Heading Home

As I left Dushanbe at 2:45 this morning local time, I still needed to find a few presents for folks back home. The shopping in Dushanbe is pretty much limited to staples for the population — food, housewares, etc. There are a few gift items, but not much.

So, at the airport I was relieved to see a small gift shop (and a rare refrigerated case where I could get a cold drink). Unfortunately for me, the gift pickings were still quite slim and the prices were exorbitant. (It seems the Tajikis have at least learned the capitalist lesson of a captive audience.) So, if you’re expecting a fine gift from Dushanbe, you might as well resign yourself to being disappointed.

As you might expect, it’s a rather indirect path to Dushanbe, Tajikistan (and back). From Washington, I fly to Frankfurt, then to Istanbul, and finally onto Dushanbe. And since I’m traveling courtesy of the State Department, I have to fly American carriers wherever possible. The good news is, that includes code-share flights. For example, on the flight over, I took Lufthansa, which has a code share with United.

Other airlines that code share with United include Turkish Airways, which is the airline I’m flying from Frankfurt to Istanbul, and from Istanbul to Dushanbe (and back). It turns out that Turkish actually has a direct flight from Dulles to Istanbul, which would have been a great flight to take. Only problem is, someone in the airline biz forgot check the box to indicate its code share with United. So, that flight isn’t available for State Department travel. Sigh.

Speaking of Turkish Airways — the service is outstanding and the lounge in Istanbul is luxurious beyond any airport facility I’ve ever seen. There are several open bars (help yourself!) copious olives of various varieties, sweets, coffees, teas, cold drinks, food made to order, a grand piano, computers, a kids play area, free Wi-Fi, a billiard table and much more. The service extends to the plane, too. I had fallen asleep on my last flight and when I awoke, breakfast service had already concluded. The flight attendant passed me by and said, “Would you like breakfast?” I replied that I thought it’d be too late. “Sir, it is never too late on Turkish Airways.” Of course, now that I type that, maybe he was describing the Turkish take on time rather than their excellent service?

Despite all that, it doesn’t mean there aren’t little things that catch me by surprise. For example, while boarding the Istanbul to Frankfurt flight, I noticed a mechanic opening the side of the plane’s engine and pouring in a can of motor oil. I’d expect that on the side of an Istanbul road with a dusty Range Rover or Opel, but on the tarmac of a loading plane? It seemed like a scene direct from Airplane!

Also, I’m not enough of a 30 Rock geek to know, but have they ever made a joke about Turkish Airways? Because the ground crews all operate under the name “TGS” for “Turkish Ground Services.” There’s got to be a good joke in there, Tina. I know you read my blog.

Women in this part of the world take their appearance very seriously. Not to say American women don’t, but let me just put it this way: It’s the rare woman here who isn’t wearing high heel shoes. To wit, the Turkish Airways pre-flight safety video includes the specific warning: “If we must evacuate the airplane, you should remove your high heel shoes.” It then goes on to give advice for caring for children in an emergency situation. You know, priorities.

Anyone else think the airplane exhaust pipe at the rear of the planes looks like the plane’s anus? Just sayin’.

I love the array of airlines in Istanbul. In addition to common western airlines, and Turkish, of course, there are a few you don’t usually see in the states, such as Kyrzgestan Airways, Air Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan Airlines. There’s no Tajikistan airline, which, based on the behavior of the nation’s drivers, is probably a *very* good thing.

My brother, David, would be very happy with the way people load planes in Istanbul. They open up all the doors to the plane and everyone enters from the doorway closest to their seats. Maybe that’s because of how people are unable to form a single line, which is a luxury I’m very much looking forward to enjoying when I return to the states.

I swear the concept of a line is completely mystifying in Dushanbe. Whenever a group of people need to funnel through a point of entry or exit, it’s like everybody turns into a walking platelet. A huge clot forms at the point of passage, with people pushing and struggling to get through.

For fuck’s sake, people, form a line! You’re not a bunch of 6 year old chasing a soccer ball!

Before I sign off, one more thing about Dushanbe: On my trip to Hissor fortress, I saw several men overloading a truck with wood. They clearly had every intention of loading as much on the truck as physically possible, and then some. It reminded me of a joke: “How do Tajikis know how much a truck can carry? They keep adding stuff until it breaks. Then they take off one item and fix the truck.”

Ok, that’s it. I’m chilling in Frankfurt for the final leg home. To my loyal readers (i.e., my mom and maybe my wife), I’ll see you soon.

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