Oh ye of little faith…

After two years of living in extremely trying environments, albeit for completely different reasons, the housing gods have finally interceded on my behalf, although I admit, I had to give them a little push when the realtor took me out apartment-shopping.

There is apparently a plethora of different fully furnished, including linens and dishes, apartments in Dushanbe.   So, unlike Kathmandu and Huye, where I lived in Rwanda, there is a wide range of different types of apartments.  Houses, of course, are in short supply in the city, but not apartments.

Now when I first set out to Rwanda, and then again when I went to Kathmandu, I knew what I wanted:   a traditional home, whatever that was for the country in question, close enough to my place of work that I could walk in 30″ or less, and in a building or neighborhood where other ex-patriots were likely to be found.    That’s how I lived in Kenya, and even in Japan.  It is what I wanted to do again.

However, fate was against me in both Rwanda and Nepal and I honestly didn’t know whether the same would happen in Dushanbe.  But I was willing to try once again to see if I could find what I wanted, after all, perseverance is my middle name, as they say.  I persevere when odds are against me, which is a good thing, I am told.  Unfortunately I  perserevate in times of stress, as my wild thoughts after I lost my- jacket-that-I-don’t-usually-travel-with-because-I-don’t-want-to-lose-it will attest.  My mind still keeps trying to sneak back to relive the fateful moment when it all transpired in the hopes that, if it thinks about it enough, it might somehow be able to change the outcome, a full week after the fact.  I really could use another brain sometimes…

Now my instructions to the realtor to find something where other Tajiks live was puzzling to her, presumably because almost everyone living in Dushanbe IS Tajik.  I have yet to see another foreigner, apart from the Americans I met at the U.S. Embassy, although I know that there are some around.  It was not until later that I found out that, had I asked her for an apartment in an “old building” that she would have known instantly what I wanted.

This apartment is very nice, the realtor told me as we headed toward the elevator.  Look there is even a supermarket on the ground floor.

To be fair, the apartment itself was attractive, with high windows with lots of light pouring in. But the furniture, what there was of it, was atrocious.  On the one side, a huge white metal frame bed, on the other, there was what appeared to be a tired stuffed sofa with an even more worn-out blanket covering its seat and back, but not its arms.  I knew that I would never sit on it.

$500, but maybe she will go to $450, I was informed.

But I also didn’t like the neighborhood that much, it appeared to be just a bunch of more apartment buildings.

This apartment feels better to me than the first.  It had two rooms instead of one and was, on the interior very nice.

Ah, I have noticed that women looking for apartments talk about how they “feel” while men just want to know what is there and what is not.  The realtor said encouraging when I announced my opinion of the  apartment.  But its only view was over the dreary parking lot behind the building, and we had to walk past a smelly trash pick up area just to get to the entrance.

$450 but maybe she would go down to $400?

Little did I know that the previous week she had taken one of my American colleagues here to view 10 different apartments all to no avail.  She finally gave her to another realtor who found her heart’s delight, a brand-new apartment in what I think is the business district, at least that is what it looked like when it was pointed out to me on an excursion to the Embassy.  For $700, which the realtor thought to be overpriced.  Apparently the owner had asked for $900 so presumably my colleague thought she was getting a bargain to get him down to $700.

Later, I learned that her sister was visiting from Finland and she had had to come out to show another potentially picky American apartments instead.  As I learned more about her, the reason for her somewhat discouraged look became apparent.  She really didn’t want to be showing anyone apartments.

Have you made any expat friends yet?   Ah, here was the crux of the matter.  Despite sending detailed instructions, including a price range, to my embassy contact, the information had apparently never trickled down the communication chain to the person who actually needed it.

Oh, I don’t want to live where ex-pats live.  I heard from a Fulbright Scholar who came here before that I can find something very nice for $350.  Did Tahmina tell you that was the price range that I had in mind?

Oh no, I did not know, at which point she got on the phone.

The next apartment was another wide open studio with high ceilings and, in this case, floor to ceiling windows that allowed in so much light it was blinding.  But it smelled of new paint, so it was off the list in a heartbeat.

I want to show you an apartment in an old building.  Expats do not like to live in old buildings.

My ears perked up at that comment, perhaps the key to finding what I wanted was not to ask for housing where Tajiks live but housing in the much-distained-by-expats old buildings.

To be sure, the building was old but the park in front of it was breath-taking.  I knew even before I saw the apartment itself that this was where I wanted to live.

The building may be old, but the apartment has been refurbished at some point in the not-to-distant past, I thought, although perhaps not the kitchen, which has its own story to tell.   Ther is a good-sized living room which overlooks the park, a reasonably-sized bedroom with a queen-sized bed with a very firm foam (I think) mattress which I love.  Between the bed and the window that overlooks the parking area behind the building, there is a closet and a little alcove with a large vanity which would be a perfect working space if I didn’t love the wide and long comfortable next to the window in the living room so much.

The living room is tastefully furnished (I think) with one (very) long sofa and a matching day bed, both are covered in some dark green-brown fabric with brown faux-leather arms.  (Something that I would never purchase of course but in the larger scheme of rental apartments, it is much more desirable than the overstuffed sofa that I saw in the first apartment.)  Plus…. it is long!  I only had two loveseats in Kathmandu which were difficult to cram two dogs (or four) and a person onto at the same time and, even then, my legs had to dangle over one arm of the furniture.   Apparently it also opens into a bed, so if anyone wants to come visit they can sleep in front of the magical gardens.  I have considered checking it out for myself and perhaps I will come winter when it might be easier to heat one room instead of two.

There is a big glass-topped black coffee table, and a long black cabinet upon which sits a TV boasting dozens of Russian- and Tajik-speaking channels.  Finally, at the far end there is a tall set of cubbies, with a variety of different sized spaces in which one can puts one’s personal treasures.  Three of them have doors with contrasting square handles, that match the handles on the doors of the cabinet.

The wall paper is golden beige.  Textured irises of gold and brown dance across it from floor to ceiling.  The only thing hanging on the wall is a gold-framed 3-D page of what appears to be a gold replica of a page from perhaps the Koran, since it is written in Arabic and most Tajiks are Muslim, set against  a gold filigree background. I like it very much.  But then, I got into gold ornamentation when I was in Nepal.

The only hint that the room might have not had an easy life recently, are where two strips of the wood veneer used to cover the particleboard from which the cabinet is actually made, have been torn off by little fingers, presumably.  The woman, who is renting it while she joins her husband, who works for the UN in the Ukraine now and who is one of the daughters of my landlady, has two young children.  I can easily imagine the tiny fingers jumping for joy when they realized that they could peel off a part of the furniture.  There is one place in the wall paper, near the floor, that I presume met with a similar fate, as the wallpaper is loose around both sides of its seam.

The ceiling, also beige, is recessed below curving corner borders, gold and beige.  All in all it is very tastefully furnished and it rents for only $350!

I didn’t think that the realtor would be able to find you an apartment for $350, announced my embassy contact when I asked her why she hadn’t told the realtor my price range.

Oh ye of little faith.

I am alone in the apartment except for a two-foot high stone (I think) stallion, plated with gold plastic, and wearing a bejeweled gold saddle, who is perpetually rearing up on his heels in a display alcove that is too tall with him but comes complete with recessed lighting, in my bedroom that faces the door.  He is the first to greet me when I enter the room.  Upon closer look, I can see that a couple of pieces of his golden neck have, presumably, met the same fate as the face of the living room cabinet.  But this is not what catches the eye when one enters the room.  No, at first glance he appears to be of pure gold, and even more so if his personal light is turned on overhead.  There is nothing I like more than a bit of tackiness in an otherwise tastefully furnished house and, in the absence of a dog (or dogs) or a cat (or cats), he is doing his best to try and keep me company.

Of course, on the wall facing my bed is yet another TV that I can’t understand, framed by four narrow white pillars, two on each side between which small glass shelves for displaying prized possessions are placed.   It is most unfortunate that I do not travel with items from my vast collection of Japanese pottery. think my  tea bowls would have looked very nice indeed on these shelves.

The kitchen is the one exception to the rule.  I doubt that it has been remodeled since the apartment was first built, although they probably didn’t have washing machines then, so maybe it has.  It miniscule, I can almost stand in the middle of it and reach the microwave, the stove, the washing machine, the sink, the oven (yes, I even have an oven!!), and the refrigerator, which is huge compared to what I had become accustomed in Rwanda and Nepal.  There is even a narrow counter in front of the window that overlooks the parking area.

The sink is the only real flaw that I can see in what is otherwise a very small but functional space.  It is a small round affair built into the corner of the countertop. To its left is the stove top, sitting on top of the washing machine as it turns out.  Around the corner on its other side is open countertop.  What I wouldn’t give for it to have been placed there, as it is very cumbersome to reach over the counter corner of the stove top and almost eight inches of corner countertop to wash one of the only three pots that I have, two of which are traditional cooking pots which are, themselves, almost as big as the sink.  Perhaps this is why some of the dishes were not as well-washed when I arrived, a problem quickly remedied with a bit of soap and water.  But even this is a minor inconvenience, what with the beautiful view out the front and the well-appointed living room, who cares if the kitchen sink is awkwardly placed?

If I am being honest, I must admit that I am also challenged by the stove top, a type of electric glass top, like the one I have in Florida with, apparently a few extra safety features.  Now while I have finally mastered how to turn it on — you have to press down with your finger for a short time, you can’t just tap it, and then press down next to the picture for whatever burner you would like to use, and then adjust with pressure on either the central + or – to change the temp.  That is, each burner does not have its own separate control, there is one digital panel which you must use to navigate yourself to the right burner and then to adjust the temperature.  The problem comes if I boil something over.  First of all, it shuts off, a good thing, but then it starts emitting periodically a beeping sound and all four burner controls start flashing an “F”.   Even if I clean up the spillage, it keeps beeping for a time, and then stops. But the “F”s keep flashing for a couple of hours, during which time I cannot turn the stove off or on at all. So if I want to cook a meal, I have to wait.  I am hoping that the neighbors have something similar and will be able to help me with this conundrum but, for the moment, this morning, I have no way to cook breakfast.

The apartment is an oblong, with the living room and one bedroom, which is locked, I think because the owners have things stored there, in front overlooking the park, and the bedroom and kitchen in the back, overlooking the parking area, and a small hallway in between the two sets of rooms.  There is a tiny bathroom just off the corridor when you enter the door with all the basics, a toilet angled out from one corner, a shower tucked into the second corner, and a sink.  My first thought upon seeing it was:

A nice shower but, of course, no bathtub.  My greatest pleasure when I stayed in hotels in Rwanda and Nepal was that many hotel rooms have bathtubs, although it is wise to travel with your own plug.

Upon further scrutiny, however, while taking my first shower, I realized that there is more to the shower than meets the novice eye.  First of all, it is really a sort of capsule, a tall glass cylinder with the back formed as a right angle that fits neatly into the corner.  There is enough room in it for me to do what I need to do to take a shower,  but not much more.  Two people could probably fit it, but no more.  The front is curved, with curved door that pull around to close in the middle, at its rounded front to form a complete enclosure, floor to ceiling.

You do not walk into it, rather you step over a wall of about 18” or so which lands you in a U-shaped plastic tub of sorts, a miniature bathtub, if you will.  Good for bathing children, but if I were to sit in it, my knees would need to be more-or-less bent up under my chin and, if filled with water, it would probably reach the middle of my calf, so I could not fully submerge if I wanted to.  The plug is missing and, as luck would have it, I forgot to bring one, so I am going to have to see if someone can help me get one.

Now this tub does not have a right angle at the back, which I would have expected given the available space.   Instead, the fiberglass is molded into what I subsequently realized was a sort of seat – I think – about 12” high.

The shower head, of course, detaches, and there is a row of silver buttons, starting just above the seat and ending at about arm height.  They look like the buttons on my mother’s Jacuzzi for bubbling the water, I suspect that they must spray out water but I have not tried them yet.  There is a round handle above them, I am guessing to turn them on.

So the shower is actually quite more than this, you can stand, or you can sit, or you have a tiny tub experience.


The old adage “third time’s a charm” certainly describes my housing arrangements for this year.  I certainly am living a charmed existence at home it would seem, now just to see what happens with work for the year.