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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Top (and Bottom) Five of Dushanbe

It's bidding season right now the Foreign Service, which means that everyone wants to know what is great and not so great about all of the posts that they're considering spending their next two years at.  We've been in Dushanbe for almost two years now (our two-year anniversary is next month) and so I feel like I can tell my own story of what is great (and not so great) about this very little-known sleepy post-Soviet posting.

1.  The money.  For some people, money is not a consideration.  Why worry about money when you'll be dead some day and won't be able to take it with you?  Experience is what you're after, not money!  Most of these people, however, aren't expecting their sixth child.  So for us, money is an important consideration.  And Dushanbe delivers.  Dushanbe just got designated as a hard to fill post, which means that, if you extend to three years (which we did), you get an extra 15% on top of the 30% differential we already have.  Add that language incentive pay (about $10,000 a year) and 5% COLA, and you're talking about some serious cash.  For us that means we make 60% over Brandon's base salary.  Our financial planner is very happy with us right now.  Oh, and there are also two R&Rs for a two-year tour.

1. The travel.  Not only is it an unholy pain to get to Dushanbe, it's also a lot of trouble to leave here.  Sometimes it's nice to take a little weekend trip with the family.  I'm stuck at home all day with the children and I like to leave, if only for a long weekend.  This was easy in Egypt - the Red Sea had a selection of European resorts that offered great local rates.  In Baku we took the train to Georgia and went up to the mountains.  In Dushanbe, we've gone camping.  Twice.  There are a couple of 'resorts' on a reservoir that are supposed to be okay, but you never quite know with Tajikistan.  It's pretty likely that you'll be in local standard housing eating local food surrounded by locals staring at you.  An interesting cultural experience yes, relaxing no.  And that's it.  Uzbekistan needs a visa, Afghanistan is understandably not an option, and Kyrgystan is too far to drive to.  Want to get out of the country and go somewhere nice?  Save your pennies for a plane ticket.  And for us, seven plane tickets are a lot of pennies.

2.  The housing.  Everyone here lives in housing that is above the regulation square footage for their rank and family size.  We have a three-floor, almost 6,000 square-foot house.  Our top floor is entirely open and the children drive a little-tykes car around the space that would make for a really, really great-sized New York apartment.  Because of safety regulations, there are no apartments in the housing pool.  So you want a house?  Come to Dushanbe!

2.  The housing.  Although large, the houses are all amazingly shoddily built.  Our house is covered in elaborate molding - and all of it is styrofoam.  Five children and styrofoam molding does not mix well.  Before we moved in, the whole house had to be re-wired (aluminum electrical wiring generally isn't a good idea) and so every single room had conduits running to every outlet, switch, and light.  And they pop off the wall pretty easily.  Don't ask me how I know this.  Our main power line has a bad connection to the city power, so on laundry days we can either dry the clothes or air-condition the house.  Same for when I have to cook dinner.  I've yet to be in a house with actual hardwood floors, and some houses have plank flooring that has been painted an amazing mustard brown-orange.  Stairs are never regulation height, and not all master bedrooms have bathrooms in them.  So, you get a large house, but it will have it's terribly annoying quirks.

3. The community.  Like all small, remote posts, Dushanbe has a great community.  When there is literally nobody else, you find friends very easily.  There are regularly hosted CLO get-togethers, lots of birthday parties, soccer taught by dads, pool parties, and house parties.  If you want to have friends in Dushanbe, you can have them.  Everyone has a sense of adventure, and most people are pretty happy to be here.

3.  The schooling.  Although we homeschool, I've heard lots about the school.  As in all remote places, the schooling options are extremely limited.  Although there is an Indian-run, British curriculum school, all the children here attend QSI.  Currently they have about 100 children in K-12, and the majority are elementary-school aged.  The classes have one teacher per grade, so you're stuck with what they have, and the classrooms are small because the school is housed in several houses.  There are also not very many extra-curricular activities - Tae Kwon Do and tennis are the only two I've heard of.  If you want an amazing school with a variety of activities and an amazing campus, go somewhere else.

4.  The weather.  Yes, it gets hot in July in August.  Not enough to rival those really hot places (I'm talking to you, Dubai), but in the upper nineties and low hundreds.  But Dushanbe truly has four seasons and nice, long fall and spring sandwiching a very bearable two-month winter.  It's sunny a majority of the days and you can get out and do something most of the time here.  And for those hot days, the embassy has a pool.

4.  Shopping.  There is pretty much nothing to buy in Dushanbe.  The locals make embroidered Suzanis and you won't be able to get out of here without buying two or three, but that's about it.  The grocery stores are equally unimpressive, and the restaurant options are limited.  If you're looking for somewhere to drop all of that extra cash you're making, the most exciting place is in your bank account.  Which is probably not a bad thing.

5.  Traffic.  Yes, everyone hates the way the locals drive, but I'm pretty sure that's universal for everywhere outside of Western Europe/the Anglosphere.  Which is most of the world.  Yes, you get cut off in traffic, honked at, passed on the left over a double yellow line, and almost hit reckless pedestrians on a daily bases.  But there just aren't that many cars.  On a really, really, really bad day you may have to wait through three of four traffic light cycles - at the one busy traffic light on your entire commute home from work.  I'm pretty sure we'll never live in a place with lighter traffic than Dushanbe.  At least until we retire to rural middle America.

5.  Lack of employment.  Not that this is something I deal with, but I've heard about it from other spouses.  Your options are: 1. the embassy.  They've worked quite hard to provide as much employment as there are EFMs looking for employment (although the process can sometimes be longer than it's worth), which has definitely been appreciated.  But outside the embassy, your options are pretty much at 2. a local school.  QSI had hired a few EFMs and several local kindergartens have also hired spouses to help with English classes.  But that's it.  So if you're looking for amazing EFM employment, don't come to Dushanbe.

And, as a special bonus!
6.  The people.  Tajiks are the perfect blend of hospitable and leave-you-alone.  Maybe it's because I'm almost always out with my five children (and they love children here), but I always have someone willing to make a kind comment or help me out.  Tajiks are very happy with their relative anonymity and enjoy a pretty robust internal culture that they are proud of.  I got to attend a wedding recently, and those around me warmly welcomed me to the party, and then had a great time celebrating the bride and groom.  Nobody got a picture with me, and nobody looked at me like I didn't belong.  It's really a great place to be an expat.

And one more:
7.  The mountains.  If you like to hike, Dushanbe is the post for you.  The mountains start about 20 minutes outside the city and pretty much don't stop for the rest of the country.  If I didn't have children (and was in better shape), I would spend my weekends on one of the innumerable trekking routes (also known as sheep trails) that crisscross the mountains.  The few tourists that do come come for the trekking because it really is amazing.  The mountains are stunningly beautiful and completely uncrowded.  I never regret an opportunity to get out and explore the countryside of Tajikistan.

So, if you're looking for a high money-making post with lovely scenery, large housing, and a great community, Dushanbe is the place for you.

But, if you're looking for a city with lots of things to do and high-quality anything with lots of travel opportunities and world-class schooling, you're better off in Vienna.

It's all what you're looking for!

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