There are a lot of things about Dushanbe that aren't the greatest. There's a good reason it's a thirty percent differential. It's a colossal pain to get here, the medical care is practically nonexistent, the air can get pretty unpleasantly thick in the winter, the driving is completely nonsensical, and you can't see Star Wars in English in the theater. This last one was such a hardship that a friend took her son up to Almaty to see the movie there.
But one of the really great things about Dushanbe is how cheap many things are. The fresh produce is cheap (I love getting ripe summer tomatoes for fifteen cents a kilo), the household help is cheap, the restaurants and cheap, and, one of my personal favorites, the entertainment is cheap.
The week after Christmas, I took Kathleen, Sophia, Eleanor, and Joseph to see The Nutcracker. It wasn't the best ballet performance (some friends who had gotten used to Russian-quality ballet walked out), but it was reasonably good, especially for small children. When Brandon was picking up tickets earlier, he asked how much they cost. "Oh," I texted him, "probably less than a hundred Somoni." "Per ticket?" he replied. "No, for all the tickets," I laughed. The tickets came to sixty Somoni - which is $6.85. I took myself and four children to see a live ballet performance for less than the cost of one matinee showing of a movie in America.
Sometimes we take children to the local amusement park when we really feel like splashing out. We only do it for special occasions because it is kind of pricey. There is an entrance fee and then you pay per ride, which adds up when you have five children riding rides. But, we are generous parents and so we let them ride all the rides they want. And usually it all adds up to about twenty-five dollars. This is about how much we would drop on one ride for each child at a state fair.
There is a local water park, Delphin, that we sometimes go to. It's actually pretty decent for Tajikistan, with a big pool, a little kid pool, a big kid pool with waterslides, and five big waterslides. There are lots of lifeguards and the pool is remarkably clean, sometimes cleaner than the embassy pool. I usually stay for the whole four hours (it's so popular that you can only stay four hours) and get lunch for everyone because I like their french fries and I don't want to get home at two or three in the afternoon with a bunch of hungry kids. The last time we went, I spent a little over forty dollars for four entrances (Eleanor and William were free) and five lunches.
This new year's day we took the children bowling. There is a bowling alley in the national tea house (Yes, this makes no sense. There's also a movie theater and pool hall) that is actually really nice. It's an AMF bowling alley, complete with video screen that show all of the hokey cartoons for strikes and spares and gutter balls. We were having a fun time, so we stayed for a couple of hours and bowled two games. It takes a long time to bowl two games with six people. At the end Brandon paid up (they charge by the hour) and the total came - with shoes - to sixteen dollars.
When we went up to Safed Dara last week, we took a lot of cash with us (our rule of thumb in cash-only societies is to take way, way more than you think you might ever need). After all, we were taking seven people (William never counts except on international flights) tubing, feeding them all lunch, and then on a gondola ride. I used to ski in college, and I know how pricey gondola rides are. The methodology of well-organized places in cash societies is to get a swipe card that you put a bunch of cash on and then use it to pay for everything (I imagine it is to keep the workers from pocketing spare change). So Brandon put a lot of cash on it, and in the end, everything added up to fifty-two dollars.
I was talking with my sister who lives in North Carolina and she was bemoaning how expensive it is to do anything with her kids. Bowling was $75, a movie was the same, and a cheap take-out dinner was $50 - and she only has four children. Usually when I talk with my sister, I remember all of the things I miss about America. She'll mention going to the library or the beach or Target or show me the new bookshelves she got at Target and I'll feel a little bit sad that I'm stuck in the middle of Central Asia where the closest Target is several plane rides away.
But this time I was on the (silently) gloating end. We still don't have Target and English movies are very rare thing and parking lots are non-existent and blueberries are even more non-existent. But, I can go do fun stuff with my six children without breaking the bank. Dushanbe for the win.