War in the streets

Yesterday I witnessed my first bribe.

It was in the early evening and my chaperone, Vadim, and I were returning from a lovely dinner at an outdoor cafe situated high in the hills overlooking little Dushanbe. As we wound our way back through the small city, Vadim was busy navigating the Byzantine network of roads leading back to my hotel. We took a left onto the main boulevard — a beautiful tree-lined street with a lush green canopy — when he suddenly pulled over and hopped out.

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Tajikistan Taxis

Well, I made it. I’m in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, alive and well. The plane arrived around 3:30 a.m. and it took at least an hour to go through immigration and customs. Actually, it took mere minutes to go through immigration and customs, but an hour to wait for the luggage to be brought out. I’m fairly certain there was one guy unloading the entire plane and he clearly was in no hurry.

When I finally emerged from the airport to meet my contact, I scanned the crowd for someone holding a sign with my name. No luck. As I made my way through the parking lot, I was engulfed by a pack of middle aged men. In turn they approached me with a mixture of the shy caution and the sly manner of someone fencing stolen goods or front-row tickets to a playoff game. Based on their expressions, I expected to be offered heroin or a prostitute. They gave me a little head nod and quietly uttered, “Taxi?”

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Beer O-Clock

It’s been about 12 hours since my last missive (I think… I’ve kind of lost track of time), and in the interim, I’ve made a few observations and crossed Europe into Asia.

First things first. I spent most of the day relaxing in the Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt, enjoying the free drinks (yes, Germans do drink beer at 8 a.m.) free sausages (yes, you can eat too many sausages in one day), and the free shower.

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Dulce de Dushanbe

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.

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