Monday, March 28, 2005

Tulip Trouble

Thanks to our neighbors, we may be running into more visa complication. When the situation in Krygystan broke out, our on going visa negotations were halted. PC also had to devote resources to obtaining visas for the Kyrgy PCVs (some of whom are here now, but will be going back tomorrow). So... in the immediate, we may not be able to progress to site as originally scheduled (April 5th or 6th). In the longer term, the Uz government is going to be a lot more resistent to giving us long term visas. What with us being such a bad influence and all. It's probably also going to make the crackdown on NGOs gear back up.

So that's the update on how we're being effected.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Happy Navrus!!!

Let me be the first, and probably only person to wish you all a Happy Navrus!! What is Navrus, you ask? Only “by far the biggest Central Asian Holiday” (LP). I believe it's the Muslim New Year, also know as the Spring Solstice. Not just that, but itÂ’s another day off for our language weary souls. Although a lot of Uzbeks like "volunteer" to help clean up the neighborhoods. Things like paint the trees, sweep the streets, and burn the ever increasingly foul piles of garbage. They are also busy making sumalac. And just what is sumalac, you ask? In a nut shell, liquid bread. You take wheat seeds, germinate them for a few days, then brown them, add flour, oil, sugar, water and other stuff. Simmer for 12-24 hours, and you end up with a thick brown paste that tastes like, um, boiled wheat stalks. Supposedly very good for you. But then they say the same thing about vodka, so who really knows.

My site for the next two years will be in Gulistan, working with the Women's Business Association. There will be about 10 PCVs in town (a smallish city of about 70,000) who get together on regular occasions. Marshutkas and taxis only cost 100 cym in town. It's also just an hour or so into Tashkent (and of course, another hour to get just about anywhere else in town), which make it a doable day trip. Although Tashkent doesn'’t have much in the way of historical interest, there is an expat community and numerous events to meet others. There are also non-Uzbek cafes and real, almost US-like grocery stores. Not that my budget affords a lot of processed, packaged, and imported foods, but it'll be a nice treat once or twice a month.

In terms of language, my NGO does speak Russian, although they tend to work more in Uzbek. The city is also about 50-50 Russian-Uzbek (with Russian being the more useful business language). So I'll be starting Uzbek (which is supposed to be much easier then Russian) soon, as well as continuing with my Russian. One of my teachers lives in Gulliston, so I'll probably be taking tutoring lessons from her. I believe the going rate is about $1 per hour, and the PC will pay for like 12 hours a month.

Lastly, my NGO is one of the most established NGOs in Uzbekistan. And although itÂ’s a women'’s business NGO, that doesnÂ’t appear to be a major problem. There are other men working at women'’s NGOs as well - in large part because women/youth oriented NGOs have lower registration fees and are thus a lot more prevalent. I was told that itÂ’s very conservative, but that shouldn'’t effect me too much. And by conservative, I mean very traditional Uzbek. The women donÂ’t wear burkhas or veils, but they do wear full length, very colorful dresses, keep their hair up, and usually wear a scarf tied around it. Very few muslims here do the prayers, even on Friday. They also have no religious qualms about selling or drinking vodka. Women tend to marry by 20, start having children soon after, and by 30 have a mouth full of gold teeth (due to losing there teeth from severe anemia during pregnancy and getting fake gold teeth to replace them). At least I wasnÂ’t the Jewish guy who was assigned to teach at the Islamic Institute.

So just two weeks left before we take our final language proficiency exam and then (if we get at least high novice) swear in. We then move to our sites for two years of fun. I'll be living with another host family for at least 3 months before I can move out. Most people get their own place, and an apartment will set me back a whopping $30 a month. But I'll be making more money after I leave training to cover that cost.

Of the 64 who were in Philadelphia for staging, we still have all 64 sticking with it. Pretty impressive, and weÂ’ve been getting weekly kudos from the administration.

Chirchik's canal (from the same location as below)

The ubiquitous shashliek guy

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Springtime for Karimov

We’re in a couple weeks lull here, with not much news to report. On Friday, we learn our site placement (where I’ll be for the next two years - I refuse to give my preference, given the last group’s propensity to end up exactly where they said they didn’t want to go) and then head out on PCV visits for 4 or 5 days (visa willing - don’t ask).

The weather has taken a decidedly springlike turn, with blue skies, and a breezy wind coming in from over the mountains. I’m definitely ready to get the bike going, but I’ll probably wait until I get to site in April. And in closing - some important things which I have learned, and will be glad to show you when I return (you provide the beer, wine, and walnuts, of course):

How to open a bottle of beer without a bottle opener
How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew
How to open walnuts without a nut cracker

I’ve yet to learn why they don’t have bottle openers, corkscrews, or nut crackers.

And one final addendum - my all time favorite PC memo excerpt (sorry for the grizzly subject matter, but it is quite humerous):

Volunteer Death: [Our definition in the memorandum covers investigative concerns. The Office of Safety and Security’s definition will differ for data gathering purposes.]