I’m writing this from the first row of a Lufthansa 747-400. There’s nothing between me and the nose cone, except for a few suit jackets and a pocket of German magazines. Above me is the cockpit and first class. Behind me are several dozen sleeping Germans businessmen and women (including one elderly man who clears his throat every 4-7 seconds) and several hundred huddles masses.
As I type, I take breaks to enjoy some spoonfuls of my personal container of Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream. Gone is my shrimp cocktail and glazed salmon. Such are the travails of an international traveler.
I have a feeling this trip won’t be all ice cream and shrimp, however. During liftoff, when I had to turn off all electronic devices, I decided to read up on my destination. The State Department helpfully provided a 9-page dossier on Tajikistan and its capital, Dushanbe. I’ll list the highlights for you here:
• Tajikistan is land-locked country that borders Krygyzstan, Uzebekistan, Afghanistan and China. It is home to some of the highest mountains in the world and all of my missing Words With Friends letters.
• “Minor explosions occasionally occur in Dushanbe.” That little nugget was buried on page 4 of the report. It wasn’t even the lead sentence of the paragraph. However, there is good news:
• Demonstrations and mobs are rare in Tajikistan since the 1992-1997 civil war. Then again, should a mob break out, “police reaction to such behavior is unpredictable.”
• Unpredictable police behavior *might* explain why “the level of criminal activity is moderate to high.” Specifically, I can expect pick pocketing, mugging, armed robberies and drunk driving. I think it’s 50-50 on whether this will be the best trip ever, or the last one I ever take.
• The dossier helpfully notes that “there are some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States.” It then goes on to specifically mention “engaging in sexual conduct with children.” I’m not sure whether to be more shocked that any country would consider sex with children legal, or that the State Department deems it necessary to tell me not to do that.
• Apparently “travelers to Tajikistan are subject to frequent document inspections by local police.” You know, to keep those mobs at bay.
• The dossier also warns me about some non-human dangers about Tajikistan, namely the widespread prevalence of malaria and that “Tajikistan is earthquake-prone country.” So, aside from muggers, robbers, child pornographers, police, mosquitoes and earthquakes… nothing to worry about.
• Except this: “In certain parts of the country… land mines and cluster munitions form an additional hazard.” I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that this is on PAGE 9! The last page! Don’t you think this might be your lead? But maybe I shouldn’t be worried, because it seems the land mines are well marked. “If an area has land mine warning signs, or is marked off with red and white plastic tape, heed the warning.” Um, NO SHIT?
• Surprisingly, despite all Tajikistan has to offer, the dossier points out that “travel to, from and within Tajikistan is difficult and unreliable.” Gee, I wonder why.
At least the trip to Frankfurt (layover 1) on my trip has been pretty easy. Oh, gotta go. My cocktail just arrived.