WARNING: this contains swearing
Saturday and Sunday passed in a foggy haze of watermelon, new faces but the same conversations. Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? An overwhelming sense of inertia had descended on me. I could have gone away for the weekend but it was easier to do nothing. I could say I was saving my energy for the coming weeks but I wasn’t. I just didn’t feel like doing anything except waiting for the Turkmen Embassy to open on Monday. The whole trip seemed to have ground to a complete halt.
One day when I was feeling energetic, on one of my many trips down Rudaki, I found a fascinating second-hand shop that sold all sorts of Soviet memorabilia – paintings of Karl Marx and Lenin, old Russian cameras and a huge assortment of Soviet badges and insignia. It was a time capsule of the Soviet Union from the 60’s.
An English guy turned up on a Transalp. He needed to fit his spare rear tyre so I said I would take him to Andre’s workshop on Monday morning. At least it would give me something useful to do. Monday could not come soon enough.
Eventually the calendar ticked over to Monday and, after more of the same – endless watermelon and recurring conversations, I took the English guy to Andre’s to get his tyre problems sorted out late on Monday morning. I left them to it and returned to the Inn to waste some more time until it was time to walk the 1-2km to the Turkmen Embassy. Had the consulate official been able to get my visa back from Ashgabat a day early? Would I be able to leave in a leisurely manner on Tuesday morning? Or would I be left with a mad dash to the Uzbek border on Tuesday afternoon? I was about to find out.
With a mixture of apprehension and excitement I arrived at the Embassy at 2:45pm for the 3pm opening to find that my nemesis, Mr Sour-Face, was on duty again. Didn’t he ever have a day off? It made no difference. The Embassy was closed! I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbstruck as I trudged back up the alleyway to return to the Inn. My hopes for an early departure on Tuesday morning went up in smoke with the news delivered by a gloating Mr. Sour-Face.
Back at the Inn I now had to come up with a workable plan for my last day in Dushanbe. My visa for Tajikistan expired on Tuesday. I HAD to leave tomorrow – with or without the Turkmen visa. The fine for overstaying your visa in Tajikistan is outrageously expensive. Fortunately, the Uzbek border was only about 70km from Dushanbe. If I got my Turkmen transit visa in the morning I would still have an easy ride to the border. But if I had to wait until the afternoon for the visa I would have to leave directly from the Turkmen Embassy and head straight for the border before it closed.
For now there was nothing I could do but rue the fact that the Tajik Embassy in Islamabad had given me a 21-day visa instead of the standard 30-day that I had asked for.
Tuesday was D-Day – Departure Day. It was also Day 13. I hoped it wasn’t an omen. I made what I hoped would be my last trip to the Turkmen Embassy. Arriving promptly at 9:15am for the 9:30am opening I was again greeted by the nasty visage of Mr. Arse-Hole (recently downgraded from Sour-Face). Eventually my turn came and I was shown in to the Consulate Office. The same helpful official was there and, yes, he did have my visa. Yes! All I had to do was pay for it. No problem, I thought. Not so fast, Fate said. The official said that I couldn’t pay for it here. I would have to go down Rudaki into the city to a particular branch of a particular bank and deposit the money and then return with the receipt before I could collect the visa. Who makes up this stuff? It was now 10am. The official said I should be able to return by midday and pick up my visa. That seemed reasonable to me. And I would still be able to leave by lunchtime.
So off I went down Rudaki for the umpteenth time to find the elusive bank. With only a little bit of difficulty I found the right branch of the right bank hidden away in the back streets of the city centre, far removed from all the other banks. Then I had to find the right person at the right desk on the right floor. Eventually, I had the precious receipt in my hot little hand and headed back up Rudaki to the Turkmen Embassy. I arrived back at the Embassy at 11:10am – well before the official had estimated.
What I hadn’t allowed for was Mr. Shit-Head (recently demoted again). He said the Embassy was closed! I argued with him that the Consulate Official had told me to come straight back from the bank with the receipt. He would not listen and told me to come back at 2pm. I thought this was strange as every day had been 3pm. I held up three fingers – 3pm. Mr. Shit-Head shook his head and held up two fingers – 2pm. I held up two fingers to confirm 2pm. He nodded his head and laughed as I left the Embassy empty-handed for the second time in two hours.
Rather than return to the Inn I decided to search for some lunch. For some reason, I really felt like some greasy Western fastfood – something familiar, anything other than Tajik food. I was reaching the end of my tolerance for all things Dushanbe. As I wandered down Rudaki I decided to try a take-away chicken place that I had been past many times.
I wasn’t expecting anything great. But I certainly wasn’t expecting what I found when I walked inside. The interior was festooned with Australian flags and posters with people in Akubra hats. For some bizarre reason there was an Australian fried chicken franchise in Dushanbe!
After my unexpected dose of Australiana I returned to the Inn to pass on my morning’s travails to my fellow detainees at Stalag Dushanbe. I still had a couple of hours before 2pm when I could return to the Embassy.
I busied myself with the task of packing. After so long in the same place my luggage seemed to doubled in volume, as though it had exploded out of my panniers and spread it self around the room. Once I had the entropy back under control, I said my good-byes to the many people at the Inn and rode back to the Turkmen Embassy at 2pm for what would be the seventh and last time – no matter what the outcome.
At the embassy, I was again greeted by Mr. Shit-Head. You guessed it. The embassy was closed. He told to come back at 3pm. I told him he said 2pm and he laughed held up three fingers. I called him a fucking liar but I still had to wait. At 3pm the consulate official turned up and by 3:30pm I had my 5-day transit visa for Turkmenistan.
As I left the embassy, I took too much childish pleasure in shaking hands with Mr. Shit-Head and thanking him for nothing and calling him a fucking arsehole – knowing full well he couldn’t speak English. Of all the visas I had applied for none had been as difficult or time-consuming or filled with such blatant obstruction as the Turkmen visa. I just hoped that it wasn’t a reflection on the country as a whole.
But now I had a more pressing matter to deal with. I had asked several people what time the Tajik border closed – 5pm, 6pm, 7pm? Nobody really seemed to know. I headed straight from the Embassy to the border. After being immobile for two weeks it was great to be back on the open road again. I arrived at the Tajik Customs and Immigration post about 4:30pm and by 6:30pm I was in Uzbekistan.
I had finally escaped the Black Hole of Dushanbe!