark mines where the gems had lain
Would pierce, as he was wont, the radiant sun
Setting the stones ablaze.

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