Dushanbe, Tajikistan Report of what it's like to live there - 06/13/14
Personal Experiences from Dushanbe, Tajikistan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I have lived in Berlin.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Home base is DC - you can connect either through Frankfurt or Istanbul but in either case it takes at least 24 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 years - 2011 through 2013.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Large houses for embassy employees. Some folks got ornate palace type things with fabulous yards full of cherry & fig trees; I got a concrete block with a prison yard.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
It depends on what you want. If you have no particular needs or tastes, food and such are pretty cheap. If you are a vegetarian or care about quality, you will end up shipping in a lot of goods and spending a fortune. However, the summers are great because there are fabulous fresh berries at low cost. That was the best part of living in Dushanbe.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I'd just do it like last time and ship wine, vegan foods, and clothes. (Clothes are either super horrid quality from China or super expensive, and made to fit teeny Tajik women with no body fat.)
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
As a vegan, I can't really speak to the fast food options, but from what I hear they were not great. Something along the lines of "Southern Fried Chicken" that served both pizza and chicken. In terms of restaurants, there was one decent Georgian (which has since closed), one decent Chinese (whose owners tried to blackmail me so I stopped going there), and one decent Indian. People speak highly of the Salsa "Tex Mex" restaurant and the Korean place but way too many of my friends did not even make it home from those joints without gastrointestinal emergencies. Actually, that happened to most folks at most places except maybe the Hyatt (which had expensive and bland but not intestine-searing food).
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Ants can get in the houses, weevils & such unless you put your flours etc in the freezer.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through embassy mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Much availability, cost is low. However, I had a ton of stuff stolen by my housekeeper.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a ridiculously expensive, small gym at the Hyatt. And other gyms throughout the city are weird and segregated. Bring your own fitness equipment.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Safer than I was told. Most places take credit cards now and one can always go to the Embassy or Hyatt for a safe ATM.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I believe there is an English-language Catholic service from time-to-time, but I am not certain.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Some Tajiki helps. I spoke Russian but that got me nowhere because of my non-Central Asian accent.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Definitely. The sidewalks were in very poor repair and in winter the ice was treacherous. There were several stores I simply could not enter during winter because of the slick stairs and lack of support. One of my colleagues almost died after slipping on ice, cracking his head open and having no adequate medical care.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Trains? None. Buses? Terrifying. Taxis/mashrutkas? Cheap and okay but not always safe and always, always, always super crowded.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I had horrible automobile luck. Just bring something small to fit through the tiny streets, and something sturdy because it will get beaten to shreds.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Cost was not horrid - maybe US$50-100 month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Just use the embassy-issued phone.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
No quarantine. There is one roaming vet who was good to my dog. However, Tajiks in general hate animals. They cut off the ears and tails of dogs to make them better fighters. My dog is actually a rescued Tajik street dog and he is about the sweetest creature ever. When we would walk around my neighborhood, however, people would either cower or throw rocks at him. As an animal lover, I was disgusted, horrified, and infuriated living here.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
They exist but are not abundant. Mostly gigs within the non-profit/development world.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is typical office wear - no jeans. In public folks wear whatever they are most comfortable in. Some women did not feel comfortable in sleeveless outfits or short-ish skirts because of the stares you get but I didn't care.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nothing that common sense won't deflect unless you have a high profile gig at one of the embassies from which Tajiks want visas. I was followed home and harassed a few times.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No real health concerns in terms of local diseases but the quality of medical care is horrid. Government employees get medically evacuated to Istanbul or London for almost everything.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate. I had awful allergies in the spring but then again I have awful allergies everywhere.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
HOT in the summer and variable in winter. The 2 winters I was there we had a fair amount of snow but no horrid cold temperatures.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community isn't huge, but overall the morale is good. I did not have a good experience at all, but I had a high-profile job where I had to disappoint many people every day. My acquaintances who were doing more development and aid-type gigs were very popular with the local community and got into the culture, hung out together, etc. Also, families were happy and single men were happy.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There are scary nightclubs but beyond that most folks hung out in each others' homes and pretended they lived elsewhere.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
The families seemed very happy here. Tajiks love children, and on top of that the Embassy has lots of programs and such for families with kiddos. As a single person, I can say - no way, man. Actually, let me revise. Single men seemed to love it because Tajik women are stunningly beautiful and (forgive me) are eager to get to the U.S. For single women? One of the worst places on earth!!!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
No. I had some very close gay European friends and they were fine but they kept a low profile. Aside from the Hyatt, there really weren't any places where they could be "open" in public.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. Tajik women are 2nd class citizens here and Western women are treated like honorary men, but weirdly. I always made Tajik men uncomfortable when I shook their hands.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Visiting a part of the world I otherwise would never have seen.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Some folks enjoyed watching Bushkashi, but I'm a vegan and that always kinda bothered me. If you hike or are a crazy, safety-ignoring skiier/adventurer, you can have fun in the mountains. Unfortunately, I am a city gal and had a horrendous time.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Suzanis are pretty, and beaded necklaces.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Saving money if you don't go nuts with online shopping.
10. Can you save money?
If you do not try to travel or do lots of online shopping.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I was pretty well-informed and steeled for my experience.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely not. Never. No way. No.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Romantic notions of an adventure on the Silk Road.
4. But don't forget your:
Wine (if you love it as much as I do), sense of humor, cash for trips out of the country, Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, nice sheets...
5. Do you have any other comments?
I recognize that my review is very negative. I did not choose this place. I hated my time in Dushanbe and still wake up in a cold sweat after nightmares about the place. HOWEVER, families with small children who love nature fared much better than I did. For a single woman who enjoys cities, travel, healthy food, a liberal environment, a lively cultural scene and the sea, this is about the worst place on earth.