Last Day in Khojand: Lenin, Short-Term Employment, Pharmaceuticals and a Controversial Author

Khujand Travel Blog

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Standing proud over Khojand
My last day in northern Tajikistan was fairly quiet compared to the raging adventure I'd been used to in this country. However, it offered me a little time to rest and catch up. Halim and I ate breakfast at a nearby cafe and he went on to work while I walked toward the city. It was finally a mostly sunny day and I was finally going to properly visit the mammoth Lenin statue, which is now the largest in Central Asia. The plinth itself was taller than some buildings, and I suspect from the statue's bottom to the top of Lenin's head was about 60 meters. He stood majestic overlooking the Syr Darya river and the main part of the city of Khojand. Behind him were clear mountains and a series of flags blowing in the cool morning wind. There's nothing like a dose of Sovietiana to get the day started, and after I'd had my fill I continued across the bridge towards the center.
Hotel Leninobod and the Syr Darya River

I hadn't even opened a web browser before a woman appeared in the Internet cafe asking for help. I explained that I didn't work there or speak Russian, but she switched to English and asked if I would help her type some things. I sheepishly agreed and after trying three computers I sat down to type out this woman's statement of purpose, reference and CV for an application for a teacher training immersion program in the USA. Despite the deadline passing by one day, she was determined to send it in as quickly as possible by mail. I presumed she was going to bribe the postmaster to backdate the postmark, but in any case she was pleased with the hour's worth of work I put in for her and gave me 10 somoni for my efforts. I thought at first this was for the use of the computer and printer, but before she stepped out of the door, I saw she paid the clerk as well. Thus began and concluded my fleeting moment of earning money in Tajikistan, but I made a mental note to increase my rates the next time.

Halim and I met at 1:30 for lunch at a yellow cafe in which we were the only customers. Lunch turned out to be delicious and unusual. We ordered tea, but it came in a pot sweetened and with lemon and was quite refreshing after the chilly weather. Our meal was a Chinese-style dish with thin slices of beef (no fat!), tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, garlic, lemon chunks (rind and all) and soy sauce. Yum! We were supposed to go to the English discussion hour at the American Corner in a nearby library, but we had just missed it. Nonetheless we met David, an American Fellow who was spending a year teaching at the university and staffing the American Corner, a small room full of English books and occasional posters of Americana. Halim asked if David could host me that night since he was leaving for Dushanbe, and since David lived conveniently close it was a better option for me than two other possible options further away in town. He agreed, and we planned to meet around 5pm back in front of the library.

Meanwhile it was getting later in the afternoon and Halim had several errands to run. We walked faster than the crowd all the way downtown, stopping at four or five drugstores to load up on various packages of pharmaceutical products. Halim works as a consultant for a regional pharmaceutical company so this was somehow tied to his business I presumed. He called a taxi and we loaded up the supplies and drove nearly out of town to deliver them to a burly man next to a gas station on the eastern fringe of the city. At that point it was already 4:30 and I was wondering how we were going to get back to Halim's apartment, pack up, meet David and still have time for Halim to make it to his 6pm flight! Of course in Central Asian time it all works out.

After saying goodbye to Halim, David and I walked back to his swank (for Khojand) apartment in the center of the city. He cooked a dinner of steak and corn, one at a time because he only had one gas burner, and a can of pineapple. He explained that a nearby store stocked all sorts of western goods imported from Canada, and he had such luxury items as hot sauce, dental floss and soft scented toilet paper with pink clouds. We snacked on the chocolate I'd bought earlier and then went to check our emails again at an Internet cafe. There I learned he had just published an article on using child labor for cotton picking, a practice common throughout Uzbekistan and northern and western Tajikistan. The article was quite blunt, and he seemed excited at the prospect that he might be kicked out of the country for writing it. Actually, though, he confessed he ran the copy by US embassy staff who approved it as reasonable. The next day it would appear on translated in Russian, but would remain untranslated into Uzbek.

David left the Internet earlier than I did, and when I got back I found the fold-out couch made and a 15-degree sleeping bag for a blanket. I took a long, hot shower and enjoyed the comfort of a warm apartment and especially warm sleeping bag. In the morning David cooked breakfast and saw me off on a taxi to the airport, where I'd spend my last day in the country back where I'd started.
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Standing proud over Khojand
Standing proud over Khojand
Hotel Leninobod and the Syr Darya …
Hotel Leninobod and the Syr Darya…
photo by: hauteboy