Return to Dushanbe

Family members and neighbours gather inside a home to dance and sing at a Pamiri wedding. The Pamiri people are part of a sect of called Ismaili, and they follow the spiritual leader Aga Khan, who is believed to be a direct descendant of Muhammad.Image by Carolyn Drake. Tajikistan, 2009.

Image by Carolyn Drake. Tajikistan, 2009.

Tajiks gather at the airport in Dushanbe, Tajikistan to honor friends and family returning on charter flights from Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam. It is an obligation that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime of every Muslim who can afford to do so. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people and their devotion to Allah. Police in Dushanbe attempt crowd control at the airport, sometimes without success. The Tajik trip to Mecca is costs approximately $3,000. Tajikistan is the poorest of the post-Soviet Central Asian countries but also one of the most religious, and many families save for years to collect enough money to be able to send their aging parents on the journey.

More press credential-less street interviews and meetings today including an off the record interview with the US ambassador. In the evening I went to a nightclub, a tawdry disco filled a few wealthy Tajik men and Russians of both genders –including Russian soldiers from the Russian base outside Dushanbe. I'm caught filming the dance floor and promptly escorted to the front door bouncer, who is approximately the size of a mid-sized sedan. The bouncer tells me to delete my camera. I make a show of touching a few buttons and the bouncer is satisfied.

A nearby party of Russians, however, erupts in protest. "You are giving this American special privileges," they shout. "You need to show Russians more respect. We are building you a dam." The Russians are furious. They're screaming and jabbing fingers at the bouncer, who is getting agitated. One particularly drunk Russian guy actually pushes the bouncer, who now has had enough and motions to the man to follow him down the front steps to the club. Instead, the Russians make a beeline for a taxi.

Incredibly, after a few minutes they come back. More yelling. Then again they are gone. My two Tajik friends, both university students, claim the behavior is all too typical of the Russians. "They still think they're in charge and we are part of their country," he winces.

"But this is Tajikistan now."