Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Last Stop -- Dushanbe

We are set of for Dushanbe a little nervously because several people had told us that the road between Khujand and Dushanbe was rather treacherous. The adventure began with a trip to the bus station where cars wait for passengers for this 10 hour drive. We were quickly surrounded by a large group of drivers, trying to convince us that they had the best car for the trip. We ignored the Mercedes and Volgas and looked only at the 4 wheel drive jeeps before beginning the haggling process. We finally decided upon a large grey jeep whose experienced driver offered us the best price and were soon on our way to Dushanbe. The ride over two mountain passes of around 4000 meters was quite spectacular, but truly a bit frightening at times as we drove on winding, steep, narrow, dirt roads. Nonetheless, we were amazed by the beauty of our journey and the 8 hours passed quickly as we enjoyed not only the views, but glimpses of the Chinese construction work on the new road and tunnels, stops to let sheeps pass, and a couple of breaks to try local dried fruits. The only disapointment was that we were unable to stop in Istaravshan as planned because our driver told us that if we didn't get over the first pass by 2 pm, then we would have to wait until 6 pm to continue because of the road construction.

The drive into Dushanbe was more than a bit surprising. After gazing for hours at majestic scenary and small rustic houses, we were shocked to see that the suburbs of Dushanbe were filled with large villas with empty swimming pools. Our driver told us that these new houses or dachas were recently built by Tajikistan's newly rich, mostly government officials. The Hotel Mercury was equally astounding -- a large new building with a giant rock/cave and waterfall in its courtyard. Despite its somewhat strange exterior, the hotel proved to be very comfortable because each room was equipped with both a computer and good internet service.

In Dushanbe our visit focused on the wonderful BACTRIA Cultural Center. This educational and cultural center was founded by the French seven years ago and as far as we know, is the only organization supporting contemporary art in Dushanbe. Bactria. They host a wide variety of traditional and contemporary art and cultural programs, including performances, film screenings, exhibitions, lectures, and workshops as well as language classes. We spent most of our time with BACTRIA's excellent staff, Jamshed, Adrienne, and Faruh, discussing future collaboration. It was immediately clear that BACTRIA would be the ideal partner in Dushanbe for the Global Art Lab and that there are many opportunities for collaborating with them. We also spoke at BACTRIA with a group of artists about our plans and were pleased that the audience included artists of all ages. We were very impressed that BACTRIA was working in collaboration with local arts organizations and had initiated and curated a permanent exhibition of contemporary Tajik Art at the National Museum.

My impressions of Dushanbe were rather mixed. Driving through the center, it seems that the city is booming. New buildings are going up everywhere; a huge, Las Vegas style Presidential Palace complete with its own park with large light installations was recently completed. This picture contrasts sharply with last winter's news reports about the dire situation with heating and food in Dushanbe last year. As in Kyrgyzstan, people are expecting that soon they will be without power and heating and that the schools will be closed down for the winter. There are a few new excellent restaurants, which are popular with foreigners, but it quickly becomes clear that these just give the city an illusion of comfort. The airport is still tiny, corruption is rampant, the selection of products is very limited, the infrastructure is a mess, and a large percentage of the population has left the country to find work.

Posted by Susan Katz

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanjk you susan, for a great report on Dushanbe. We ight be there soon and it was very helpful