Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Getting home

Return journey from Dushanbe via Moscow. Left the house in Dushanbe at 1 am, got to the airport, and went through the usual nightmares and traumas. It's interesting to see what they do. In Dushanbe you fill in a customs declaration on the way out, and if you are a Tajik, particularly a young male, you get searched very carefully. I saw one guy being clutched by the goolies very hard and for a longer time than necessary. As a foreigner, and a woman this time I was lucky, and they did not even go through my bag, as they do at other times.

Managed to get out without having to bribe someone; a Swiss guy whose registration in Dushanbe was not in order also managed to talk his way out of it without payment. Arrival in Moscow at 4.30 am. Some Russian army folks took the privilege of overlooking the queues waiting for the passport control; some civilian Russians wanted to join them, but the Swiss guy and I shouted at them and they went to the end of the queue (and probably skeddadled round another corner). They were not having any of it; one held up his Russian passport and said 'it's my country'.

70 minutes after arrival we already had our luggage; then I waited until 7 to get the train into town, abandoned my luggage at Belorusskaya railway station and wandered around Moscow and Ikea. Lots of public transport trips. The 'free bus' to Ikea is one you pay almost with your life, what with having to use very pointy elbows to get on - a fight for life and death, and one that the many pensioners amongst the passengers have fought all their lives, probably.

Eventually then to the other airport for my 9.30 pm flight home. Met a diplomat I know who had been for a half-day training course in Moscow (his country's taxpayers must be pleased to send people to one of the most expensive cities in the world). It was his first trip, and he hated it (understandably - the traffic, the mud everywhere, the over-expensive shops). There's one who won't be applying for a posting there.

Another friend had talked earlier about heating in public buildings; a relative had been in a hospital and caught flu because the hospital was so cold. Eh? Hospitals are the responsibility of the state in Russia; people often pay for health care either in bribes or in other charges (or both), but even if they did not, one would have thought that one of the oil-richest countries in the world could afford to heat its public buildings, even in that climate.

The poorest of the poor are still paid next to nothing in state benefits, maybe around 150 roubles a month (about 5 Euros per person). This country has all that oil wealth, the oligarchs, if they are not poisoned by Polonium, put in prisons etc, but the state still treats its population (at all levels) like dirt. No wonder the Russian revolution happened. But now the students, unlike then, are all too busy studying so they get well-paid jobs - will those with lower qualifications ever be able to join the wealthier society?