Dushanbe is a great city. Tree lined streets, western food, friendly locals…
There is a darker side however. That side dwels within the police force. If you ever needed a recipe for corruption, just look at how the Tajikistan system works. It is remarkably simple.
Step one: Pay your police a salary that is too little to support a family.
OK, there is only one step.
I do not know the exact amount that the military/police force are being paid here in Tajikistan, but I do know that a guy visiting Achmed yesterday was working as a lecturer at a local university, and receiving a salary of 7 Tajikistan Somoni (US$2) a month. To put this in perspective, a slab of flat bread the size of a dinner plate costs 0.5 Smoni (50 Diram).
Just for your information, the legal minimum wage in Tajikistan was only recently raised to US$1 a month.
With this information in mind, let me tell you a story. It revolves around these two photos:
I rolled up to the big statue of Ismoil Somoni in the center of Dushanbe early one morning this week, and got my camera out, ready to take some photos. The ever present police officer noticed this, and briskly trotted over.
“You, Somoni, photograph? Yes?” the very friendly police officer said, inidicating that he would kindly take a photo of me in front of the statue.
“That’s very kind of you” I replied.
The officer tries three times to take a photo before he figures out that the camera needs to focus, and then take the photo. The end result is a blurry photo, but I can’t be bothered going through the rigmarole of doing a lecture on how the camera works.
“Clock is over there. Photo?” askes the officer.
I figure why not.
Again a blurry photo.
At this stage I am ready to say thank you and leave, however the officer then indicates to the back of the statue, and tells me there is an interesting map.
At this point, for some reason I am getting suspicious. Perhaps it was because of the officer’s sideways glances as we walked, as if he was making sure no one was following or watching. It had a lot to do with the fact that it was still dark, and we were going to the back of a large statue, where no one from the street could see.
“I take photo. You, map” says the officer, once again far too enthusiastically.
I decide to clear the air. “This isn’t costing me money, is it?” I ask.
A puzzled look from the officer.
“Money. Denge, denge, niet, da?” I ask. (Denge = money, niet = no)
Once again the officer glances around, and then says in a perfect English accent “Five Somoni”.
Looking back on this experience, there is no reason why I should not have given him the money. I mean, it is only about US$1.50. But at the time I felt thoroughly violated. What I thought was a friendly jesture, was really a ploy all along to get money out of the ignorant tourist.
Anyway, I walked away in disgust, the officer trotting along behind me for a few meters essentially begging for money.
Now, once again, keep this episode in mind, as I tell you about another story invovling the Somoni statue in Dushanbe.
This time, I walked up to the statue, being careful not to make eye contact with the police officer (a different officer this time). I managed to get the shot below before a ‘friendly’ officer strolled up and offered to take my photo in front of the statue.
I said quite firmly, no. The officer persisted with “No problem, photo, photo!”.
The second time I said no, perhaps I said it a little too forcefully, because the officer looked put out.
“Document!” the officer spitted. This means that the officer wishes to see your passport.
I almost took out my original passport when I remembered that I had a copy in my pocket. So I handed the photocopy over.
He looked at the paper for a few moments, and said “American, yes?”.
Welcome to my number one irritation when it comes to police in this country.
You’re holding my passport copy and looking at it! Why even ask for it if you can’t read it?!
Well, that’s what I wanted to say. Instead I said no, New Zealand.
The officer once again looked at my passport, then at me, and then at the passport. He indicated that I have no beard in the passport photo. Amazing observation skills.
Incredulously (I still can’t believe he tried this on), the officer then says “Five Somoni!”. It is clear that he wants me to pay a fine for having a different appearance to that in my passport photo.
I begin to walk away in disgust.
“Stop! Document.” yells the officer.
I turn around and he is holding out my passport copy. I walk over to take it, and just as I am about to take it, he snatches it back and says “Five Somoni!”.
“Keep it!” I say, and once again turn and begin walking away.
“OK,OK” the officer says, and once again holds the passport copy out.
I gingerly take the paper, feeling like the little brother whose big brother keeps teasing you by doing the snatching and just-keeping-the-thing-out-of-reach game.
So the moral of this story is that the police ‘guarding’ the Somoni statue in Dushanbe are harmless enough, but are fairly persistant.
Maybe it would make life easier just to pay them five somoni upright, and then they would let you alone. Or perhaps that’s exactly what they want…