Mike is now in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, and the armed compound--er, hotel--he's staying in has wifi, so we've been able to instant message yesterday and today.
As you might have guessed, the region is thick with stories, and even over IM, Mike is bursting to tell them and eager to gather more. I'll leave the full telling to him, but in a TRAVELMONKEYS exclusive, Mike has agreed to let me post some pictures he's taken of Dushanbe in his first 48 hours there:
The country has an annual GDP of just 990 million. (Some perspective: Microsoft made 60 billion last year.) They have cholera outbreaks every year, and it would take 10 million dollars to do the necessary work to make sure they have clean water and no cholera forever. The government has shown how necessary they think is by allocating zero dollars towards cholera prevention and 57 million dollars towards new furniture for a second presidential palace.
Here in "Friendship Square," Mike was stopped by a policeman with a submachine gun who asked to see his papers. After seeing that all was in order, the man guessed that Mike was from California. When Mike told him New York, the policeman smiled and said, "Scarface!" and gestured to his gun.
It's 114 degrees during the day. In these pictures the sky appears to be an overcast gray, but Mike says it's actually a thick and eerie yellow.
This is how the fence surrounding the government building for International Relations is decorated. It looks like a line of glowing dollar signs. Could this have anything to do with the massive subsidies the Tajik government receives from the U.S. as an ally on our War on Terror? (Dushanbe is 3 hours north of the Afghani border.)
This is where a feral dog attacked Mike. It's right outside his hotel and it happened the first time Mike tried to leave. The dog broke skin, but Mike beat him with his bag, and the dog ran off whimpering. Mike is glad he brought hydrogen peroxide and neosporin and hand sanitizer with him.
A (apartment?) building a block away from the presidential palace.
And finally, the bed where I hope Mike is sleeping right now. He went out with folks from the Embassy last night and they all expressed surprise that he wasn't sick yet. Everyone comes down with dysentery and a few years ago, a foreign guest died from it, so now the Embassy has a medical officer on staff. When I heard that, the wife in me kicked in, and I made him go to bed.