Tomfoolery

In which I Encounter Molten Aluminum, Prance over Fire, Achieve Fame, Acquire Soviet Ice Cream and Ski: A Week in Four Parts

Part I: TALCO Aluminum Factory

One of the best things about being in Tajikistan is that safety regulations are relatively non-existent. Meaning that if you want to stand right next to a molten vat of aluminum, you can follow that dream without any sort of safety gear.

This past Tuesday, we had a field trip to the TALCO Aluminum Factory, the largest aluminum plant in Central Asia.

More Fun Facts:

-Aluminum is Tajikistan chief export.

-The factory consumes 40% of the country’s electricity (looking at you, electricity cuts)

-TALCO is overseen by the president of Tajikistan, Emomalii Rahmon.

We started in the museum of aluminum, where we learned of the many uses of aluminum: osh bowls, bikes, electrical wire, roofs, etc. and viewed the many awards the factory has received since its opening day.

Next, after a listening brief safety lecture and signing our lives away in the guestbook, our class was led through the factory. Inside, we were greeted with trucks scurrying around with giant vats of molten aluminum and cranes lifting these vats across the vast warehouse. We then climbed downstairs, to watch aluminum blocks be made before eyes. Within five minutes, the mold that was filled with 700 Celsius Aluminum solidified, just in time for it to be dumped on the ground and lifted by the worker, who, using some sort of metal instruments, plopped it into the bundle for shipping. Next, after climbing up to see the giant room of molten aluminum (and shuddering at the thought of accidentally falling in), we watched the creation of the bigger blocks of aluminum, which were then casually picked up by a crane and dropped a few feet in front of us.

We choose this time for a group photo:

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Returning up the stairs, we turned right down this mini-highway to the giant magnetic room where the oxidized aluminum was melted down into liquid. It was hot.

Part II: Novruz (the Persian New Year)

Following the return from TALCO, we attended a Charshanbe Souri celebration with one of our professors. For those who are new to Novruz, Charshanbe Souri is the last Tuesday night before the new year and it involves jumping over fire for luck for the coming year in accordance to Zoroastrian tradition.

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Because it is a big deal (in Iran, not Tajikistan), we had two new stations show up to film us since we were one of the few Charshanbe Souri celebrations in the city. Both a local station and BBC Farsi came, so we are relatively famous now. Those lovely clips can be found here and there.

Part III: Baha’i Celebration and the Speakeasy of Frozen Delights

Novruz celebrations continued on Friday, the actual first day of the new year, and a group of us headed to a Baha’i celebration of Novruz at the invite of a friend whose host parents are Baha’ii.

We entered just before the program began, meaning that (surprise!) we were strongly encouraged to go on stage. My friends, who are all in the same class, had prepared a song for the Novruz celebration at ACCELS, but I sort of was just pushed on stage with them, being clearly a part of the group of Americans. Luckily, the first part was a solo, which meant that I could hear the melody that went along with the words before having to join in. It went surprisingly well. I guess taking choir in high school turned out to have a greater purpose: allowing me to entertain a group of Baha’is for Novruz.

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Traditional Tajik Dancers. A photo taken from the back of the room.

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Mandatory selfie

Next, craving ice cream (somewhat of a common trend), we decided to check out the ice cream factory, since we heard they had ice cream cakes.

The factory is pretty underground. In order to enter the factory, one must enter the store next to it and ask around. If you’re lucky, the owner will take you next door and you can enter the factory with the next ice cream truck coming through.

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Ominous gate, opening.

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Inside. Ominous gate closed.

Inside, aside from receiving another token of affection from a Tajik man (this time an apple), we asked around for the cake. Some things may have been lost in translation, as the guy handed my friend a box full of ice cream instead of a cake. Although sort of the same concept and shape as an ice cream cake, we decided that nobody wanted to buy the box. Instead, we opted for cups of butter ice cream wrapped in a nice Soviet décor and left the speakeasy of frozen delights.

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Mysterious blurry pic taken inside.

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Ice cream trucks!!

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Soviet butter ice cream. Delicious.

Part IV: Skiing

Aside from waking up to a goat slaughtering for the holidays outside my window:

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‘Tis the seaon

On Saturday, we went skiing. This is an eventful process. In order to ski in Tajikistan, one must:

Negotiate a price with a taxi driver who is:

a)    willing to drive you to the mountain

b)   willing to wait so he can drive you back

c)    somewhat of a badass, since the roads at this time of year are treacherous

Fortunately, we found one of the most badass drivers in Dushanbe who continued on, even though the foot of mud on the roads kept causing us to get stuck. Even after we decided to walk the last couple of kilometers, he speed past us, maskrukat bouncing along road. It was only after he was stuck again that we were able to tell him to wait for us in the village below.

The ski hill was underwhelming, although I’m not sure what else we would have expected with spring snow. That aside, it was a lot of fun and the view was, as always, breathtaking. After hiking up to the ski lodge for lunch, and dined at what is probably that only osh-hane in Tajikistan that serves just eggs.

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So much mud.

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The t-bar

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Trekking to the lodge.

Next, we rented equipment, something that is based off of availability and has little to do with size, and then headed to the t-bar, which had decided to start running again. For those who have never ridden a t-bar, imagine a seat that you pull down and ride all the way to the top. While an effective method for flatter terrain, the ride became much more exciting once we reached the steep incline. One then would ski down to the sound of avalanches in the distance and hope that the t-bar was still running, so they could catch another run before their hour with the equipment ended.

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Demonstrating the delicate art of t-bar riding.

The day finished with us walking down the mountain to the mashrukat and jostling back to Dushanbe until we reached the main road.

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