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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Thoughts and Musings from Tashkent

I am still in Tashkent as I have been feeling a bit ill for a few days and want to be sure I'm better before leaving this city where I trust there is at least a semblance of 'modern' health care should I need it. Actually, no. I'm staying so that I am close to an airport that could take me to a place with a semblance of modern health care should I need it.

Of course, feeling this way has me a little more cynical and sarcastic than ever.

Afghan Airmiles
Mike wrote in an email: "Can't believe the places you've been too, your sheer disregard for your own safety and your unfounded fear of 'kuality' russian  flying contraptions. How many Ariana airmiles do you have, are they a Oneworld or Star Alliance partner???"
Well Mike, I have yet to find myself pushing my broken taxi through Mosul and relying on creaking knowledge of Russian in order to ward off attacks from neo-Baathist militias. As for the kuality Russian planes... I was assured by one Canadian working in Kabul for a communications and IT company that the mechanical side of Russian planes are good, it's just the avionics that one has to be worried about. Of course, he then went on to say that one plane he was on actually crash landed a few months previously when the gear remained half-retracted on take-off and could not be extended again. That didn't do much to put me at ease but surprisingly seeing the glimmering gold teeth of the Russian pilot did, something I think I mentioned in my last post. As for the air miles, I flew different airlines on my two flights in Afghanistan, Ariana Afghan and an outfit called Kam Air, which is a private firm operating for all of eight months or so. I am not aware of any frequent flyer programs but might consider myself now a member of the fly-by-night airline frequent flyer club. The Kyrgyz Tupolev 144 I took last year was a heap as well. But then, not all of us can fly Turkish Airlines business class as you did when you were deported. 
In the news...
I read today that Medecins Sans Frontieres is quitting Afghanistan, a development that seems to support my rationale for not travelling across that country overland. Indeed my final decision was made just after a handful of their workers, both foreign and Afghan, were killed in Badghis province (in the north-west) in June. They cite the blurring lines between military and humanitarian organizations. I've heard this complaint before, particularly with the military in southern Afghanistan starting to use white Toyota Landcruisers in order to blend in with aid workers. I saw some evidence of this happening in Kabul, with civilian vehicles being with no markings being used by military personnel.

Also, Hamid Karzai announced that he will not be running with current Defence Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim as his running-mate in the elections scheduled for October 9. This guy controls a pretty big militia and the consensus seems to be that he might back somebody else. Earlier this week they were saying he was reluctant to give up control of his militia, a prerequisite for running in the elections. His backing somebody else might just make the elections more competitive and therefore maybe seem more authentically democratic. Or, his backing somebody else could result in a more fractured post-election Afghanistan. I'd guess the latter, but maybe I'm just a pessimist.

Tashkent has many, many Soviet era concrete monstrosities. I like to look at them for their comedic value but shudder at the thought of such horrible architecture ever existing in Canada. The McLennan (or McLenin) library at McGill is probably the closest appoximation of this architectural style to ever make it to Canadian soil. My old high school also seems to have come from a related school of architectural ugliness where the dominant philosophy seems to have been 'the more concrete, the better'.

The police are everywhere. Everywhere. They're a bother, but at least they're not drunk. And, they're fat so it isn't too much trouble to avoid them by walking briskly if you see them coming your way or even just walk away briskly if they begin hassling you. They're lazy and won't cross the street to come after you. It seems most of the time they're just curious but there's only so many times I can stand some idiot staring at the pages of my passport. I travel on my Irish passport so it is particularly funny to see them try to read the inside cover where in Irish (and below in English) it says something to the effect of "The minister of foreign affairs of Ireland requests that the bearer of this passport be allowed to..."

I had one guy who I now assume to have been an undercover-type police officer or intelligence service guy come into my room uninvited at the first hotel I stayed in here in Tashkent. While I am not a big guy, I am taller than most Uzbeks, so standing tall and speaking with a sharp tone seemed to get the message across. 

Tashkent is a fairly cosmopolitain city and it is interesting though a bit quiet for a city of 2.5 million. I will be passing through here again in a week or so. Between now and then I plan on going east, to the Fergana Valley. I have felt better today and if I still feel good tomorrow (Friday) I'll leave in the morning.