For many international organisations Tajikistan is regarded as a hardship post, however, based upon the number of restaurants, half decent supermarkets, polished Lexus driving up the presidential boulevard, and the Hyatt Dushanbe, this policy appears to have too much cotton wool padding to protect our soft western under bellies.
This is until you become ill. In fact I have never been so constantly ill in all my life, even in student squalor I still managed to drag my empty wallet to the cheap bars and clubs and maintain a physical presence in the subsequent morning lectures sustained only by cheap white bread and full fat margarine.
So... what do you have to contend with?
Stomach upsets are particularly common. In the heat of the summer these last at least a week. One guy stepped off the plane and was out of action for the rest of the month, wearing out the carpet between the bedroom and the bathroom. The cause, anything and everything, you eat or touch. Despite their best efforts even the French military cuisine list is fallible.
So don’t touch the (un)washed salad, the warm dairy products, tinned fish or the goat on a stick, bread sold from a pram and especially do not shake the hand of the cook.
Therefore, it is a little ironic that the Tajiks are one of the tidiest people, they religiously polish their cars, and meticulously sweep their yards, however, when it comes to soap and disinfectant there is a clean gap in the market. So, when you sit around a shared bowl of Osh, with greasy fingers moulding the rice to fit the respective mouths before being slurped down, the hygiene aspect is as repulsive as the food itself.
Tajik Kitchen - Preparing OSH
It is therefore, not surprising that the bowel muscles of the foreign workers get an extra workout, for some it is a constant state, for others the threat of a parasitic invasion is too much and a retreat to the west’s front line, Istanbul, is inevitable.
Also to note is the lack of bacterial cleanliness in Tajikistan, especially in the water. This can lead to a rather uncomfortable and itchy couple of weeks. Thankfully, for me this coincided with a forthcoming trip to Shanghai and the application of an appropriate Chinese remedy.
Although I am no doctor, I am sure the old immune system has taken a severe battering. Three ‘man flu’s’ and two courses of antibiotics over the mild winter months has resulted in depressingly high number of duvet days. This is a real drag. Despite plenty of monkey sticks, vitamin tablets, boat loads of Ecuadorian oranges, and shipments of marmite, the body seems remarkably prone to the Tajik influenza.
I have no ‘concrete’ advice to offer any potential visitor, other than leave as often as possible.
If you do have the misfortune to fall seriously ill or be stung by a swarm of rabid bees, the prospect of visiting a soviet style hospital may be as traumatic as the illness itself. It was reliably reported that the acclaimed ‘Nurse of the Year’ award was based upon an individual’s ability to dance on a newspaper, the last one to rip the Tajik Times was declared the most able to administer anaesthetic.
I have firsthand experience of local Tajik medical facilities with a series of five visits to the physiotherapist. Despite her Russian training, the prolonged treatment was nothing more than a constant barrage of muscle relaxing techniques from acupuncture, cupping, heat pads, and muscle warming creams and massage. Unfortunately, there was no appreciation for the physiology of the body and the pummelling left me dazed, bruised and still broken.
Now in attempt to keep healthy, there are long walks to work, Saturday’s hash, Sunday strolls and our all new exercise class in soviet sponged floor sports hall. This is supplemented with a daily dowsing in alcohol gel, a self cleaning vacuum suit and hourly dosage of ‘sprinkles’, the food supplements issued by UNICEF.
Laying the Trail
(NB - Please do not let the above put you off visiting.)