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Alice down the rabbit hole


TAJIKISTAN | Sunday, 5 May 2013 | Views [319]

Anonymity is something I have already come to appreciate in my few days in Tajikistan. Our group arrived on a cloudy March 15th at the YHA in St Pancras for one last training session before our flight to Moscow the next day. From Moscow we would transfer to our direct flight to Khujand in the far north of Tajikistan, our host city for the full three months of our stay. If the other volunteers’ journeys were anything like mine, their worried parents put them on the early morning train to London where they took their seats with hundreds of commuters who may never even make eye contact let alone speak to one another. Once the train pulls in to the capital even a girl carrying her body weight on her back is swallowed by the crowd and barring a few annoyed glances directed at my monstrous backpack, I sailed my way through the London traffic in perfect obscurity.

   Many hours later we arrived in the Domodevo Airport in Moscow and after much misdirection and confused mumbling in Russian, we strolled to our departure gate. I was surprised to see such a crowded lounge for a regional flight to a small city but even with the protection of numbers, every head turned and every amused eye followed us silently asking if we were sure about our flight plans. As we sat down a very polite woman with a young child walked up to us and asked in unpractised English why we were going to Khujand. Satisfied with her answer she turned and spread the news amongst the curious onlookers. Ripples of understanding past through our captive audience as mutterings of ‘Da? Ingliski?’ were raised above our own bemused giggling.

  And it didn’t stop there. When we arrived in Khujand at 2 AM we attempted entry in to the country but were asked three times in a 50 metre stretch to show our passport, one time by someone who seemed to be the guy lifting our luggage on to the scanner. A crowd waited outside, craning their necks to get a look as a man in a militaristic uniform practised his English with the first English speakers he had seen in months. When we eventually reached our training centre, a sanatorium next to the ‘Seaside’ (Tajikistan’s largest body of water), we were not so much tired from our travels as from the gauntlet of the airport.

  Since then we have been asked countless times if we can step in to the photographs of complete strangers and stared at by the crowds. We are asked why we are here, if we like Khujand and asked for our phone numbers by passers-by. One volunteer was even given a baby to hold which made us feel like bizarre Royals. Well maybe not royalty but certainly celebrities. It is an unusual feeling, quite amusing at times and annoying at others. I was one of the most exciting things for me to think that Tajikistan is a place that tourists rarely ever visit and this is just one of symptoms. There are so few tourists here that when 12 young British people turn up at the same time we cause quite a stir. Perhaps when we separate and begin our work, or when our freshness fades, we will fade in to anonymity again.         

Tags: tajikistan

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