For my work I had an assignment requiring a week in Dushanbe. It had been more than a year since I had been to a new country -- a recent record for me. So I was looking forward to the trip. The only problem with going on a work assignment was that i would have to work most of the time. Fortunately I had to stay for a weekend and thus had a little time to explore.

I like to have a destination or goal when I wander around the city, so I went to the front desk of my small hotel on Saturday afternoon and asked (in my best Russian) how to find a tennis court and maybe schedule a lesson for Sunday morning. The receptionist knew that there were courts but seemed uncertain as to exactly where they were, I was having trouble understanding her ideas in Russian and she spoke less English than I do Russian. Fortunately one of the carpenters who was installing new windows listened in on the conversation and "Speak English please." He suggested that tomorrow morning I call a taxi and have them take me to the tennis club where surely I would find an instructor who would give me a lesson. Nobody knew how to telephone the tennis club but he drew me a little map and I was off.

I left the hotel and soon headed south on the wide tree-lined main street with a median strip big enough for two rows of trees and a pleasant sidewalk in the middle. Then I came to the central square with its huge monument. I should try to find out if it has any particular significance! The guy in the center looked like a good king and he was flanked by two lions to protect him. Many Tajik tourists wanted to take their pictures on the lions but the police kept shooing everyone off the monuments.

Continuing down the street I entered a big park where lots of families were eating shashlik (shishkebab) and otherwise enjoying the shade on a hot day. A horse-drawn cart offered rides and at the far end of the park was a ferris wheel and other rides.

In one corner of the park was a distinctive statue of Lenin. You don't see many of these in the former Soviet Union any more as many were either destroyed or moved into hiding. This one continued on display, though it did not draw much attention.

Checking my hand-drawn map, I realized that I was at the corner where I should turn to the East and walk one more kilometer (0.6 miles). On my right was the library with an outer wall adorned with statues of famous Tajik authors.

Immediately after the library I found statues of two serious looking men sitting at a table. The girls climbing on them didn't look so serious.

My directions claimed it was only one kilometer down this road to the tennis club, but I had walked at least two and crossed the river so I began to lose hope. Then I saw a zoo and remembered that in Almaty there was a tennis court inside the zoo, so I paid by fifteen cent entry fee and went inside. It was a rather depressing zoo with small cages showing little signs of recent repair. The camel had more room to wander around.

I decided to continue my quest so I didn't stay long. Across the road from the zoo was another park with a big lake. People were swimming, rowing, eating shashlik, drinking beer and hanging out. Across the lake was a new presidential palace under construction. I guess it will be impressive.

Next to the lake was another ferris wheel. Unlike most American ferris wheels, former Soviet ones tend to move very slowly and you pay for a single ride, once around. So I paid my six cents and admired the view. And suddenly, not to far away, I sighted what looked like a tennis court! So off I went. At the exit from the park I found another statue, of Cheslav Pudavski, the famous Tajik (or Russian) I don't know what!

I crossed the street again, entered another park and found a football stadium. A game was in progress with many spectators cheering (really, there was a good crowd, they just were not permitted onto the far side of the stadium).

I watched for a few minutes, then walked down the path a bit and there, behind a locked gate was a tennis court. it looked to be in fine condition and I still don't know why it was all locked up at 6:00 on a sunny Saturday afternoon! But my search wasn't quite over. Across the way was a big building that was open so I decided to check it out. Then I heard the distinctive ping of tennis balls. And there was a tennis coach giving a lesson. He said that it was too hot to play during the day but that the evening was a good time for a lesson. I decided I didn't really want to play indoors in the evening and said good bye.

I returned to the lake, found an outdoor cafe and had a cold beer and some plov (pilaf) while I admired the sunset.

The mountains

Dushanbe is a pleasant city, but it is not historic or exciting. Tajikistan's real attraction is its mountain ranges. Barbara agreed to show me and Norman the mountains just outside the city. First we went out for breakfast at a cafe run by American missionaries. They didn't push the religion and they cooked excellent quiche and scones. So we were in an excellent mood as we headed out of town. It didn't take long to start winding our way up a mountain valley.

After less than an hour we came to the end of the road at a large sanitarium. All the former Soviet countries seem to have many of these, places where people go to recover their energy. They may call it treatment or vacation but it was all the same.

Then we started walking up a steep, washed out dirt road. We had walked about one minute when we noticed the dark clouds and felt a few rain drops. We returned to the car and sat out a half-hour rain shower. Then the weather brightened and we started up again.

We walked almost an hour, steadily up the mountain. We were obviously walking through pastures but we didn't see many cows or sheep. A boy passed us heading down on his donkey.

Then we got to the top of the ridge and saw that there was a bit of a settlement where people lived, at least in the summer, and pastured their animals.

Suddenly the sky turned dark again and we felt a few more drops of rain, so we hurried down instead of pushing on to the next ridge.

On the drive back I was delighted to see boys selling bunches of mountain rhubarb -- a first for me in this part of the world. I resolved to look for it back in Tashkent.

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