Dear readers . . .
With this blog series, I’m deviating from my normal pattern of posts on writing and mental wellness. Instead, I’ll focus on a recent vacation I took to Tajikistan with a friend, Nadia, and the stories of some of the amazingly strong women I have the privilege of knowing there.
This first post, and a possible later one or two, will be travelog-style. They will set the scene, especially for readers who may not be travelers. Between these logs, I’ll present some inspiring stories of courage in the midst of mind-numbing odds and endurance in harsh circumstances that have made my soul glow.
I hope they do the same for you.
Nadia and I got to the airport in plenty of time, which meant a long wait at an increasingly crowded gate.
Turkish Airlines started boarding 10-15 minutes late by lining us up in four columns per seat assignments. We stood motionless in line another 10-15 minutes. Then, nearly a half-hour late, we actually started moving onto the plane. The skybridge seemed interminable, one of the longest I’ve ever seen, with several twists and turns. Finally, we made it onto the plane. We took off about 30 minutes late, around 10:05 PM.
I was sleepy and kept drifting off, BUT:
- I couldn’t figure out how to get semi-comfortable in the chair till late in the flight.
- If you’ve ever traveled overseas, you know long flights require a large family with small children onboard. That way, no one sleeps.
Ours sat a couple of rows in front of us. The smallest child, a baby, kept crying, of course. The air pressure in the ears usually does it. The next youngest, a toddler, was one of those who enjoys screaming just because.
I had expected all of this and did my best to shrug it off. Two-three hours in, we’d all had dinner, and sure enough—the babies had settled down.
- Then grandma started.
I’ll never know, but I think she was dozing off and waking up disoriented. Whatever the reason, she had Machiavellian timing: she’d wait ten to fifteen minutes, just time enough for you to start dozing off, and then . . .
“HEY!!! WHO TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS?!? JUNIOR, GET OVER HERE! GET THESE DAD-BLASTED LIGHTS TO WORKING AGAIN!!! Did I fall asleep in my chair?”
I have no idea what she was actually saying, of course. I don’t speak her language. Still, based on her tone of voice, it must have been something like that.
After a minute or two of this, her chagrined family would rouse and calm her in hushed, insistent tones.
Then the cycle would repeat.
Altogether, I may have gotten 45 minutes of sleep on the eleven-and-a-half-hour flight. Ah, the adventures of travel!
Friday (Morning? Evening?)
The crew fed us breakfast an hour and a half before we landed at sunset Friday evening in Istanbul (Friday morning back home). They’d kept the smartglass windows blacked out for most of the flight, so we had the weird experience of only two-three hours of daylight before slipping back into darkness.
Our next flight left about 40 minutes after we touched down. Fortunately, we arrived only seven gates from the departure gate, but it was a long, fast walk nonetheless after sitting for hours. The line for boarding had already formed when we got there. By the time Nadia and I got on, there was no room to stow our carry-on luggage anywhere near us.
Still, we got yet another delicious meal on the four-hour flight. After three full meals at odd hours, I was stuffed!
Saturday After Midnight
I could see on my seatback screen via the cockpit camera that we arrived in Dushanbe in thick clouds and a steady rain. We had descended till the pilot lowered the landing gear when suddenly we accelerated and shot back up to cruising altitude. A nearby passenger who seemed to have piloting experience said we’d gotten down to about 200 feet. Anyway, the second approach went much smoother, eliciting a burst of applause from the cabin when we touched down.
Passing Immigration in Tajikistan was no different than doing so anywhere else: the same bored officials, the same nondescript kiosks, the same subdued but jostling lines of sleep-deprived passengers.
Baggage claim was a bit more chaotic than in some places, but not much. The main difference was that they hadn’t done a great job calculating curves and angles when designing the luggage carousels, so bags kept getting pushed off inside and outside the conveyor belt.
Our driver tired of waiting for us and pushed through customs security to find us—not something that would happen in the US or Europe! Still, this was fortunate; he helped us with the heavier bags. We got through customs with next to no struggle except for people trying to cut in line by pretending they didn’t see us standing there. 😃
We splashed through chilly puddles and a steady drizzle to where our driver had parked at a distance from the building. A short 10-minute ride later, we arrived at the hotel.
Bleary-eyed and damp, we stumbled through the large metal gate. A ramp stretched from the front of the tranquil, plant-filled courtyard into the lighted warmth of the hotel entrance. We checked in just after 2:00 AM. After straightening out a room mix-up, we showered and managed to get to bed by a quarter of 4:00.
Nadia didn’t realize that neither her watch nor her phone updated the time. She thought she was getting me up just after 9:00 AM Saturday morning. In fact it was 9:00 PM Friday evening at home, 7:00 AM in Tajikistan!
So running on three hours of sleep—after almost 36 awake—we hit the ground running. Some of Nadia’s friends and family came to visit us in the elegant hotel dining room. In the afternoon, we went out to shop for a few necessities. At a bazaar, I picked up a beautiful deep green headscarf which I figured might help me blend in a bit in some areas.
We had a late lunch at a beautifully ornate restaurant. There was a pot of green tea with lemon for the table, which we drank out of bowl-like cups. First course was a marinated tomato and cucumber salad with dill.
The tomatoes, like most of the fruits and vegetables I tasted in Tajikistan, were some of the ripest, juiciest ones I’ve ever had. Then came the main course, two types of kabobs:
- lamb and
- beef with cheese, wrapped in a crepe-thin flatbread and grilled.
Both were flavorful beyond belief!
Back at the hotel, I worked out in the spacious two-room gym that shares the hotel basement with offices and an indoor pool. Then I showered and took a short nap. We dined at the hotel around 8:00 PM, watched TV on our phones (nothing we cared to see on the local channels), and talked to loved ones before heading to bed.
It was a full couple of days.