Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Today was as dedicated to rest & recovery as I could make it, with a bit of information gathering thrown in. I checked out of the hotel, have breakfast & went to find my Dushanbe contact, Daniela who worked for a local NGO called MSDP. I'd got in contact with her through the same Internet-based organisation as I'd used to meet Mohammad in Mashhad & Zokir in Tashkent. Unfortunately since initially contacting her circumstances had changed & she was nolonger able to host me but she was able to host me but was able to arrange that I could stay with one of her colleagues/friends.

I liked Dushanbe, it was a good place to hang out a short while. It was a very small city, just off the tree-lined main street Rudaki were semi-rural houses with large gardens. Along Rudaki there were lots of late 19C & early 20C houses & mansions built by the Russians giving the place the feel of an Eastern European town. Tajiks are ethnically diverse from the Turkic peoples in neighbouring Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan. They speak a language related to & mutually comprehensible by Iranians & Afghanis (Dari & Pashtoo speakers at least). They have a less oriental look than the Turkic Uzbeks or Turkmen & more like Iranians i.e. dark skinned but in a Southern European way. There is a substantial Russian minority who have lived here since the Russian Empire expanded this way in the late 19C, though aparantly many left the country after the country became independent with the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 & the civil war that finished in the early years of the new millenium.

Even though Dushanbe clearly had money - I'd seen that in the cars & dachas on the road from the North & more so in the city where I saw more new black Mercedes driving around than at any point since leaving Europe. It was clearly a place of private rather than public wealth. I was advised that I should under no circumstance drink the town water supply, eating uncooked food washed in it or brushing my teeth with it was risking cholera or typhoid! The town's water purification plant, built in Soviet times had ceased to function when spares ran out. There was dirt & sand in the water & I was told that after rain it could be a muddy brown for days. Locals told me that from time to time it was cut off for days at a time. Even filtering or treating the water couldn't remove dangerous heavy metals that crept into the supply from industry, run off from farms & even waste water through 'holy' pipes that had received almost no maintenance in a decade & a half. Needless to say bottled water was widely available & cheap by Western standards but a significant cost to locals.

The town was crawling with NGOs, at least that was the appearance by the presence of large numbers of pristine white 4WDs. I was told that the amount of money spent by them dwarved the tiny Tajik government's budget. I wonder whether the NGOs' conspicuous wealth was a good thing for the country in the long run & surely all the money spent on Landcruisers could be put to a use where the money stayed in country. I hope to learn a little more on NGO operation when I have dinner with ny host tonight.

I cycled 0 km

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