Я сажаю алюминиевые огурьцы…

A trip to a Soviet-era aluminum factory, still in operation as the world’s third largest.

Ahh, the glories of stagnation-era industry!

One of the neatest things offered by my program is the opportunity to tour a Soviet-era aluminum factory, one of the largest in the world. According to our director, our organization is the only one that runs such trips, which he attributes to knowing the right people. Ahh, the joys of blat! The factory was, in a word, impressive. The sheer size of the place and the volume of aluminum produced is pretty incredible. The tour, given in Tajik, which Jake, our group leader translated for us, took us by most aspects of production. Here, we have the metal being melted and prepared, at temperatures near 1000 degrees Celsius. Needless to say, it was pretty hot.

We continued on through the factory.

The place was pretty enormous...

View from the inside out.

Aluminum, cooling off before being shipped off. The main exports? In order: The Netherlands, Turkey, Iran.

Also on display? Soviet-era propaganda. Always my favourite!

"Glory to the makers of aluminum!" (well, more some sort of "light-weight, for-the-purposes-of-flying metal").

After our tour of the inside, we were taken through the museum, which had models of the factory, as well as a selection of random products produced by the factory.

The model nicely illustrates the size of the place.

And, of course, the requisite self-portrait or sorts.

While on our tour, our guide told us that it was a state secret just what percentage of Tajikistan’s GDP was produced by the factory, known by just one or two people. When I jokingly asked him if he was one of them, he responded, “Of course I know!” and, switching from Russian to Tajik, told me without pause, “Seventy-five percent.” It took me a second to process the number, as my Tajik is extremely limited. But though he was kidding, the approximation is likely not far from the truth, at least in terms of the country’s legitimate industry. Our trip to the place, for example, suggested how many people make their living…

Life for many Tajiks is quite hard, to say the least. Heartbreaking.

From there, our group of four headed to Tursunzoda, where we enjoyed lunch in a pleasant cafe, explored the bustling bazaar, and walked through the Soviet era park. Something about Soviet era parks is always slightly heartbreaking to me. It’s hard to believe these places were once cutting edge and exciting…

After a lovely afternoon, which included TWO ice creams, it was time to head back to Dushanbe, where we headed to a disappointing Georgian restaurant, where the portions were a bit too small to be really all that enjoyable. The solution? A trip to Southern Fried Chicken. Although the food was pretty much straight out of any fried chicken joint in the US, you’d be hard-pressed to find some elements in the States.

Ahh, Kabul-produced Fanta!

I have long had a fascination with the obsession of post-Soviets with fried chicken, actually–pretty much ever since one of my students during a substitute-teaching stint in Moscow announced Rostik’s (a Russian KFC variant) was his favorite restaurant. These places are actually legitimately really popular with locals, and it strikes me as slightly amusing that of all aspects of American culture to cross the sea and move inland thousands of miles largely unchanged, fried chicken has been one of the most successful trends in the former Soviet Union.

The walk home was surprisingly pleasant, actually, the late evening being really the only time one gets any respite from the blistering 105 degree heat of the Dushanbe summer. And apparently, the worst is to come! At any rate, this fountain in particular almost had me immediately transported back to a pleasant summer in Astana.

Dushanbe's main park.

Alas, another weekend, another set of adventures. And now, onwards again! This weekend, to Gharm, situated in a beautiful mountain valley, a few hours from Dushanbe. Yes, please!

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