Dushanbe, Tajikistan Report of what it's like to live there - 07/28/08

Personal Experiences from Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Dushanbe, Tajikistan 07/28/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, Tashkent Uzbekistan.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am following my husband, who is associated with U.S. Embassy here.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

This is a tough trip no matter how you do it. The best way is via Turkish Air, which is through Istanbul and only 2 times a week. There are some direct flights from major U.S. cities, or you can come in through Europe--Paris, Frankfurt, London, and Amsterdam are common. With waiting periods and flight time, it's at least 24 hours from the US, and with a delay, it's taken up to 40 hours. It's a tough trip!

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Diplomats are basically in houses with small walled yards. The houses range from nice to opulent, but are more than adequate although sometimes a little strangely laid out! The yards are small, but some have pools, fountains, etc. Ours has a fountain we converted to a sandbox, a cherry tree, 2 fig trees, 2 persimmon trees, and a grape arbor overhead shielding us from the sun. The city is relatively small, and housing is scattered, but 20 minutes is probably adequate to get most anywhere. Apartments in are available, but are not up to Western standards.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

There are some grocery stores that are popping up in the last few years. You can SOMETIMES get imported produce in the summer, such as Granny Smith apples. There is also a wealth of canned goods in the summer, and at one in particular, dairy goods like UHT pasteurized milk, yogurt, sour cream kind of thing, etc. The bazaars have local fruits and vegetables for very, very cheap. In the summer, it's berries, stone fruit, greens, cucumbers, eggplant, hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions. Generally imported bananas, too. Most of this is really cheap. Meat here is supposed to be terrible, although you can get some cuts sometimes that are better. There are some kinds of pasteurized cheeses sometimes, but it's by no means guaranteed. In the winter, the shelves at the stores are empty, and the bazaars hold only potatoes, onions, sometimes apples, and some unique squash kind of things. Last winter was particularly bad, with the city on power rationing. There was no (pasteurized) milk for several months, along with many of the other good we see as staples, including flour, yogurt, juices, even bread. Prices were soaring for the winter, but went back down somewhat, still below U.S. prices for many things. Keep in mind that everything needs to be washed with distilled water and bleach is recommended, too!

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Mexican food, diapers, spices...pretty much anything you really feel like you need. It's probably not here, and you will miss it!

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is basically no fast food as you know it in the West. You can buy kabobs or roasted chicken off a stand, but it is not recommended. There is a high incidence of stomach problems after eating at many restaurants, but it is hit or miss and apparently depends on the person. Some people never get sick, and others need time in the bathroom 4 out of 5 times after eating out. There is a good French place, about American prices or a little more, with a very limited menu. There are a few decent Indian places, although vegetarian food is surprisingly lacking there. There is a relatively new Lebanese place that is supposed to be good, and a Steakhouse.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available, although many don't speak any English. Russian is pretty widely spoken in Dushanbe itself. We pay US$150/month for half time housekeeping and shopping, and US$250/month for a nanny FT. There are people available for more and less, depending on what you are looking for.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Basically doesn't exist. There are a few places that relatively recently have these, but ex-pats in general DO NOT use them.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is at least one English language service in a Church. I know several people who go regularly. There are absolutely no Jewish services here: the synagogue was recently torn down, but there were very few Jews left before that. No kosher meat or cheese, no mikvah, no real Jewish resources at all. Muslim: there are multiple mosques in the city. Most Tajiks don't often go, and you will see no women at a mosque here. There were some LDS people who set up their own Sunday meetings, but they have gone now--but it can be done!

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Doubt it for newspapers. There is some cable service with a very few English language channels you can get, but it is sporadic. AFN is here for Embassy employees.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Depends...if you live in a house and don't plan to go out, you don't need any. BUT if you plan to go out, or communicate with your housekeeper, you will need some Russian or Tajik. The more, the better, of course!

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Getting around is tough with a stroller, so I can imagine it would be tough with any physical disability. There are rarely elevators--that work anyway.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Official answer is the left. But you'll see people going forward and backward on whichever side is most convenient for them right then.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Not really safe, not recommended, but affordable. We don't take them at all. You'll have to be very comfortable literally smashed against a stranger with strong body odor to take the buses. And everyone is a taxi, especially if you look foreign. It's usually safe, but there are times when it's not.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Something with some suspension and 4WD is nice. The roads are in bad condition, as are the drivers. You might get dinged here, and your suspension will certainly suffer. We joke that the way the speed limits are set is by the condition of the road.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. It's OK for speed, about US$50 a month for 1GB of downloading--they charge by the amount you download here.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

You'll probably need one. Everyone has one and it's something of a status symbol.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Skype.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Nope, not really. They are starting to have some pet food available, but it's hit or miss. No real vet.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No, not for any reasonable fee. Salaries are really low. If you speak Russian or Tajik, it's possible to work for another NGO or other foreign organization, but it's not usually for the money.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Suits at the Embassy, I've seen khakis and button downs otherwise, and even casual on the streets. I will say that people here tend to get dressed up to do anything, especially the women, with full makeup and heels to go home from work.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate: not much pollution, but lots and lots of dust!

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Some crime: Tajikistan is one of the largest drug trafficking countries in the world which could lead to more crime, and some potential for unrest due to political instability. Rampant corruption is just accepted here!

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Yes: everything! There is no adequate health care here.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot in the summer (105F, even more possible) and very cold last winter (-20F, usually not that cold.)

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are a few options, but no one is happy with them right now. My own kids are too young for these. The Quality Schools International (QSI) is available, but is very expensive and has had another change in directorship recently, hopefully for the better. Some people I know have used it, but are not happy with it, and a few are even homeschooling now. There is supposedly at least one other choice, but I don't know much about it. I would not come here with school aged children right now.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I'm not sure, there are no school aged kids here from our embassy yet.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

We have sent our kids to a parent organized playgroup. It's about US$100 a month, depending, and includes lunch. Other options are the QSI preschool which is somewhere around US$4000 a year, not including any food, and a local 3 day a week Christian preschool. There are rumors of others, but those are the ones used by the expats here.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Smallish. A few of everyone, but not too many.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

What you make of it. There are a few things to do, but you really have to make your own fun here. Really. There are usually some entertainment events in Russian, and there are those few expat groups (Hash house harriers or the book club), but it's mostly at home--yours or a friend's.

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3. Morale among expats:

Hard to say. This last winter was rough, with electricity rationing and real food supply problems, and I would say that's brought it down. Many people (Tajiks and expats) are dreading this winter, and going somewhere else if they can.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Depends. There is not much at all to do. You have to make your own fun quite literally!There are a few options to do with kids, but it is definitely lacking. A relatively new indoor playground has opened for kids, there is the zoo that has had recent bear maulings, and you can leave the city in the summer and spring to go out to one of the outlying villages where there are nice places to relax. The Russian Embassy apparently has a playground, and one is planned at the American Embassy, but none of the ones in the city are good for kids to play on: they are generally made from poured concrete and the

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I don't know about covertly, but overtly, I don't think it's accepted.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Women are poorly treated in general, but seem to expect it. Expats are generally exempt from this. Dark skinned people will be stared at incessantly, not usually in a hostile way, but it seems to get annoying.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Make your own fun. There is a relatively active Hash for running and drinking, a group that hikes many Sundays, some expat clubs. For the party scene, there is a few really bad clubs that most people end up avoiding. Ex-pats tend to eat out at friend's houses or in one of the very few restaurants that won't make you too sick. It is what you make of it, though!

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Handsewn decorations, gemstone crafts, atlas fabrics, tailored clothing...

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Unsure. I like it well enough, but I'm ready to leave. We came here because it was the best time in my husband's career to do this, but it's been challenging.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

...Nothing comes to mind: bring it all!

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3. But don't forget your:

Anything you need to manage. Favorite foods, movies, TV series, etc...

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If you are willing to make your own fun and go local, this is a great place. If you depend on culture, steady supplies of beloved items, or shopping, this is not the place! However, it is what you make of it!

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