Monthly Archives: February 2012

Panshanbe Market, Khujand

Panshanbe Market, Khujand, Feb. 25, 2012

A bunny at a toy store on the second floor terrace of Panshanbe Market in Khujand has its back to the large hall behind her, filled mostly with food stalls. Photo by David Sears.

Our first independent expedition into one of the best-stocked markets in Central Asia (according to Lonely Planet) was Saturday. We had a few goals – find some plastic serving trays that were not too ugly, get a small plastic stool so I could sit down in the shower, find a plastic cup that even I can’t break for the bathroom, and to take photos. We were successful except for the plastic cup. In a land of plastic items from China, it is difficult to find cups and glasses that are not china or glass. What surprised me the most, however, is that we could walk through the market without any merchants accosting us. It is difficult to walk through the market because the aisles are narrow and, at least on a Saturday afternoon, throngs of people are out shopping. But the merchants leave you alone unless you ask them about their products.

David was taking most of the photos, and the photos on this post are his, unless otherwise notes.

The pink market with arches and domes was built in 1954 on a large square.

The 1954 building spans the south side of the city’s central square.

The pink and green theme of the market is reflected in its dome. Photo by Nancy

The first floor of the large hall is mostly food items.

Traditional bread is available everywhere in town, including the Panshanbe Market. Khujand bread is considered one of the best in the country. Photo by Nancy

Spices, seeds and rocks are on sale.

The inside terraces that line the hall are filled with clothes, jewelry, electrical supplies, toys, cosmetics, towels and sheets, and most anything you could find in a department store. It is here that you have the most difficult time moving forward and staying with your companions, through the dense crowd.

The market spills outside the building.

A busy intersection behind the market, including a restaurant where they are cooking kebabs on the outside grill. Photo by Nancy

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Crashing in Khujand

As our friends who are on David’s email list know, we had a “bumpy landing” in Khujand. The plane ride was fine, short and smooth, thank goodness because the plane was Soviet from the 1970s. But when we got to our apartment, our life became difficult. Our landlords are a nice, young couple. Anwar, the husband, usually takes care of the apartment, but is studying in Germany. His wife, Anisa, is hard working and sweet, but not too practical. She came to the apartment for the first time in more than a month the same time we did. She did not know how to work the key. The apartment heaters were turned off and the water pipes had frozen. We spent that night, and the next two, in a hotel. Ironically, that first night at the hotel the water stopped running after David had his shower, but I was in the middle of mine. The next morning, we had water, but the electricity went off all over town for a few hours.

The most interesting thing about the hotel is that there were two rooms. The “normal” room was heated (when the electricity worked). One wall was covered by curtains. If you pull back the curtains, you have a glass wall and door that leads into a large domed, round room, with a small table and four chairs in the middle and small windows along the edge of the dome. We never did find out what was that room’s function (supposedly when heating was not necessary), but we let our imaginations run with it for a while.

What's behind the curtain?

The mysterious room

We have been in our apartment about 10 days, Anwar is on break and is at home and has taken care of the few remaining glitches in the apartment. David is working, we are familiarizing ourselves with the city. We have some favorite restaurants and grocery stores, and we have established some routines. As usual, the initial bumps are receding. Looking back, they didn’t last long, but when you are in them, they seem to go on forever.

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January Books


January Books

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998 in Turkish, English translation 2001).

Pamuk winner of the Nobel Prize shortly after this book was published has written a fascinating book on several levels. First, it is a good murder mystery novel. Each chapter is written in first person, with the name of the person talking being the chapter head. The first chapter is the corpse that is the center of the story, reminding me of Sunset Boulevard. Secondly it is a love story. Thirdly, Istanbul itself is one of the characters. Fourthly it is an insight into the various classes in Istanbul at that time. And fifthly, it is about miniaturist paintings in the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s. You learn a lot about pictorial art and Islam, and why the miniaturists were allowed, but the “Frankish” art in which you could actually recognize the person and in which perspective was introduced so that a dog might be bigger than a tree was considered unholy. This discussion illuminates the philosophical differences between Islam and the West today. Highly recommended.

A Turkish miniature as featured in My Name is Red

The Oracle of Stambul by Michael Lukas (2011).

The number of books that feature a girl protagonist who is not nicely balanced with a boy is rare. And such a girl – young, plucky, genius – was a particular pleasure. Once again Istanbul itself is one of the major characters, and since I read this book and My Name Is Red while in Istanbul or shortly thereafter, the pleasure was doubled. This time, however, we are at the end of the 19th century, and we glimpse again life within the Topaki palace. From what Lukas says in his introduction and who he cites as inspiration, I surmise that he meant this book to be deeper than I found it. Also, the writing itself is only O.K. Mostly it does not get in the way of the story, with only a few slips. But the story is charming and if I should into another book of his, I would not be afraid to give it a go.

Globalization: A Very Short Introduction by Manfred B. Steger (2009).

This was a “work” book that I am glad to have read. It is a useful overview of the subject looking at five, intertwining domains – economic, political, cultural, environmental and ideological. I may use it as one of my textbooks for Introduction to International Studies. In addition to an overview of a subject Steger’s word choice and presentation would make it a good introduction to reading critically and analyzing the information and the perspective from which it is being presented. If you are interested in the subject, I recommend this as a good starter book.

M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio by Peter Robb (1998).

One of my favorite Caravaggio's paintings, Judith Beheading Holofernes


Caravaggio (who incidentally worked at the same time that My Name is Red is about) is one of my favorite painters, and this book has been sitting on my shelf for years. Not much is known about Caravaggio’s life, although he is known for being a “bad boy” who challenged social and sexual mores of his time and who died mysteriously. Robb manages to take the approximate 50 pages of actual information one can gather about him from police records, letters and histories and manages through repetition and convoluted story telling to turn it into a 500 page book. It could easily have been cut to 300 pages without losing any details or his vivid descriptions of the paintings themselves. But if you are interested in this late 16th-early 17th century painter who wowed the art world of his time, it is worth plodding through the prose for a good story and a better understanding of his art.

My favorite Caravaggio, Love the Winner

O’Halloran’s Luck and Other Stories by Stephen Vincent Benet. (I couldn’t find a publication date on this old book, but copyrights for the individual stories were from 1926-1939, with most of them coming between 1936 and 1939)

Apparently Benet was quite popular during his time, including winning a Pulitzer Prize for a long poem that he wrote. I found this to be an interesting collection. I would call the writing style “dated,” but not the themes, and I have a soft spot of “old styles” of writing (I am presently reading Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope.) The stories in this collection included folksy, charming stories and other pondered the modern human condition. A couple were written in response to the totalitarians he saw in Germany and elsewhere at the time. None of the stories were bad, but then again, none of them left me saying “golly gee, wow.” My favorites were:

  • The title story in which a leprechaun has followed the Irish immigrants to America.
  • Doc Mellhorn and the Pearly Gates because of its conceptions of heaven and hell and that an atheist (more or less) gets to discover them. It has one of the best opening lines.
  • The Blood of the Martyrs, which tells of the last day of a scientist who doesn’t care a fig about politics but is living under totalitarian rule.
  • Everybody Was Very Nice for its twist at the end. A man is telling an old school buddy he hasn’t seen in years about his first marriage, divorce and remarriage.

All the photos on this page were taken from the Internet.

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Hissar — expedition out of Dushanbe

This view of the reconstructed fort is from inside the fort, not the view one normally sees on the travel brochures.

We have thoroughly touristed Dushanbe, including our last venture outside of the city to the Hissar Fort. Almost any website associated with tourism in Tajikistan will feature the reconstructed gates of the 18th century fort, used until 1924 and destroyed by the Red Army. Behind the gates, you can climb through the foundations of what remains of the real fort and up some hills for good views of the surrounding mountains. It was a hazy, winter day so many of our photos do not reflect the gorgeous snow-covered mountains that we could see.

After you are done clambering around the fort, you can cross the street to the 16th century medressa, now a museum. A 17th century medressa is also across the street, deserted now. And behind them is a mausoleum for Makhdum Azam, a 16th century Sufic teacher.

The adventure of all this is that we managed independently, without speaking Russian or more than a few words in Tajik. First, we walked about two blocks to Rudaki Avenue and stood on the street (about 3 minutes) until a #8 shared taxi came by and took us to the Zarnisar market on the west side of town, not far from the US embassy. (While there are the taxis we are used to, Dushanbe also has a system of numbered taxis that run specific routes. They are three somonis [60 cents] per person for anywhere on the route. Although they are more expensive than the buses and the maruschkas [vans], they are a lot more comfortable since the top number of passengers a taxi can hold at a time is four.)

At Zanisar market, which is also a gathering place for lots of transportation, you find another shared taxi to take you to the town of Hissar, which is 30 km (18 miles) to the west of Dushanbe. We found one who gave us what we thought was a reasonable price (60 somonis, $6 each) and we didn’t have to share the ride. Plus, he took us all the way to the fort, which is another seven kilometers from Hissar. To get home, we first took a two somoni ride back to the town of Hissar, and then got a taxi to take just the two us back to the Zanisar market in Dushanbe for only 25 somonis ($2.60 each. I think we got “robbed” for the ride out.) Then, back home on a #8 taxi.

While on the subject of taxis, let me praise the taxi drivers and other drivers in Dushanbe. I heard that they were “crazy,” But except for one young man today who tried to drag race against another taxi on our way to Zanisar market, they have been good drivers who drive at reasonable speed and respect pedestrians and other cars. They may take a few risks passing slow vehicles on a major road on a curve, but that’s nothing compared to what I have seen in China, Indonesia or Italy. And, as a pedestrian, I feel safe crossing the street and cars have even stopped to let me by.

Since there is nothing left of tourist interest in Dushanbe until the spring when the open-air tea houses and bars are in full swing and trips out of town to some gorges for good scenery are worthwhile, we are ready to get going to Khujand. May it please be soon.

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Tajik journalists Abdullah Ashurov, Jamila Mirbozkhonova, Aslam Muminov, Marhabo Azamatovna

One of the good things about being a journalist in Tajikistan is that you have a lot more independence that those working in government, say the four journalists I chatted with recently. As an example, one of them showed me a full-page story she wrote about her trip to Jaipur, India.

I met the four through a contact in Dushanbe. Aslam Muminov is an economics editor and also reports for the only daily newspaper in Tajikistan, Imruz News. I haven’t seen a copy of it, so I don’t know if both words are in Cyrillic or if News is spelled with the Latin alphabet. Imruz means “today’s” and the four joked that one word is in Tajik and the other in English. Abdullah Ashurov, who went to university in Russia as well as Tajikistan and who has worked for a Russian newspaper and the Russian publication AsiaPlus (English version at now works for a youth program on Radio Liberty. Marhabo Azamatovna is the chief editor of the Russian Language Program for the National Information Agency of Tajikistan “Khovar.” Jamila Mirbozkhonova is a political and feature reporter for the weekly newspaper Ozodagon. All have Tajik university education in journalism, history or economics and all are full-time, professional journalists, between their late twenties and forties (I am guessing their ages, based on their appearance.) Asia Plus is a popular news source in Tajikistan, for those who have Internet access.

In this blog post, I am summarizing what they told me, but have not been able to verify it — not because I tried and couldn’t get verification, but because I have not yet talked with anyone else about these topics and I can’t read Cyrillic, let alone Tajik or Russian. So all the comments below are from their perspective – working in a language that is not their own, but that they speak moderately well. Plus, you will notice that they talked only of print journalism.

Another good thing about being a journalist, they told me, is that journalists can help poor people. People with problems come to them and ask them to write about it, and then people in the government see the stories and sometimes help. When I interviewed a broadcast journalist in China 10 years ago, I was told the same story. The people came to the journalists for help, rather than the government, because with the publicity, the government is more likely to remedy the situation.

The conversation quickly moved to some of the aspects that are not good for Tajik journalists.

Running a newspaper is expensive. An independent (from the government) newspaper makes its money through circulation and advertising. The advertising market is quite small in Tajikistan. Circulation of most newspapers is also quite small, perhaps 2-3,000 for most of them. Newspapers cost 1.5 to 2 somoni (about 30-40 U.S. cents), which is expensive for most Tajiks. We were speaking in the American Corner in Dushanbe – two rooms full of computers and information about the US run by the embassy in one of the university buildings – and I noticed that the three newspapers Jamila brought to show me were quickly snatched up by onlookers to be read while the five of us talked.

A big expense for newspapers is the newsprint. The Freedom House site ( reports that the government controls newsprint distribution. However, my four colleagues disagreed and said the government does not control any of the companies that import the newsprint from Russia (none is manufactured in Tajikistan), but the paper is expensive. So is printing, although there are numerous printers in town. But, they continued, the government does assert some control on circulation through the mail. Independent publications must pay relatively high postal rates while government sponsored publications are posted at a much lower rate.

Another way that the government influences news content is that access to information can be difficult for a journalist working for an independent news source. The laws do not require ministry officials to give information to journalists or to the public. The government officials will frequently ignore requests and give what information they do want publicized to the government supported media.

The lack of technology is another problem for the Tajik journalists. The newspapers cannot pay for phone use or laptops for their reporters, although they may have computers in their offices.

The print media are technically free (although I believe the television broadcasting stations are government owned, or at least heavily government regulated). However, government officials can still harass journalists who become too critical of the President or of other political or economic doings. Not that my four friends are afraid that they would be put into jail, at least not longer than a few months, but they and their newspapers can be harassed in other ways, such as having their taxes raised and eventually being forced out of business.

I read on the Reporters Without Borders site ( that Dodojon Atovulloev, a Tajik journalist who founded the first opposition newspaper after Tajikistan’s independence and who was forced out of Tajikistan in 2001, was stabbed in the stomach while at a restaurant in Moscow last month. He was badly hurt, but survived. Atovulloev now lives in Hamburg and Moscow and maintains editorial offices there.

The last problem that Jamilia, Abdullah, Aslam and Marhoba talked about was journalists’ pay. They work hard for little pay and many journalists have other jobs to make ends meet. This would mean that they have less time to do their reporting jobs.

I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that these four busy journalists gave me on that winter afternoon and hope to learn more about their profession in Tajikistan as well as keeping in touch with them. The fact that they said I could report what they said using their names shows that Tajik journalism is different from the time of the Soviet Union.

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