Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The name of my last post "Last Weekend of Fun" sounds so final, like I'll never have another one. Things to write about come a little slower now that I'm back in familiar territory, but I feel like I've come back with a full cup. I'm nicer and less anxious. Ditto for my cat, Mr. Gursky. It's like I'm living with a different creature. Maybe, just maybe, he was reflecting my nuttiness? He wants and has to go out and explore every day at the same time. It seems like my needs are not so different. And five years was a little too long for me not to "go out".

Apologies to my mother for this need of mine. She called me on my layover in Chicago and her first question was, "Are you back on U.S. soil?" My dad is a little more subtle. While I waited in Chicago, he called me on his way home from work, like he often does, just to catch up and tell me that, per the usual, we'd meet up somewhere for dinner on Tuesday night. He'd be in touch. Bless them for trying to be supportive. They had no idea when I was a teenager and bristling under their boundaries, how far I was itching to go. Neither did I.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Last Weekend of Fun

Food delivered to our topchan.

Our Topchan near the river in Varzob.


Our lovely tour guide at Hissar. The unibrow works for her, no?

View at Hissar Fortress. Central Asia or Central Utah?

Brides and Bread

A bowing bride

Hissar Fortress

Making bread at the tea house. Bless her. She has to lean over a hot oven even in the summer.
The Ladies at the tea house.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grand Love

Another of my favorite lady travellers: Beryl de Zoete -- "Married in 1902, she and her husband Basil de Selincourt practiced celibacy and vegetarianism. She knew that her marriage had broken down when her husband brought home another woman and began eating beefsteak." So she started to travel.

A strong argument against marital celibacy would be the number of times I heard about the influence of a grandparent this summer.

First, there was my neighbor on the flight from Istanbul to Dushanbe. He was traveling for work with a medical supply company that had an office in Dushanbe. His tales of being in Dushanbe three years before included washing his hair with bottled water and no electricity. When I asked him if he thought it was better now, he said, "Let's see." with a cat-like grin on his face. (For the record, I experienced none of that.) He'd grown up in Holland and then immigrated back to Lebanon as a teenager with his family, gone to Canada for school, and then moved to Belgium for work. When he learned I was from the U.S., he said his grandfather had gone to Michigan around the time of World War II, leaving his family in Lebanon. He worked there for seventeen years sending money home and trying to earn enough to bring them to the U.S, but he died before he could. My row-mate said he still had letters his grandfather had sent, and that now his own sister lived in Michigan. So in a way, the family made it there after all.

Mimi told me early on about her grandmother. We were waiting at a carwash cafe sipping on Sprite at a little table with cages of blue and yellow parakeets behind us. The mist from the hoses brought little puffs of relief from the heat. Mimi smokes long, thin cigarettes that smell like apples; she's always careful to blow the smoke away from me, but when the wind picks it up and brings it back on occasion, it's like sitting in a cloud of potpourri. She likes to practice her English as much as possible so I told her I'd show her how I wanted to start my first class using pictures of my family to introduce myself. She listened and then started to share about her own family in an unbroken narrative like she'd been waiting for the chance. Her mother and father had always worked. Her mother had run the only local movie theater during Soviet times. This left Mimi to care for her sister, who was 9 years younger. It was her grandmother, she said, who had taught her to be a good person, to be polite, not to show anger, and this one sticks out, not to scream during labor.

Ella's grandfather helped her get a driver's license. And when she couldn't agree with her father on what to study in college (her choice was architecture), she got a job instead at a grocery store so she didn't have to study something she didn't want to. And it was her grandfather who would push his grocery cart over near the fish counter to watch her from a distance with pride.

Friday, August 6, 2010


I will post more photos soon from my adventure.

Once upon a time, the thought of turning 30 at home was repellant to me. Luckily, I had a friend living in London, so I didn't have to. While wandering one day around the city, I happened upon an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery called "Off the Beaten Track--Three Centuries of Women Travellers." There were portraits of the women themselves, some dressed as men or in native dress so they could travel in dangerous places incognito. There were sketches or photographs of the places they'd been. Many had traveled with their husbands and others had used it as an escape from bad marriages, spinsterhood, or Victorian society. One of my favorites is Isabella Bird. In the book I bought of the exhibit, it says, "Isabella Bird started travelling in her early twenties. Her first journeys, to North America, were undertaken to relieve her spinal problems and other illnesses. These mysteriously vanished when she went abroad, but reappeared each time she returned."

I have brought home with me a cold. This is not a reappearance of a previous illness, but as always there is a little let down now that I'm home. I wonder if this counts as "other illnesses." At least I know the remedy.

Should I segue this into a normal blog? "Utah and Deliver" doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but maybe I'll try.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tap Water and Peanut Butter

One of my students, a border guard, checked my passport for my flight out of Dushanbe at 5:20am (no wonder he was always yawning, red-eyed, and then had stopped coming altogether). He didn't see me until I handed it to him, and then he lost his professional face for a brief second. While typing my name into the computer with his two index fingers he said, "Air-een" with a smirk and then I got a, "Goodbye!" While shuttling on the tarmac to the plane, I noticed three huge helicopters and wondered if these were the ones flown by my gift-giving, test-missing student.

I made it home. I was starting to wonder if the little pouches of socks, toothbrushes, eye covers, and lip balm provided on Turkish Airlines flights were more for the sake of precaution (just in case your luggage doesn't show up, here are some things you might need) than luxury, but after waiting just long enough to start composing my conversation with the airline people in my head, my bags did arrive.

This morning I hear pieces of conversations and voices of friends, Ella's gestures as she uses her hands to punctuate what she's saying like she's Italian or something, and Mimi's half wry grin as she remarks on something less than remarkable. All indications that it's not just my luggage that has come home with me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Calculated Risks

At the green bazaar a few days ago, there were fresh raspberries and blackberries for sale. Some had been juiced and the deep purple juice put into big open bowls for sampling. Buying a drink from a vendor and using a shared glass is normal for the locals but as you can imagine, risky business for visitors. So I watched with a little disbelief as a backpack-ladened tourist sampled this juice from a vendor's glass, even catching a sneaky little dribble that had escaped and run down the outside. I realized Ella was watching too when we both gasped at the same time.

When I left home, I admit to some last minute nerves in the taxi going to the airport. To my ears, it still sounded so....strange that I was going to Tajikistan, but I hugged the cat, turned the key, looked around and thought, "See you in about 18,000 miles." I only hope that tourist's risk turned out as well as mine. But I doubt it.