It’s happening. The Great Stanland Adventure (so named by Sophia) has begun.
This morning at about 4:15 am we landed in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Considering what I’d led to expect from Central Asian republics (and my own experiences in Israel), border control was a breeze. It only required filling out in duplicate a trilingual form whose English labels were ambiguous at best, helping a Russian fill out the same form (why he thought I should know how to do it, especially after hearing my broken Russian, I don’t know), and getting past the actual booth, which in my case meant having the first officer call over a second one because something about my visa was confusing. I hear tell (from someone I met today who did this) that one can even arrive without a visa and be given one on the spot, but only by crawling through an unmarked white hatch in the airport to a secret room.
After sleeping for five hours in the home of the family Anna will be staying with in Dushanbe, and thus convincing ourselves that it was actually morning, it was time to find my lodging: I had only a phone number, and couldn’t figure out how to work the landline, so this meant getting a SIM card first.
Dushanbe has only one main street, called Rudaki. If you want to find something, like a phone store, you generally walk along it until you find it. Buying SIM cards went remarkably smoothly (better than London, and cheaper), but we got our first taste of the comical language situation that arises when Anna and I do things together. She speaks relatively good Tajik/Farsi (but no Russian), I speak a little Russian (but no Farsi), and very few locals speak English. This generally results in everyone involved becoming confused, because the two of us will say the same or similar (or contradictory) things in our respective languages without understanding each other, and the locals try to respond to her Farsi in Russian, because they assume that for a foreigner, it will be easier to understand than Farsi. The same scenario played out when we went to find the place I’ll be staying, which is a bedroom being rented out of a family’s house. We do establish what we need to eventually, though.
Apparently, foreigners in Tajikistan automatically become friends. I found this out over the course of being introduced to progressively more friends of friends of friends when we went meet up with one of Anna’s actual acquaintances here, who later took me along to an informal ultimate frisbee game being played by what seemed like a good chunk of the American and British young ex-pat/traveler community.
Nice as the first day was, the test will come tomorrow when we go to register at OVIR (a Soviet system that has refused to die whereby the government must know everywhere you are staying, at least in theory) and attempt to get GBAO (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) permits. The permits are essential to traveling the Pamir Highway, which is basically why we are here, but the government has lately been refusing to issue them because of violence in the region. We’ll learn the real situation tomorrow, of course, but the latest reports seem to be that whereas the permits were not being given out at embassies (like the one in London) when we got our visas, but were supposed to be available in Dushanbe, now they are being issued in embassies only but not Dushanbe. Then again, they do whatever they feel like at a particular moment. Fingers crossed.
Some of the roaming around.
Posted from Dushanbe, Districts of Republican Subordination, Tajikistan.