There is no food in the house. My apartment is on the other side of town to the Green Market but I decide to walk up there anyway for the fruit and vegetables I will need for next week. There is a small supermarket close by but one crepe paper loo roll, one small box of tissues, 4 yogurts, one tin of tomato puree, 1 bottle of water and what turned out to be a small pot of sour cream (shopping is more fun when you can’t read the labels) – cost the equivalent of £5 when my living allowance is £4 per day.
On the way to market I make a mental note of some of the people also strolling out this find Saturday morning.
There is the old, crumpled white bearded man in his equally crumpled dark suit proudly wearing his 6 medals from the Soviet era – he obviously had the 40 year long service medal for his employment although the subjects of the other medals was more obscure – perhaps they have something to do with the number of children produced as is still the case in Mongolia today. Saturday also brings out the young women, the majority are wearing elegant slim fitted straight dresses to mid calf with matching slim leg trousers – some with head scarves, some without. Bright colours, leopard skin and a bit of sparkle all seem popular. Older women wear similar but more loose fitting (hiding a multitude of sins) and seem to favour the ‘Cath Kiddson’ style of material with 80s shoulder pads for the square look. Then there is the ‘Russian’ influence I am told – of tight and short western clothes worn by a small percentage.
There are very few pushchairs in Dushanbe – and as a consequence babies and toddlers are carried in the arms until they are old enough to walk, anyone who has done this for more than a few minutes will know how tiring that can be. Older children are playing by the fast flowing rills each side of the street, when it is hot what could be better than a water pistol fight? Answer – water bombs. Fill a plastic bottle with water and roll it into the path of a passing vehicle in the hope that it will get run over and explode!
The rills seem to be the centre of life all the way up the street, the taxi drivers have stopped to wash their cars inside and out with mats drying at the side of the road. Women are employed to water the grass verges by scooping buckets of water from the rills.
The vehicles on the wide boulevard travel at speed, although there are pedestrian crossings as I stroll up Rudaki Avenue it pays to be cautious and the car is king. Police are evident at frequent intervals, stopping cars and checking documents etc. Suddenly all traffic is stopped and the road is cleared, a cavalcade of official cars appears at great speed – and is gone. Traffic returns to normal including 2 sets of European cyclists, fully laden with camping kit, heading out of town, you have to admire them. I am passed by several NGO vehicles OSCE, UN, USAid but not the VSO 4 x4 which is in Khorog with the Tajik part of the team.
Here is one of the 2 shopping ‘centres’ – upmarket shops in an air-conditioned modern high rise, the sign outside say ‘CAB’ – I must get it translated as I am sure it is not the Tajikistan outreach service.
The market when I arrive is much quieter than the manic Eid weekend, there are plenty of vacant wooden carts with porters to carry your goods to day. I select my aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers (£1) and kilo dried apricots (£5) and start back. Beyond the Opera House is a little park with a restaurant built around a large fountain that acts as air conditioning – I cannot resist the thought of a sit down. The shishluk are very good here so I order a drink, a huge salad of tomatoes, cucumber, pickled cabbage, carrot, lettuce and bunch of mixed herbs and a large skewer of chicken grilled over the coals – juicy and delicious. The setting, food and service is perfect, the cost is £2.50 – so why bother to walk for a total of 2 hours or frequent the expensive supermarket at all, it is so much easier and cheaper to just – eat out.