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

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