Dushanbe, Tajikistan Report of what it's like to live there - 06/06/09

Personal Experiences from Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Dushanbe, Tajikistan 06/06/09

Background:

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

No

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2. How long have you lived here?

Two years

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

There are two flights a week (Sunday/Monday and Wednesday/Thursday) from Istanbul on Turkish Air that most expats take, even though they are very expensive. AirBaltic just started new, cheaper flights to Riga, which should be a good option. Tajik Air, Somon Air and several Russian carriers fly several times a day to various Russian cities, mainly on older Tupelovs. The Moscow flights land at Domodedovo, so you need a Russian transit visa for most other international flights. Somon and Tajik also fly once a week each to Dubai/Sharjah. Some people even fly to Tashkent and then drive (about 10 hours). In theory, you could also go through Bishkek or Almaty with an overnight stop. Any way you parse it, it's two overnights from the U.S., with a very early morning arrival into Dushanbe. Getting back, it can be hard to make it to U.S. cities besides New York or Washington in a single day. Most flights are paper tickets only and arrive and depart at absurd hours. Welcome to life in Tajikistan!

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

U.S. Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Most expats live in walled houses (called havlis) that have weird layouts, sparkly wallpaper and lots and lots of space. It's really in your interest to have a generator due to frequent power cuts in the winter. There are also some decent apartments. The apartment buildings look worse from the outside than they are. Water is a problem everywhere. If you are with the US Embassy you will have a generator, a water tank and a distiller, which insulates you from a lot of this. The embassy is a 10-minute drive from most housing, on the edge of town. Other expats can usually walk to work. Local building standards are poor, so be prepared for constant repairs.

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

Cheap, especially at bazaars. In season, a kilo of delicious tomatoes costs about 40 cents. There are a few smaller grocery stores, but you will wind up going to a few places to get everything you need.

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

I shipped everything I own, and I would do it again. Comsumables are a must if you have them. Outdoor furniture - the only stuff available here is cheap and plastic.

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

We have Southern Fried Chicken, Big Mac and Chief Burger. SFC is the best, but none are terrific. There are roughly 10 decent restaurants, and you will only get sick every few months. Chinese food here is outstanding, since there is a large Chinese population building roads. Also good Lebanese and Ukranian, okay "Ecuadorian," Continental and Indian. And many, many teahouses with Central Asian food. Everything is inexpensive, except decent wine costs an arm and a leg.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

None! Except for a short season of poison caterpillars that fall out of trees and cause an ugly rash. (Not a joke.)

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Daily Life:

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

We have pouch. Otherwise, DHL is expensive, and Tajik post is unreliable, as you would expect. (Although expats do use it.)

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

Maids start at about $80/mo for part time, nannies a little more, gardeners about $60/mo. (And we overpay). You will want someone to clean a lot because of the dust, and also because of the lack of dishwashers.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a gym at the Hyatt that costs a fortune (something like $300/month) and one at the Asia Grand Hotel that is cheaper but nowhere near as nice. Sometimes there are aerobics or yoga classes at the embassy. The Indian Embassy sponsors yoga and dance classes. Tajikistan is a tae kwon do powerhouse, so you can take lessons from a world champion for next to nothing.

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

A few hotels take credit cards, but that's it. There are several ATMs around town. They occasionally run out of cash, but I haven't heard of any fraud. It is a cash economy.

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

There is a Catholic church with English mass and, I believe, a Protestant one as well.

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

CNN and BBC World via satellite, if you can get it to work. There is a guy who can get you HBO too for a small fee. No English-language papers, no IHT.

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

A lot! I'm not sure I've ever been somewhere where fewer people speak English. If you have a choice, learn Tajik, which is much more endearing than Russian. Also, the younger generation increasingly does not speak Russian. Government meetings are still in Russian, but probably not for much longer.

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

Tons! There are very few sidewalks, and they are potholed too. There are almost no accomodations for disabled people.

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Transportation:

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

No trains. Buses are fine and run frequently on two or three streets. Taxis are generally fly-by-night but cheap. Don't expect taxi drivers to speak English or know where anything is. "Mashrutkas" (shared vans) go everywhere and are very cheap, but you must speak Russian or Tajik.

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2. 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?

Listen up: do not bring a car with tinted windows. Period. It will not be registered. SUVs are recommended due to poor roads, especially if you want to get out of Dushanbe. Toyota Land Cruisers seem the most popular. Bring parts, including oil. Shipping time from the States is at least four months. If I could do it again, I would have bought a car here, although they are more expensive. Soviet-made cars are omnipresent and easily fixable, if not comfortable. Drivers here are insane - I joke that Tajiks are lovely people until they get behind the wheel of a car. Expect lots of dings and a little road rage.

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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?

$60/mo for DSL with a 2G limit on downloads. If you want more, you pay more. Be careful going over - it really adds up! Speed is not really enough for video.

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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?

Get one! They are cheap and everyone uses them. I pay about $30/month for lots of talking. Calls to the U.S. are through VOIP and are less than 2 cents a minute. There are lots of providers and the system generally works well.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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

There's a vet. People watch each other's pets when they're away. See notes from other posters on pet shipping issues.

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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?

At NGOs, there are a few, but without Tajik or Russian, it would be hard. And those that are available pay badly. (The average Tajik salary is less than $100/mo). The Embassy makes a mighty effort to employ spouses.

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

Work depends on the office. The Embassy is generally suits or at least ties. Most NGOs are more casual. In public, same as anywhere else, expect no shorts and no tank tops on women. Many Tajik women wear traditional dress, which is a long caftan over pants (sometimes with terrific sparkles). Tajiks tend to look very neat and take good care of their clothes. I often feel sloppy by comparison.

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Health & Safety:

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

Fun fact: Tajikistan has something like one car for every 27 people, so exhaust is not a problem, especially outside of Dushanbe. There is a lot of dust in the summer, and the "Afghanits" blows in...something brown a few times a year for a few days. But the average day is pretty nice, particularly at higher elevations.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Everything except malaria (athough that is recommended if you live outside of Dushanbe). Check the CDC website.

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

On the macro level, Tajikistan does border Afghanistan. On a daily level, it feels really, really safe. You know your neighbors, kids play in the streets, etc. However, there are occasional petty crims against foreigners.

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

Oy, this is a downside of live in Dushanbe. There is a German doctor at Prospect Clinic, which expats use, and a medical officer at the Embassy. Local facilities are really not adequate, so anything remotely serious required a medevac (usually to London). This is not the place you want anything to happen to you, and you also should not come here with any condition that needs to be treated.

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

Normally: mild, wet winter, hot, dry summer (high 90s F and above every day), lovely spring and dusty, pleasant fall. There are exceptions, though, and they are tough on the Tajiks.

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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 is a QSI that most expats use. It's really new and is primary years only, as far as I know. There is also the Dushanbe International School, which is mostly Tajik kids (including the President's son). Very few families with kids over 5 choose to come here.

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

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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?

I think QSI has a pre-school, and there are also playgroups. Russian preschool is available. It seems like there are a lot of younger kids here and the parents are really happy. Nannies abound and are quite good.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Probably tae kwon do, but likely only in Russian or Tajik.

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Expat Life:

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

A hundred or two in Dushanbe, perhaps another hundred in the rest of the country. There is also a small French military contingent based in Dushanbe and a few hundred Indian medical students.

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2. Morale among expats:

Great! Most people chose to come here and are really into exploring Central Asia. Language ability seems to impact this a lot. Tajikistan drives everyone crazy at some point, so it helps to maintain perspective (and get out every few months).

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

Lots of going to peoples' houses, restaurants. These is a bar where you can find everyone you know.

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

As a member of a couple, this city has been great. Most of our friends are single and are pretty happy, although the dating pool is really, really small and everyone will know your business. Young families also seem happy, although they have to make their own fun since there is not a lot for kids to do. All and all, I think this is a good place for anyone who is outgoing and ready for an adventure.

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

In the expat community, probably okay, but very limited. In the local community, no.

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

Tajiks are really, really nice to foreigners. That said, if you are black, you will be stared at and photographed constantly, if you are Asian you will be asked "where are you REALLY from?" and if you are a woman you will be catcalled and occasionally pinched. None of it is really malicious, but this is a very homogenous society and people don't always know that they're being rude by doing this. Even though 99 percent of the population is Muslim, Tajiks are very religiously tolerant and are often just curious about other religions.

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

Tajikistan is paradise for outdoor types. There is great hiking quite near Dushanbe, camping, rock climbing and kayaking. There is even a creaky ski lift. Road trips around the country. (These are slow due to poor roads, but really fun). Hash House Harriers are active. Barbeques, poker nights, scotch club, book club, swimming in rivers, game nights. Piano and language lessons. "Guesting" at Tajik homes, going to weddings, drinking tea, eating plov, shopping for Soviet art, bazaars, cooking with delicious fruits and veggies. The expat community is very close knit and social. You will meet everyone if you want to.

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

Suzanni (woven fabric panels), carpets from the other Stans, local art, tickets to other places.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, unless you want to fly somewhere every weekend. (Istanbul is nearly $1K, Almaty is $400, Uruqmi is $750.)

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, absolutely. We really wanted to come here and it's been great. I might think twice if I had older kids, though.

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

Skimpy clothes, golf clubs, new car, need to have everything be perfect.

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3. But don't forget your:

Guide books, hiking boots, sunblock, wine, all the toiletries you'll need, good attitude.

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

Tajikistan and the High Pamirs - by far the best (and only) guidebook about Tajikistan.

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

Tajikistan and the High Pamirs - by far the best (and only) guidebook about Tajikistan.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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