Friday, February 25, 2005


I’ve been remiss in updating my log - in large part as I was studying for a language exam. That done with, this will hopefully keep you entertained for at least a week or so.

The weather has been staying chilly beyond the traditional 40 days of winter. Which isn’t too cold - at least it’s not as cold nor windy as Chicago usually is in mid-February. But given the seemingly near absence of indoor heating, it’s hard to ever get warmed up adequately. There are other things about living in Uzbekistan that need getting used to. This has created a new list of rules:

1. If I can remember the last time I took a shower - I don’t need one. Once a week or so seems about the going rate here.
2. If I didn’t wear it yesterday - it’s clean. If I wore it yesterday, and it’s too cold to change, it’s clean. Once it turns half way warm, laundry will be high on my to do list. Until then, it’s grin and bear it.
3. If I don’t see any food particles on the utensils or plates - they’re clean. A quick rinse under cold water seems to be the preferred method of sanitization.
4. If there’s a toilet available, use it. A luxury that should not be overlooked. And make sure you carry toilet paper (that’s a hint for anyone who wants to send me stuff) as the stuff they use here (when they don’t use newspaper) is akin to crepe paper.

Oddly enough, I’ve been suffering with a killer cold for the last couple of days.


Here’s a little background on the money situation here. There are about 1000 cym (which is the cyrillic, but actually comes out on a regular keyboard, so I’m leaving it like that. It’s pronounced like the sume in assume) to the US dollar. Minimum wage here is around 6500 cym. A month. Doctors make around 30000 cym a month - which explains why most are actually working as taxi or marshutka drivers, which are generally the highest paying legitimate jobs. On the good side, I’ve heard that MRIs and CAT Scans run about 25000 cym here. My next job will be to establish an overseas medical outsourcing company. One further item of interest about the cym is that the largest bill available is the 1000 cym note. Which are difficult to obtain. So my last batch of money - two weeks of spending money (39200 cym) and my Shakhrisabz allowance (40000 cym)- was given to me in 500s, 200s, and 100s, and was about an inch and a half thick. I’m actually doing quite well staying within my Peace Corps budget - going over last period only because I bought a Uzbek coat at the bazaar in Tashkent.

About $140 in som

Marshutkas (I don't know if that's the correct spelling, but it's close enough)

The transportation here is quite a thrill. In most of Uz the main transport around and between towns is the marshutka. These are vans that would probably not be allowed to be on the streets of America, much less to carry passengers. They vary in size, but usually hold 10 people uncomfortably, with 12-13 being the normal rush hour load. Their windshields are usually cracked, the brakes are squishy, the steering is squirrely, and the tires are slickery. Forget speedometers or seatbelts - except for the one tied to the side door so the driver can pull it closed. The only thing in them that seems to be working is a little digital timer that keeps track of how long they take to run their route. And apparently the faster they run the route, the more money they make. Fortunately, traffic isn’t too bad, and the roads are wide enough, such that the passes on curves and hills and in the face of oncoming vehicles are merely frightening instead of outright dangerous.

My “favorite” marshrootka rides have been with the weather has been less then ideal. For a while we were in a freeze / thaw cycle which left a thin sheet of ice on the streets in the morning. The ride to my NGO class involves a couple of hills, one of which we just couldn’t make it up one morning. As we were turning around, a car coming down the hill tried to break and began sliding towards us. Fortunately, our driver was adept enough to accelerate and move us out of it’s way. Unfortunately, he was accelerating us towards the bank of our local canal (guard rails? ha!). But alas, he was able to stop before plunging us into the drink. Needlessly, we had all risen out of our seats, ready to bail out and abandon ship. Good for me, in that Uzbekistan is heavily patrimonial, and I would have had first dibs. There have also been several days when the fog has been so thick it was nearly impossible to even see across the road. Not dissuaded by this, the marshutka drivers continue to ply the highways like they’re qualifying for the F1 Series. It’s days like that when I’d just as soon be crammed in between the seats facing backwards. All of this for the bargain price of 200 cym.


As I mentioned previously, a group of us went to Shakhrisabz last weekend for our independent field trip. Other groups went off to Bukhara, Samarkand, and Navoi. So 16 of us rode the train from Tashkent to Samarkand (four hours) and then charted a van and taxi to take us to Shakhrisabz (3 hours). As it had snowed over night, prices were a bit higher then we expected - 5000 cym apiece for the ride. We arrived in Shakhrisabz Saturday afternoon and proceeded to check in to our hotel. The sign out front had three stars under the name. I joked that three stars in Uzbekistan must stand for running water, toilet, and heat. Checking in, we didn’t have the proper registration to get the “local” rate so we had to do a little negotiating. Fortunately for us, it’s the off season (and you probably didn’t realize there was an in season for traveling to Uzbekistan) and one of the woman with us had studied in Russia and did an excellent job in securing rooms for us at 8000 cym a night a person. The tourist rack rate is $25 for a single, $40 for a double. That said and done, we soon discovered that three stars in Uzbekistan only means running water and toilet. Further more, it seemed as though the entire town of Shakhrisabz had a heat outage that weekend. But we’re Peace Corps volunteers, we can handle it. And it helps to get 14 people together in one room for drinks (vodka is about 1200 cym a half liter, which is less then Coke) and cards, as we did Saturday night.

The town itself was nice and quiet (it, of course, being the off season) with a few highlights that should take about half of a day to see. The birthplace and hometown of Temur (spelled Timur in all the western literature, but Temur on all the Uzbek statues), it sports the remnants of his palace - two massive towers, a crypt - which has two unidentified bodies in it, and part of a mausoleum with Temur’s son entombed in it. There’s also a picturesque mosque and an impressive bazaar in town as well. All are within about 1 km of each other.

Returning to Tashkent, we were without the luxury of the train, so I was stuck in the back seat of a Nexia taxi with two other people for six hours. I can’t complain too much - I saw other taxis with four people in the back seat. With no snow excuse to gouge us, we only paid 7500 cym a person for this ride.

So that’s my update for now. Please feel free to send me emails with news and anecdotes. I may not be able to reply, but I’ll definitely read it when I get the chance - the internet here can be quite screwy at times, but I'm now able to login from home - and for only 400 cym an hour.

The mosque in Shakrisabz

Tile work on the inside of the dome

The remains of Temur's palace

The local butchers

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