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Well, I made it. I'm in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, alive and well. The plane arrived around 3:30 a.m. and it took at least an hour to go through immigration and customs. Actually, it took mere minutes to go through immigration and customs, but an hour to wait for the luggage to be brought out. I'm fairly certain there was one guy unloading the entire plane and he clearly was in no hurry.
When I finally emerged from the airport to meet my contact, I scanned the crowd for someone holding a sign with my name. No luck. As I made my way through the parking lot, I was engulfed by a pack of middle aged men. In turn they approached me with a mixture of the shy caution and the sly manner of someone fencing stolen goods or front-row tickets to a playoff game. Based on their expressions, I expected to be offered heroin or a prostitute. They gave me a little head nod and quietly uttered, "Taxi?"
Since I was supposed to meet my contact any moment, I declined. Besides, I wasn't even sure where I was staying. But as the minutes passed, I grew increasingly impatient. Where was this guy? After an hour, a tired American finally came up to me and said, "Are you Josh?" I confirmed my identity and he apologized for the driver not getting me already. I guess I'll have to save my taxi trip for another day.
The hotel was just a short drive away. If you're thinking Hyatt or Hilton, get that image out of your mind. Rather, the hotel is more of a multi-house compound. We entered three different houses looking for someone to let us in, finally finding a young man asleep on a couch in the third unit. He was the guard. After a robust conversation in Tajik, he led me to my room, where I quickly collapsed in sleep.
Two hours later I was awoken by a woman knocking on my door and shouting "You're driver is waiting for you!" Confused and groggy, I put on some jeans and a T-shirt and headed outside. I found several people around the front of the house and asked who they were looking for. "You," an old woman answered.
"Name?" I asked. She shook her head. "My name is Josh. I don't think you have the right person." She pointed at my key, which had a fob with the number 6 on it. "Six," she said.
Finally a man who appeared to be the driver spoke up. "Yousef?" he asked. "No, I'm Josh," I answered. "You have the wrong person." He nodded and took out his cell phone. Confident they realized it wasn't me they were looking for, I returned to my room and slept for the next 10 hours.
Anyway, I also took some notes during my last flight. A few observations:
The plane featured a blue glass Turkish "evil eye" hanging in the cabin. I last saw those two weeks ago at Disney Epcot's Morocco area.
In the lavatory, there were all sorts of signs indicating the smoking was absolutely, positively not allowed. There was also a sign pointing out the ashtray mounted in the door.
On the flight from Istanbul to Dushanbe, the featured movie was "Jumping the Broom," a movie marketed heavily to African-American audiences. I'm not passing judgment on the film (I didn't watch it), But I couldn't help but wonder if it was really the right movie for this set of passengers. (Personally, I watched "The Sting" on my iPad. What a great flick.)
The plane's seat backs had cup holders separate from the dinner trays. Awesome.
I forgot to mention the awesome olive bar at the Turkish Airlines lounge. They had at least a dozen different types of olives, all of them delicious.
As part of the in-flight meal, I got a little glass bottle of lemon-flavored olive oil. Nice touch.
I've noticed that none of the non-American in-flight magazines have crosswords. Why?
There were two profoundly rude people on the flight. They were both American. Head slap.
Am I the only person who constantly visualizes the plane crashing? I think it has something to do with doing too much reporting on plane crashes, but I'm always imagining the plane going down and what I'd do. (Usually I just die.)
Mostly my concern is windshear or the plane falling apart. I generally am not concerned about terrorism, but I did noticed that the lavatory on two planes yesterday was adjacent to the cockpit door. That seemed profoundly unsafe to me, in light of 9/11.
I'm constantly amazed at how English is everyone's second language. It's great for me, but it does make me a little sad and guilty that we Americans are so bad at learning other languages/cultures.
Speaking of American culture, I'm sick of seeing American brands everywhere. I'm looking at you, Popeyes, Burger King, etc.
And speaking of food, I've noticed that pretty much any non-American airline (except for Russia) has pretty good airline food. To wit, yesterday I had a nice thinly sliced duck, braised venison, grilled shrimp, a very good salmon and a perfectly poached chicken breast salad.
Anyway, if you got this far, congratulations. You're a better person than most. More later.