Whenever I travel, I make sure to take a small notebook with me so I can jot down observations, thoughts and other miscellany. Flipping through the past few days of notes, there are a few things I’ve neglected to mention:
- While in Frankfurt airport, I noticed a significant change in the amount of “personal space” people give each other. It’s less. A lot less. Enough less that I nearly turned around to someone and said, “could you please back the fuck off?” But I decided that might not be the best approach.
- There is one daily paper in all of Tajikistan; the rest are all weeklies. Their average circulation is 7,000.
- Out of a population of 7 million people, 2,000 are on Twitter.
- Tajikistan features the world’s tallest freestanding flagpole. It’s 165 meters tall, besting Azerbaijan‘s 163-meter pole. Not that size matters.
- While making notes in my notebook, I came across a page that featured big heart drawn by my daughter. She even makes me smile from 8,000 miles and 9 time zones away. I showed the journalists I was working with and they all responded with the appropriate “awww.”
- While at the pharmacy to pick up some Immodium for my upset stomach, I noticed a glass case featuring a package of “Breast Enlargement Cream.” The box showed some pretty big bazookas and guaranteed results. In the corner of the package was a U.S. flag. I’m so proud of our exports.
- The “public transport system” consists of private minivans picking people up and dropping them off along a predetermined route.
- There are only a few ATMs in the entire city, and only one bank. People mostly deal in cash, thanks to bank failures after the Soviet Union collapsed and the Tajiki civil war.
- During the week I was here, it regularly reached 100 during the day and dropped to 60 at night. Meanwhile, there is virtually no humidity. It takes only a short walk outside before my lips became chapped and I was dying for something cold to drink.
- I will be so grateful to be away from the incessant honking of these crazy drivers.
Lastly, my wonderful chaperone, Vadim, is one of those hard working, brilliant people who deserves better than what life has dealt. He speaks at least four languages, is unfailingly polite, funny and gracious. This trip wouldn’t have been possible without him, his colleagues at the U.S. embassy, the translator they arranged, or the many gracious people I met along the way, including all the fine journalists doing the people’s work under incredibly trying circumstances.