Sweep, sweep, sweep, sweep. You know you're still in Asia when you are woken by the women sweeping.... the courtyard, the grass, the drive, the gravel at the side of the road, the porch, the steps, even the road itself, and then they dump all the trash into the open drain...... And it happens every morning.......
So I'm up early every day, which means I get to talk to Juliet before the wifi gets crowded, and it also means I get to the Embassy early. Today, Friday, it was the MFA Tajikistan. They pulled my notes out of the same cubbyhole they'd put them in on Monday. Nothing had happened since, and I had to explain what I needed again.....I need a two day extension as I messed up the dates for my Uzbek visa, and as it stands I will have to sleep in NoMansLand, 50m wide, for two nights. "Okay. So can they see my flight details?" "I'm cycling." "How am I going to get to the border then?" "Cycling.....it's only 70km". "In one day?" "Yes, it is possible." "Okay, pay $10 next door, and come back on Wednesday for your passport." "I need to cross the border on Tuesday." "Oh. Well pay $20, and then you can pick your passport up on Monday". Don't ask me? I don't understand the logic.
Also on Monday, I need to visit the Turkmen embassy to see whether I have a Transit visa, but they've been refusing visas lately, "because you're too short....", no not really, but almost. Getting that visa will really simplify my next three weeks......15 days, 100km a day over flat hot desert, hopefully with a tail wind, all the way to Iran. Not getting it means cycling North to Tashkent and getting a flight to Iran. Turkmen embassy suggested that I cycle to border, 10 days, and "IF " they've granted my visa, it will be there waiting for me.....Hmmmm?
In the meantime, I continue to learn more about Tajikistan. There are two types of private vehicle here in Tajikistan. In the countryside you see the ancient Soviet cars, Ladas, Volga, and they struggle to keep going, often seen "resting" half way up a hill, and in the city, they're often the ones being pushed through the traffic lights. Then there are the flash new vehicles, many Mercedes, Range Rovers, and all black, and with darkly tinted windows. These are driven by those "in the loop", with contacts, family connections, to the President's men...... And they are nasty, arrogant, and scarey. Twice now, I've been intimidated by a group of these drivers, squeezing me as I cycled along. At home I would probably signal them with a finger. Here, you dare not. They rule the road, and the streets, and everywhere else.
This intimidation seeps through society. A couple of days ago I saw two cops bullying the staff in an Ice cream shop. It wasn't pleasant, but no one dares to stand up to them. The next day, I was in the same shop. A policeman was directing a guy with a cart to collect all the free standing advertising boards along the street. Some shop owners managed to scramble their boards inside, but there certainly was no arguing if the policeman got to your board before you. Having said that, at no time, so far, has any police officer or soldier in Tajikistan threatened or frightened me. But I'm not a local.
I was a little worried yesterday however. Cycling towards an embassy, moving very slowly through traffic, and a lady stepped directly out in front of me, didn't even look. I swerved, but struck her on the head with my shoulder. She stumbled, but did not fall, and swore at me very loudly in Russian and Tajik. Her verbal abuse assured me she had a pulse and was breathing, so I thought perhaps moving on, and quickly around a corner was the best option. I did not want to be confronted by angry locals, police or an angry lady. Naughty, but playing it safe.
I didn't think anyone would chase me. The people of Tajikistan do not, it seems, have much time or interest in participating in sport. Only very few ride bikes, mainly kids. I have not seen a single person running, except to catch a Mashuka. I have seen a few kids playing soccer, with very flat soccer balls, and I did spot some Hash House Harriers ( but they are generally expats, and when I tried to meet them for the Hash later in the day, I couldn't find them), and I have not seen one Gym. That said, a lot of people seem to walk, at least to the main road where they catch a Mashuka or taxi. But no obvious sport or fitness culture to be seen.
But then, perhaps scaring cyclists is a sport. Every time I go cycling I have a close call. The problem is the Mushukas, taxis, and the unregistered taxis. Those wanting rides, stand in the far right lane, where I cycle. They signal a ride, sort of like hitching, and one of the above swerves into the curb to pick them up. Often it's a race to see who can get there first. They don't register "cyclist". They register "cash job", which puts my life at risk. On the main streets, I've started cycling on the footpaths, where I dodge the businessmen doing their shady deals. Adventure.