Tajik Shake Down

As a continuation on the previous post, I want to tell you about returning to Dushanbe from the Pamirs. Mikey chose to stay in the Pamirs a few more days, so I headed to Dushanbe alone. As mentioned, there are two ways to travel by road to Khorog from Dushanbe. On my return trip the driver chose to go through the Rasht Valley. This is a region that has experienced some internal instability since our arrival to Tajikistan. Because of this, there is a heightened military presence in the region. This was visible in the amount of checkpoints we went through.

I would now like to tell you about the attempted shake down of me. At one checkpoint after giving the soldier my documents I was asked to get out of the car. Since I was located in the back of the land cruiser everyone in the vehicle had to get out too. Once out of the SUV I was asked in Tajik:

Soldier 1: Do you speak Russian?
Me: No, I speak a little Tajik.

Soldier leads me over to a fold out table, I move to the table followed by my driver and another passenger who speaks excellent English and is prepared to translate. The soldiers tell them that I can speak a little Tajik and they need to go hang out by the car. They follow this request.

Soldier 1: Who are you?
Me: I am Jean Allison Church. I am from America. I live in Dushanbe. My husband is a graduate student in Tajikistan.
Soldier 1: What were you doing in the Pamirs?
Me: I looked at the big mountains, I visited a friends family in Barcheed.
Soldier 1: Tourist
Me: Yes

Soldier closely inspects my documents

Me: My papers are good
Soldier: ( I don't understand everything but I get the gist) I want 50 somoni ($11) from you
Me: No, Why?

Soldier signs 50 somoni on the table

Soldier 1: Come on, give me 50 somoni
Me: No, Why?
Soldier 1: It is night, you can not travel at night
Me: You are not correct. I have apples, would you like some apples?
Soldier 1: I don't want apples, do you want a persimmon?
Me: /no, I don't want a persimmon
Soldier 1: 50 somoni

At this point I realize Tajik isn't getting me anywhere. We're in a stand off, so I switch to English...

Me: Are we just going to play the waiting game? I am giggling at the ridiculousness of the situation. The soldier is smiling too.

Another soldier walks up...

Soldier 2: Do you have a baby. (Soldier 1 mimes rocking a baby)
Me: I understand, no I don't have a baby.
Soldier 2: How old are you?
Me: I am 30 years old. ( My giggling increases)

I walked away giggling to where my driver and volunteer translator are standing with the other soldiers. I seek council. I explain that the soldier would like me to pay 50 somoni, I am happy to pay it if that's the only way we can continue on the road, but my papers are good. At this point the translator explains to the driver the situation. The driver has a short exchange with the solider attempting to extort money from me, my passport is handed over and we're on way.

Mikey and I have held to our policy: we don't pay bribes 100% of the time. This isn't the first time we've been asked for money from public servants. Part of the issue is that corruption is part of the system. For police in particular, we have been told that their wage is barely livable. Tajik police are like waiters, it's the standard to tip (or bribe, depending on what linguistics you prefer). This is how it's justifiable to pay them so little, the income on paper is not their actual income.

Continuing on to Dushanbe from the Rasht valley we passed the location of the proposed Rogan Dam. This Dam is the proposed location of a large scale hydro electric plant. Who will pay for the construction of the dam and hydro electric plant? That's the multi million dollar question.

At Rogan the roads shifted from 4-wheel jeep tracks to smooth, well laid asphalt. From Rogan back to Dushanbe the roads reminded me of Kulab (the president's region), really nice. The road to Rogan is like red carpet leading potential investors to the promise land, or at least that's what's being sold.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving Ali & Mikey!!!

    Stay warm and stuff your face heartily!

  2. nicely done Ali. I am especially impressed with your offering of apples. Do you think he was mocking you by asking if you wanted a persimmon or was he really ready to give you one? Please tell Mikey that Leland tells everybody that his friend Mike taught him how to swim last summer.

  3. Ali- I especially enjoy the meticulous transcription of your convo w/ border people. And that you have alot of good details/background info about larger contexts of your experiences. Keep on volunteering, those projects sound great.