Sunday, November 06, 2005

Tajik Air

Tajikistan is not a tourist destination. Period. There are several reasons for this but in part this is because to fly in or out of Tajikistan you basically are required to fly (read survive) Tajik Airline. Tajik Air is enough to keep basically anyone but either the most adventurous soul or the most committed activist from going there. Luckily for you reader, Activist Monkey here is both ;).

Starting from the Sharjah airport we knew it would be bad. We went to the Tajik counter where they demanded to weigh all our baggage, including carry-ons. There is a 20 kilo combined limit. We quickly shuffled around to hide heavy things in our handbags and then hide our handbags from the attendant but even with that we were all over the weight limit. We went to pay our fine across the terminal where we would then pick up our tickets. After a some ceremony we got our tickets and went to the central Asia wing of the airport.

Waiting for the plane, the monitors kept dropping our flight off the display. I asked someone about it - he took me to the transfer desk where the desk attendant told me to ignore the monitors completely because they are always wrong. He said just to wait - that they will yell out the flight when it is time.

There are assigned seats on Tajik air but this is just a joke - no one pays attention to them, in fact the flight attendant was in my seat and she just gestured for me to find another chair. Most of the seats are broken, and apparently the 20 kilo limit does not apply to the Tajik people AT ALL. They were carrying on 5 and 6 bags each. I think one man may have had a windshield. The planes are old Russian planes with visible internal patches that leak condensation upon landing.

After striking a bargain with God and landing safety in Dushanbe we got our visas and entered the baggage area to wait for our luggage. We waited for three hours, a record we were later told, for our baggage. At first we learned that it was because of Ramadan - that it was just night fall and that the luggage handlers were breaking their fast, then we heard that they had left, then we heard that they had to deliver the commercial baggage and would be back to unload ours. One man told me that it was because of the war in Afghanistan - don't ask me how. A flight came in from Bishkek and its luggage took ten minutes. We started to worry. Finally just as we were giving up hope of ever seeing it again, our luggage was unloaded. We heard later that most likely there was something in a bag or something was said that made them search all the baggage and that was what took so long. Baggage securely in hand we left the airport, finally.

-A. Monkey