Thursday, October 27, 2005

Thumbnails from Varzob, Tajikistan

Here are some mental bookmarks which will help me remember all the fun I had in Tajikistan, The pictures are attributed to me, Simos, Peshka, Hetha, Kaladan, Sarafroz, Evgeny, and a slew of others, some of whom are depicted below.

(please peruse in moderation, as some images may inflict nostalgia, jealousy, or just painful memories)

  • Hydroelectricity (a new definition of the word): conduction of electricity through water coming out of the faucet….
  • Morning circle game of tag
  • The clicking song (eea, lindlela, olo lo wany)
  • Co-facilitation with Heather
  • The Bulgarians (bu-la-goo DAAAR ya)
  • Answering Abubakr at 1 in the morning about some CD he wanted
  • The eternal chase after the herd of laptops with the aid of several Tajik staff
  • The bonfire night: jumping over the fire in Iranian tradition, and dancing Tajiki with the Tajiks.
  • The Publishing track from A(aigul: Kh-zh-ph-rh-kuh-ding .....) to Z(ulu representative Heeeetha). And all the other letters in between.
  • The Russian Interpretter Dude...(arrgh)
  • The Iranian rock-star team; getting them to finally NOT speak to me in formal tones like I am an old uncle, and connecting me again to my hidden half.
  • The Games night: choking on a poundcake while folks chant your name
  • Chasing away the minister of Billiards from the publishing lab.
  • Getting chased from the publishing lab by the cold weather, and finding refuge near the kitchen
  • Being visited by the minister of wall hangings and electrical sockets daily in the publishing lab.
  • Watching the old-man housekeeper scurry around with his leak-stopping pair of pliers and the light-bulbed screwdriver in search of hot-wired doorknobs and shower-handles.
  • Muhammadi the DJ
  • Late nights in the Migration-lab (before the Great Flood) with Iranians, Bulgarians, a Greek-Aussie, and Abubakr
  • Aso, Aso, Aso (smiling, dancing, occasionally twitching and then smiling some more)
  • The bazaar, and trying the fruit-flavored rock (and of course the bum-belle-bee incident)
  • Playing poetry slam (bayt-barak) with the Tajiks at 2am (they were very gracious accepting our comebacks to their Rudaki poems as Sahar and I were either making them up, or singing
  • Ya Magoo Gavariz pa Russki
  • Learning Greek ΣE ΑΓΑΠΩ
  • Saying goodbye to the Iranians, and feeling really sad
  • Saying goodbye to Aso and feeling really sad
  • Leaving Dushanbe on Domododevo, and thinking the word must mean Sardines in Russian

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Butterfly Effect

Beware of unimportant things, for they may lead to important (and dire) events.

It was around 1pm when I got to check in at Minneapolis airport for my multi-hop flight that was supposed to land me in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. No, still not a non-stop flight between Dushanbe and Minneapolis. So I got to Ohare, where the agent was more congenial, but not much more useful. She knew what Tajikistan was, but still not able to reprint my tags, and directed me to the staff in Heathrow, the mecca of all international travel. Surely they would be able to rectify the situation.

In the meantime, I spent the 7 hours next to a greek couple and their surprisingly well-behaved 9-month old. I did not sleep much, but instead watched excerpts from the epic movies “bewitched” and “sahara” whilst longingly looking at the comfort of the higher-up classes of service. (ranging from Fat leather seats, to super reclinable pods, to basically your own private cottage and waterfall).

I arrived in Heathrow, I was sleep deprived, I was disoriented, and I had 40 minutes to cover several miles of walkways, 15 minutes of busriding, and about 400 yards of escalatoring. I reached the transfer desk panting, sweating, and entirely without higher mental faculties.

This is when I didn’t question the agent, when she said I there is no issue having to get my luggage in Moscow and re-check it on my adventures onwards. This proved ultimately impossible for me.

In retrospect, it was lucky I asked the main attendant about the logistics of reclaiming and resubmitting luggage in Moscow. Then she said she will go and ask the ground staff, and whether or not I had a Russian visa. She came with a quite terse young lady who came with all fangs and claws showing, admonishing me for not having a Russian visa,

‘but I am not going to Russia

‘I know you are not, it is because without a visa, they will charge us 2000 pounds, so there is a problem here.’ and she went on to pontificate further about how I will be disembarked, and be put on another flight later in the day once my visa to Russia is obtained.

‘but I am going to Tajikistan

I thought that would be an A-ha moment, but instead she began telling me how I could be forcibly removed if I made trouble, and I should meet her at the doorway, while she goes and makes arrangements to reroute me to later in the day (I mentioned in passing that the next possible arrival in Dushanbe would be in about 4 days)

I walked to the entrance and I waited and waited and waited, and was smiled at placatingly and talked behind of (all equally politically and grammatically incorrect) by the flight attendants:

‘He didn’t even bother to get a visa for where he’s going’

‘Did you see his passport? there isn’t room for a visa in it’

‘At least he is smiling, but luckily the team is coming…’

‘It will take hours to find his luggage I bet’

I, in the meantime, was on a campaign of my own, giving suggestions, raising the specter, and a dose of flattery:

‘Maybe you can just re-tag my bags?’

‘The humanitarian conference will not be able to function…’

‘I’m sure you can resolve the tagging problem amicably’

‘I am alright having my luggage be confiscated in Moscow;

‘They are like two cabin luggage’

‘can’t we put them in the pram section, so I can get them planeside?’

‘I can maybe bring them onboard….’

‘I am certain you can help my situation without deranging my plan’

And then 2 decked out anti-terrorist SAS commandos (well, just police in flak jackets, and some good guns) appeared in the elephant-trunk walkway, walking confidently towards me…I turned to the nearby attendant to exchange surprised looks about the seeming escalation of events. I suppose my ‘yikes’ expression and subsequent chuckle helped deflate the situation (in my head anyway).

Finally, the pilot came to my rescue by asking the lead attendant about the situation, and then telling her to just pull the luggage and bring it to the cabin, since he had heard me say that they are basically carry-on sizes ( I omitted to mention that they are unruly, LARGE ones)

As we were finally rolling off to the runway, I was still being worked over by the lead attendant about my need to make sure I have visas to the place I was traveling to (including all the airports and airspaces en-route), that my passport was too crowded with visas, that my luggage pieces were actually too large, and that I should do something about my complexion.

I was just tickled that my luggage and I were still not derailed from our destination, or worse.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Man against Beast

Everyone has their own Loch Ness monster to deal with. Mine was in the form of a lizard. Normally, I fancy myself in control of my fear faculties, and can semi-calmly traverse shrubby gauntlets and gecko-laden hallways. It became evident though, that some forces in the universe conspired for an eventful animal-interactive evening.

One contributing force was the self-induced sleep deprivation of the previous 2 nights. Mark (my compadre and the person in charge of A/V as well as creating a web presence) and I had been running around the conference compound during the day, making sure Human Right activists didn’t violate our human rights with unending petty technology needs and indignant expectationalisms (an entrenched sense of high expectation manifested by abuse of fellow individuals).

At night, we would patiently wait till the last of internet addicts and/or groupies of our little internet dungeon would depart, so we could get down to the business of transferring some content onto the website in the US. This would take us into the wee hours (e.g. 2,3,4 am). By So on day 3 I was already in a sleepless, frantic, and oddly entertaining universe.

But on this day, the universe decided to show me the animal kingdom up-close, to the point that by the time I finally got to bed at 5 a.m., I firmly believed I had landed in the Jurassic Park Island, unsure of my fate as a precarious mammal in a world of predators.

At 11 a.m. I ran past the terrace restaurant towards my room to fetch yet another wire, or some other techie trinket. By the time I returned, I looked through the restaurant at the place I just had run under, while a Pakistani Participant woman hurried towards me, in a shudder, and making some comments about a snake. As it turned out, a 5 foot green snake had fallen off a tree onto the path I had taken, about 35 seconds after I had been there.

As the compound dog (an unpettable she-dog with battle scars all over her body) tended to her snake neutralization duties, I wondered to myself what I would have done had this snake decided an earlier jump.

At about the same exact moment a spider landed on my head. The startling coincidence of thought and reality jolted me just a tiny bit, unbeknownst to me foreshadowing of what was coming my way later in the evening.

Later in the afternoon, a jumping lizard surprise-hopped over my feet as I was walking by the pool, helping a cosmopolitan Britt (Stephanie) with some flower photography. I managed to maintain a façade of machismo as I pretended to be interested in taking a snapshot of the bouncy creature, all the while hoping it would just keep on running away.

A butterfly landed on my elbow about 5 minutes later, and unknown rustling sounds in the bushes near the walking path reminded me of the sharing of space with other creatures.

That evening at around midnight, I found out how much sharing was expected of me. I was scurrying past the kid-pool towards my room to fetch a CD or something, when I noticed a tiny frog with a phenomenal leap. Like a green walnut-half on a catapult, it flew about 4 feet in a great arch, landing on the pool side of me. As I leaned over to take a closer look, it jettisoned itself again, landing on the edge of the pool, paused for a moment to take another look at me, and then launch itself in another parabolic arch that, unfortunately for him, ended in the blue and over-chlorinated pool.

I was beginning to feel a sense of over exposure to the animal kingdom, as I was walking on the whitewashed open corridors of our hotel rooms; a popular hangout (literally) for scores of insect eating tiny lizards (geckos) with their suction cupped limbs accommodating their anti-gravitational manoeuvres. Some ungodly loud squawking from a monitor lizard in the nearby shrubs unsettled me a bit more, and I was glad to finally get to my room.

As I absent-mindedly reached to put my key on the desk, the phone handle jangled violently, and something jumped onto the tissue box, toppled it, and scurried some more to land on the wall. And there I was, air sucked of my lung, petrified in an eternal instant, staring at a splotchy dark green colored scaley creature diagonally oriented on the wall with arched back and salamander-telescopes one of which was staring back at me.

Flight or fight instinct in both of us chose flight, and we scurried in opposite directions, with him making flippity-flop noises with his tail slapping against the back of the table, and the sofa, and me making a “wlllaaaaachhhh” sound as I ran 3 steps off and froze again.

The salamander-dragon also stopped, now visible through the sofa’s back-rest slats, he was now flattening his limbs and putting his chin against the wall to pretend he was invisible or cute, except for the fact that a 10-inch dark green lizard on a white wall, in my bedroom, is hardly camouflage-able, and definitely not, NOT cute.

Here I was, the supposed intelligence pinnacle of species, facing a relatively tiny creature with only a reptilian brain. Yet, I would give him better odds. Finally my front-lobial processing kicked in, I opened the door, closed the other escape routes, and flanked him by walking over the beds to get him between me and the doorway, hoping that I could direct his next burst of scurrying towards his freedom and my ability to ever use the room again.

As I was preparing to shoo him out that way, I happen to notice a tiny 2 inch cartoon-like gecko about 2 inches away from my eyes on the balcony’s glass door. I chuckled to myself, mentioned to the tiny one to stay put, as I had bigger lizards to shoo.

Here it went: I made eye contact with (one of) the dragonlet’s eyes, clapped hard, stomped towards him, yelling in a highly colored language and angry tone urging him to get out of my room. He respectively blinked his eye, jacked up from his ‘stealth’ flattened mode to the all-terrain high chassis mode, pumped his body up and down once, and vanished behind the sofa, only to reappear on the far end of the table.

Boldened, I dispensed some more words and clapped his way again. He then lunged off the table onto the floor, but instead of scurrying straight out of the room, he turned right, and hopped out of sight onto the cabinetry where the fridge, my snacks, and extra pillows were stored. I could no longer see him, but could hear his clip-claps alongside the wooden walls of the cabinetry, and then there was silence.

I could no longer see him, or hear his rustling, or comfortably move towards the door past the cabinetry into which he vanished. Here I was, standing on the edge of one bed, leaning across the way to see if I can spot him in my snacks or stacks of undershirts, while the wide open door would likely be invitation to other wild kingdom’s creatures to join this humbling predicament.

At this point one of the Indian Participants (Somya, the dragon-slayer) walked past my door, and to my life affirming relief (and mortifying embarrassment) came in to see what all the fuss was about. As I got the momentary resolve to walk off the bed and hurry out of the room, I mentioned ‘big lizard, in my cupboard…I don’t know where it is’. It must be enjoyable for a role reversal like that when chivalrous women with more of a rational view on lizards can show their fearlessness and save the sissy cityslicker type man from having a panic attack over something 10 times smaller, and 10 times more afraid of you.

She climbed atop tables and sofas, checked inside cupboards and among my (unoccupied) undies. She finally located a hole behind the mini fridge that led to the panelling overhead, and after a few moments, located a comfortably out of range lizard staring down at us from the overhead slats of the ceiling. The only remaining option was to cover the hole with something, and hope the dragonlet did not have another passageway figured out.

I locked the door, and left for more midnight work. That night we worked until 5am, so by the time I returned to sleep in my bed, I was too exhausted and delirious to be afraid. I was just thinking to myself, if my reptilian roommate was related to Kimoto dragons who cripple their prey and eat them while they are still aware.

In the split second that I was not fully asleep yet, I had a conversation with my indoor predator, in which I asked: ‘will this hurt?’ and he responded: ‘Not to worry… you will not feel a thing….’

This night, though, I was not eaten by the 10-inch lizard. He instead treated me to a nightlong tapdance routine on the other side of the ceiling, as if to celebrate its victory of occupation over his supposedly pinnacle-of-intelligence adversary.

I moved out of that room the following day, and accepted yet another dose of humility about my place in the universe.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Proof of insignificance

If anything, adversity is a good calibrator of self-importance. So, I had spent the past week making sure that the beautiful resort we have this conference at will be ready with a modicum of technology presence. I set up, or rather finagled setting up of, 3 wireless hotspots. Actually, one sentence doesn't do it justice. Setting up technology in a foreign land is quite an intriguing challenge, especially if you don't want to be some yankee jerk who bulldozes their way (as is done in the business world, oppressing and demoralizing all locals to get your technology or whatever). After all, this is a Human Rights type of conference, and how hypocritical to abuse the innocent (if confoundingly nonresponsive) local folk.

There is also a double whammy of ability and willingness to interact:
Ability, in that I don't speak Thai, and they hardly speak English.
Willingness, in that the IT-folk in general tend to be nerdy and not so communicative.

But, with pantomime and sound effects, the internal wireless hotspots were connected to the Hotel's fledgling semi-broadband, (slenderband?) connection. The IT guy whose name is dtee (pronounced almost like T.E.) kept pulling out secret wires from under roofshingles and inside back closets, and in general making it all happen.

The positive thing about IT folk seems to be that once you pique their curiosity, they will doggedly pursue the implementation.

So, after many hours of pointing and smiling, counting in thai and flailing, we established a patchwork of hotspots, beautifuly connected to the internet. A motley crew of laptops (namely Shiba, Pokey, Frenchie and Techie ... subject of a another e-versation) were sprinkled on the desktops of the internet Cave (prononced like cafe, but with a v, to signify lack of cofee and presence of a dungenous odor). across the way, 4 mini lapatops blinked expectantly for the afternoon sessions of technology infusion.

And then... with 15 minutes before the 4 simultaneous classes were to begin, as I was riding some wave of self importance and accomplishment in the early afternoon torrent, slowpacing like a peacock for the imminent onslaught of technology onto the eager participents...all the fans, and lights, and yes the blinking routers and modems stopped, as power in the entire neighborhood went out.

In the crashing descend into the abyss of helplessness (the power returned, but not the internet connection), I understood some Goedel's theorm version, that there is always a larger circle outside your circle of control, in this case, the Thor, norse god of thunder on vacation in Thailand.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Chiang Mai in August is wet, warm and still wonderful. I arrived here with all my luggage yesterday. Small miracle about the luggage, since my ticket was a patchwork of 3 tickets; a domestic flight (read sardine transport) from Minneapolis to LA, a 4 hour layover, a much anticipated ride on a non-US carrier to Hong Kong, a 4 hour layover, flight to Bangkok, a 4 hour layover, and a domestic 65 minute jump to Chiang Mai.
As I checked in my luggage with the agent at Minneapolis, she and I both chuckled as I asked "do you think I will ever see my bags again?"

The cattle-ride from Minneapolis to LA was nice enough if one lowered expectations. 6 ounces of orange juice for a 3.5 hour ride, what more can you ask for, really? As Dreaded pirate Roberts would say "This word they use 'service'...I do not think it means what they think it means".

LAX is as welcoming to travellers as Immigration officers are to foreigners (ambiguity intentional). The gate area had about 50 seats for 400+ passengers.

The world changed as I stepped through the threshold from the gate to the plane, ground to air, drab to exotic. My trans-pacific flight was on Cathay Pacific, an airline I hope will open up routes from Minneapolis to wherever they want to take me. aside from marveling at the void between my kneecaps and the seat in front, I cherished the food and amenities in coach class, that these days are reserved for Millenium-titanium elite status folk stateside.

The n-teen hour ride was much less tormenting than anticipated, as I deftly avoided the blue screen of information trauma ("time to destination 11 hours and 34 minutes...."). By the time we landed in HongKong (at 4 am) I was only mildly discombobulated.

I commandeered a pair of VERY comfortable sofa-esque chairs in the terminal that belonged to me and about 5 sleepy cleaning ladies, and slumbered for at least an hour or 4.

On the plane from HKG to bangkok they fed us again!
On the plane from Bangkok to Chiang mai a couple of hours later, they fed us AGAIN, and this was a 65 minute flight...This word they use 'service'.....

When I spotted my luggage on the merry go rounds at chiang mai, I threw up a couple of peace symbols as a shoutout to the big guy/gal/thing up above for taking care of me so well, and then stepped out to the thailand-proper of the other side of the airport terminal.

The shuttle service (once I called them to not forget me) was instructive, as I learned to say hello, goodbye, 1,2,3,4.......10 in thai, and I reached 'home' after Sam-Seip (30) hours of traversing the globe. I walked past the olympic size pool, and the lush flower jungles that surrounds my room. I forgot to do my signature flailing on the bed in sheer excitement of a new place (due to sheer exhaustion), but deep inside somebody was tickling me into a smiley sense of belonging.

Next, trying out this thing called real thai food.....

Monday, March 28, 2005

Happy Persian New Year

blue screen torment

The visual for the post below...finally am getting my act together.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Information forcefeed

Okay, here is a personal gripe with these blue-screens they show incessantly on the plane-rides over oceans (or huge tracts of land). Never mind the quickly diminishing novelty of knowing my ground speed and outside temperature, I really rather NOT know, especially after enduring an eternity of a primal scream festival by the 2-year old in front of me, that I have exactly 6 hours and 04 minutes left to go!

Although I do enjoy the little stick-figure airplane at the end of the red line showing the exact location of Yalta inrelation to Ankara, or where exactly Timbuktu is, which may become useful trivia someday, I rather not be constantly reminded of the duration of my “life is suffering” experience.

My counter measure normally is to avert my eyes, but can’t they issue special eye-glasses for minutia enthusiasts who like to examine the see-saw duel of the minutes elapsed and minutes remaining or the excruciatingly slow extension of the red line over the vast ocean?

There are times though that even averting my eyes is not enough, because the ‘helpful’ smelly man next to me (yes always old smelly men, and never more pleasing individuals to spark a romantic comedy routine) will blurt out:

-Well, we have only 4 hours and 20 minutes to go.