Yesterday (Saturday), our group went on an outing to a vacation/rest spot that is only a half an hour outside of the city. It was a little water park/picnic site situated at the foot of the wonderful Tajik mountains that normally you cannot see when you are in the middle of the city.
Highlight of getting there: the multiple bribes we had to pay the police at checkpoints just because we were foreigners in a van which caught their attention:
We were assigned to a large wooden table/bed (I forgot what they are called) where we set out all of the things that we had brought......yogurt, fresh Tajik bread, fruit, nuts, and vegetables and the restaurant on the campground brought us delicious "shesh-leek," or beef kabobs. We feasted all together and then afterwards all parted to go hiking, swimming, play pool (with a Russian pool table which is very different than an American table), ping-pong (I got beaten so badly by Aziz our Tajik friend), reading, and napping on the bed/table...all with the mountains as a backdrop and the sound of the river behind us.
When we got back after spending a good 6 hours in the intense heat (even though we were in the shade!) we all were a bit dehydrated and had headaches. But my night was not over! A few of us went directly to the US embassy for the 4th of July party (which incidentally was on July 5th...) It was a good time spent with compatriots. We ate hamburgers, hot dogs, and real salad--for the first time in two weeks! They imported drinks from the US and the water and ice were safe to drink....ah, the luxuries we take for granted :-)
There was also activities for the children (having to do with red, white, and blue in some shape or form), sports, and other fun "American" BBQ favorites. I must say that one of the highlights for me was having a tour of the Marines' "barracks." For those of you who don't know, at every embassy abroad, there are Marines who are assigned to protect the embassy in shifts. They fare pretty well....the ones here have a chauffeur (who drives a black Suburban....), a cook, imported goods from the US, a big screen TV with video games like Guitar Hero, and, to my shock and insane pleasure, every single movie you could hope for! They explained to me that every month they get a package of goods and movies/TV shows that have not even come out on DVD yet in the US. Not too bad. After standing there with my mouth open for an entire minute, I invited myself over sometime to watch movies and they said "of course!" (oh, and they have a popcorn machine....bliss)
You know, it's strange that I'm only here for 6 weeks and I miss things that I wouldn't think I would miss. The other day, I had a random craving for a Subway sandwich! This sort of "culture withdrawal" did not happen to me while I was living in France.....for whatever the reason, I find myself drawn to the comforts of the US embassy compound, in all of its over-the-top imported gloriousness :-)
All in all, it was a great but exhausting weekend. Right now, I am at La Grande Dame profiting greatly from wireless internet and a good espresso.
Next on the agenda is homework--oh yeah, I'm here for FARSI CLASS....I have to keep reminding myself :-)
My Tajik Homework...learning to write in cursive Cyrillic!