After arriving back in Dushanbe in the early afternoon and being fussed happily over by Reyhon who was happy to see us safely arrived home, Malik and I went to the Uzbekistan embassy in Dushanbe to pick up our visas for entry to Tajikistan’s neighboring country. Because of some changes in my travel dates, I needed to request “rush” processing (which means they stamped it right away instead of waiting for a day and then stamping it) which at an extra ~$40 brought the total cost to exactly $199. Ouch – Uzbekistan is not a cheap place for an American to visit! Malik and his Tajiki passport, however, only had to pay the extremely reasonable $8. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never complain about Jordan’s 10JD (about $15) ever again!
Before Malik and I left for Uzbekistan the next day, I wanted to go and see Dushanbe’s technological pride and joy – an internet cafe that was gifted to the city from their sister city in America, Boulder Colorado. I saw the 20-year-old gift from Dushanbe last summer while Farahnush was living with my family, which is an ornately carved and beautiful teahouse built by master Tajiki craftsmen. The new internet cafe was scheduled to be opened in late 2008, and was indeed the subject of a grand opening party in September, but it continues to sit empty of computers and customers. Farahnush confided in me that as usual, lack of communication between the government and other parties involved (or the necessity for bribes) had stalled the project.
The cybercafe was tidy and brightly lit by massive window panels along all the walls. As we entered, a single man, surrounded by empty bottles of vodka and a hunting knife, rose from one of the two tables in the main room and greeted us. As Farahnush translated for me, we learned that he was a Russian building guard who had been watching the place for months. Upon learning that I was an American, he plaintively asked me whether I knew how to connect solar panels, or whether anyone could find out for him if he was going to get paid again. Apparently, he hadn’t received a paycheck in months and was going through a couple bottles of vodka a day (as we could tell; he was having difficulty standing and it was only 9 in the morning). However, he was happy to have someone to talk to, and explained how the building would be functioning, if it had electricity. Apparently that was the main problem: no one knew how to connect the large solar array outside the building, to the panel down in the basement that was supposed to feed the plugs for the computers. The state-of-the-art computers themselves were nowhere to be seen, but the Russian assured us that they were “in a safe place,” which we can only assume meant in the basement and behind his large, extremely effective-looking knife.
Not only is there the internet and cafe sections of the building, but behind the central island pictured above, there’s also space for a small library, complete with comfy-looking black overstuffed chairs and cozy little nooks under low-hanging ceilings. There’s also a meeting room beyond that (close to the small window pictured to the right) that perhaps could be rented out to organizations looking for a good place to discuss things that need a handsome, brightly-lit environment.
The guard told us that some members of the Tajiki government and business had offered to buy the beautifully modern-looking building and turn it into a bar. However, the Americans in charge of the project had of course, refused, at which point Farahnush interrupted her translation with a “thank God.” I definitely agreed – a building like this would be excellent for Tajikistan’s burgeoning young population as a friendly hangout and place for them to have a high-speed connection with the rest of the world. However, it was sadly obvious that no one besides the guard and the occasional tourist had paid much attention to the place in the intervening months since September 2008; weeds and grass grew wildly through the cracks between slabs of new concrete outside, and the infinity-shaped pool in the back sat dry and dusty. Hopefully the Tajiki government finds a skilled electrical contractor and gets those power panels hooked up soon.
UPDATE: Breaking news from the Boulder-Dushanbe sister cities program! Apparently they just found an operator for the internet cafe and it will be opening up in only a few weeks! Details here from a local Boulder newspaper.