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:
I had planned to tell you about my day hiking in the mountains outside Dushanbe. Or, perhaps, providing some wrap-up to my week as I pack to head home. Maybe, even, a series of photos to show some of the other images I’ve captured over the last week. But those will have to wait. A few minutes ago I came upon a scene so tragic and senseless that I decided I had to write about it.
Today was my day at “American Corner,” where locals come to hear an American speak in his/her native tongue. I was asked to discuss social media and its role in creating a civil society, a topic I’m sure a great many American journalists would consider a contradiction in terms.
I began my talk by showing some examples of journalism in which engaging with readers improved the quality of the reporting. This included Sunlight’s live blog, our 180 degree project, projects I worked on at USA TODAY, and projects from the New York Times and other media organizations. The audience seemed suitably swayed that social media could be a tool for good and not just for teens or evil (as if there’s a difference).
Today was a long teaching/training day. At 9 we went to what appeared to be an abandoned building to visit a small news agency called Kloop.tj. As I’ve learned from my various visits to Jakarta, eastern Russia, and now Tajikistan, office architecture is often in inverse proportion to the passion and dedication of the office staff.
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.
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?”
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.