Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Leaving Tajikistan

Last night was our last in Tajikistan before starting our marathon journey home. After a nice dinner at the favorite ex-pat restaurant we met some new friends from our hike on Sunday at a bar for beers. Beers led to a silly impromptu photo shoot at the first bar before heading to the local discoteque. Although popular with the international crowd on Friday nights we didn't expect anyone to be there on a Tuesday. I think we were the only nonlocals there. There was an interesting blend of music and dance styles at the club. Tajik dancing is kind of a slow quick quick slow quick quick foot pattern with a complicated set of hand gestures. One of our friends who has been living there for almost a year is great at it. Besides dancing, vodka shots are the thing to do at the club. Being a sensible monkey, around 2:30am I decided that if my car was coming to take me to the airport at 6am it was probably about time to call it a night.

Our car was early and we said goodbye to Dushanbe driving through the empty streets in the just barely predawn morning. At the airport our fabulous driver and interpreter left us to fend for ourselves with Tajik Air. I had a remarkably smooth check in process. All my baggage was just under 20 kilo so no penalties and I figured out something to write on the all Russian customs declaration form that was at least close enough to what they were looking for to let me in. The passport control officer stared at my passport for what felt like several minutes, carefully going through each page before pausing as if about to say something to me changing him mind and stamping me through. Sitting in the waiting lounge I began to watch for my colleague. Her trip through was not as smooth. First after being sent to pay for excess baggage she got upstairs to the fee counter to learn that the amount she had been told downstairs had somehow doubled. After finding me for more money, she paid up and retrieved her boarding pass and filled out the customs form. The passport control officer, however, did not stamp her through but rather started questioning her in Russian about the militia. As I mentioned in an earlier post our knowledge of Russian is pathetic and two weeks in Tajikistan didn't do much to improve it. Finally it was clear that he was looking for proof that she had registered with the militia when she entered the country. This registration is a requirement that we vaguely knew about and failed to comply with. She indicated that she hadn't done it and asked what to do and he just sort of waved her away as though to say that's your problem. He also refused to return her passport. She tried unsuccessfully to bribe him. At this time she starts frantically asking if anyone speaks English so she can figure out a way to talk to this guy or someone about how to fix it. We were separated by a pane of glass and she mouths to me militia and passport and then takes off toward the door out of the airport. At first I thought she was going to get the militia because someone had stolen her passport but I remembered someone mentioning at the disco the night before that we might have trouble because we failed to register but a bribe would fix it. This made the close inspection my passport received make more sense, although why I was allowed to pass and she was not is completely beyond me. She was gone a long time, the flight time was getting close and I began to freak out. There is only one flight out a week to Dubai and our visas expired that day and I was already stamped out of the country and I was nervous of drawing attention to myself as I also hadn't registered and should I get on the plane without her and what was in the hell was I going to tell my boss, "well the bad news is that she is stuck in Tajikistan but the good news is that she has time for more interviews" yeah not seeing it going over too well. I was about to ask the guy seated near me if I could borrow his cell to call our hosts to come and try to save us when she was finally allowed through. Apparently she was able to find someone who spoke English and they helped translate for her. She made an attempt to bribe the guard but for some unusual reason he also stopped her, then said something to the passport officer who stamped her passport and handed it over. She walked through the final security check and officially left Tajikistan. I never thought I would be that happy to get onto a Tajik Air plane.