After finding a dirt-cheap hostel I head into town without any concrete plans. I follow a pack of Hare Krishnas for a block as they hand out cookies to passers by before I start to walk down some random streets to see what has changed since I last was in town three years earlier. In the evening I see that there’s a couchsurfing meeting. There I not only run into two Japanese people I met in Georgia years earlier but I also meet another guy who has traveled in Afghanistan. Together we make plans to see the military parade the next day.
We were expecting tanks at the parade, or if not tanks at least some impressive weaponry. But instead we get a bunch of marching battalions, the minister of defense who drives around standing upright in a Hummer as he passes by the men to salute them. After that a bunch of speeches are given which we can only hear because the speakers are a few hundred meters down the road.
After it’s all over we walk down to see the armored personnel carriers, helicopters, ambulances etc on display, with kids crawling all over them. I guess it’s cheaper to just park them here rather than to having to repave the asphalt road after the parade. An attractive girl is selling shells from armaments fired at the separatists in order to raise funds for her volunteer militia. It’s a pretty festive atmosphere. Plenty of people are walking around in national dress or carrying the flags of army divisions. The fact that there’s an actual war going on that these armed forces are involved in only a few hundred kilometers from here makes the whole scene slightly surreal, yet poignant.