Saturday, September 22, 2012

September 22, 2012

Our flight arrived on time, 3:20am local time, and I was delighted to be able to skip the usual ride from the plane to terminal in a bus which is so prevalent in Central Asia. We walked directly into a pleasant building, the floors covered in tiles, and I headed to the visa section where the immigration officer, who spoke fluent English, informed me I had downloaded the wrong form and didn’t need any photos. He had me complete a simple form and pay $70.00 which took about five minutes. Bags were coming into the carrousel by the time I got there and after some difficulty loading them into the cart, I proceeded to the X-ray section of the building where after a cursory inspection I was able to reload the bags and proceed to the next room. About a dozen people were standing around holding welcome signs and among them there was one for me. I was so relieved to find Natalia, the embassy’s English Language Programs coordinator, waiting for me that all the tiredness, sleeplessness and even hunger went away immediately. She hugged and kissed me on the cheek gladly sharing her mutual relief to see me there.

Her driver helped with my bags and I asked Natalia if we could stop along the way to my hotel so I could pick up something to eat. The first impression of the city was that it seemed less grand, leafy or bright than Dushanbe. The road from the airport to the city was uneven and poorly lit. There were few trees and many of them seemed to have been planted recently. Houses consisted of single family affairs with little or no paint and worse yet, no signs of any landscaping around. We stopped at a supermarket where I was able to buy a cold sandwich and a carton of juice having already being provided with water by Natalia. We drove through a couple of streets lacking in lighting, Natalia confirmed this was not unusual at all, until we got to a guest house and I was asked to complete just two lines of the registration form.

I was led to single-story room featuring hardwood floors, a king-size bed, three-piece bathroom (all tiled) and containing a table, TV set and a chair in addition to an ample wardrobe. I was told breakfast was included in the price, which I forgot to inquire what it was, and coffee would the instant kind. Natalia told me Gulnora would be picking me up in the afternoon to show me where my post would be located. I went to bed immediately and got up around noon to make some coffee in the kitchen. Leyla, an instructor at the Lingua School, came by with a driver and took me to visit my post saying that Gulnora would be waiting for me there to take me out to eat later on.

Welcoming sitting area outside my room at the Demi Guest House

                    Outdoor area of the guest house

                          My spacious yet spare room

                             The rest of the room

The city is definitely dowdy in comparison to Dushanbe as there are no skyscrapers, brightly-colored shops or even the profusion of landscaping in front of all government buildings that seemed mandatory there. My post will be located inside an office building, on the third floor, in the middle of downtown. I was heartened by the fact that all classrooms had whiteboards and the staff had access to lounge with a fridge, microwave and bathroom. Gulnora mentioned that pirated textbooks have just been outlawed in the country and they had had to buy an entire new series for all students. We went back outside to have lunch at an Indian restaurant where I was able to eat a reasonable rendition of lamb biryani, but the garlic nam bread had no flavor or texture whatsoever. Gulnora was very cautious in her choices and only ordered tomato soup and bread.

                                A wedding party at park. 

                          The requisite decorated limousine stood nearby.

We then walked to the Tsum Department store so I could obtain my new cell phone number.  Using the Nokia phone Peter gave me last year, the process was a snap. Gulnora loaned me the local money needed and then we went to exchange money at a rate of 47.00 som for every dollar.  We hopped in a taxi and then I noticed that the driver sat on the right side of the car. Gulnora confirmed that there are tons of these cars in the city that made you think you were in Japan or England.

While I was hoping to get into the apartment search immediately, I was told that no real estate agent is involved in the process here and instead, I have to rely on one of the post’s employees who has pulled ads for flats near nearby for me to go and see next Monday. I was disappointed as I had imagined doing one of those “My First Place” type of scenario by supplying the real estate agent with my list of “Must Haves”. So, I have tomorrow totally off to get myself entirely lost in this new city.

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