In Boulder Co. there is a remarkable Tea House, built by the Artists of Dushanbe, broken down, crated and shipped to Boulder where it was reassembled in the Downtown area. It provides meals and snacks and features a ten page menu of different teas both within the Tea House and also in the relaxing gardens surrounding it. My visit to Boulder’s Dushanbe Tea House in early July felt like the start of this minor odyssey and now here I am, in Dushanbe. I read somewhere that it is a distance of some 7,000 miles. I have been looking forward to this visit as most of the Guide books suggest that there is little or nothing to do in this city of 400,000 and they are correct. After six days here I have done little but read, write a little, eat reasonably well, keep in touch with friends and family and generally kick back and recharge my batteries. A day’s outing might consist of a trip to the ATM, perhaps check out the bazaar, have a look at the Opera House, take a photo of the World’s largest free standing flag pole (seriously. It cost $32 million), wonder about the stark statuary in Rudaki Park. Really that is about it for just under a week here.
There is a most interesting form of public transportation, taxis acting as buses. There are distinct routes and the taxis have numbers on the windshield telling riders what route they are following. I walk to the end of my little street to one of the main thoroughfares, look for the correct numbered taxi, stick out my arm and it stops, I pile in joining whomever might be within, shoppers, students, businessmen, Moms with kids, pay my 3 Somoni (a nickel or 3P) and indicate when I want him to stop and drop me off. From there I can pick up another taxi going on a different route, for another three Somoni. Quite brilliant, super efficient, I have never had to wait longer than a minute and not likely to break the bank. There are other gas guzzling, fume belching real buses but I haven’t had the need to check them out, they look really really crowded and of course they don’t have AC like the taxis do.
Unusually there is a spreading ripple of excitement in town. My first indication of this was when I noticed piles of rubbish piled up on the sides of the streets, plastic bottles, black ooze, wood chips and old bags. It all came out of the open drains that line each side of the streets allowing the water to flow freely. Previously it didn’t and stagnated creating something of a pong. I enquired at reception and was told that there is a big Summit coming here in a few days, yes, Mr Putin is coming to Dushanbe. Xi Jinping of China as well as the Foreign Minister of India and the various Presidents of the other ‘Stans. Since the drain cleaning I have noticed more street sweeping ladies on duty, more tarmac laying vehicles and lots more police on duty (if that’s possible). All the hotels in town have been told not to accept reservations for the duration of the conference so that the attendees can be accommodated, even here in my little B and B. I am so glad I came when I did and am leaving tomorrow. For the news junkies the event is the 13th Annual Summit of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Check your local news outlets for details!
Yesterday was pretty special being Friday, the Holy Day in the Islamic Faith so I thought I would go to the Central Mosque for noontime Prayers. Not being a follower of Mohammed I felt a little trepidation, nonetheless I walked to the main street and jumped in a #8 taxi and transferred to a #3 at the Opera House. A few blocks later I noticed huge crowds descending on an alley so got out and joined in. Walking down the alley seemed ok, no one gave me any strange looks, and we came to a gate, walked through the gate to an arch, walked under arch to the main courtyard. Very, very aware of not giving offense I kept to the periphery and finding a bench I sat down. More and more people began to fill the courtyard until people were laying out their prayer mats at my feet. Time to move on, so I found a side exit and made my way back to the arch where I paused again. More people, more prayer mats at my feet so I retreated to the gate, where someone offered me a chair. I sat there for the next few minutes and for the first time ever witnessed the whole ritual (?). It was very inspiring, very moving, very thought provoking and I left with a certain sense of awe. I didn’t know it but Friday Prayers are a major source of fund raising for those who, shall we say are “less fortunate”. There were many, many people in need around the entrances to the Mosque, and it seemed that each one was acknowledged and received some sort of contribution. One very sad child in a pram was literally covered in bank notes. We live and learn Tim, we live and learn.
Something went whacky with a couple of these, they wouldn’t upload unless I reduced the resolution. Sorry about that.