Arrival and Travails in Tashkent

Trip Start Sep 04, 2003
Trip End Dec 20, 2003

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Monday, September 8, 2003

I'm in Tashkent!

I am sitting in the business center of the Hotel Koreana, using a keyboard that has English, Korean and Cyrillic characters. I couldn't get into my email, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the Hotel's fast internet connection and post my first real entry.

I think it's Monday here now. After flying for 24 hours (including layovers) with the best travel companions I could have hoped for, we arrived at Tashkent International aiport (via Paris and Istanbul) around 2:00 Friday morning, local time. By the time we had our luggage and were procesed through customs, it was around 4:00, and we were herded off to a hotel for some sleep before we were dispersed to our various locations the next afternoon: Karen and Joseph to Samarkand, Anna to her Tashkent family and me to my Tashkent apartment. Thank goodness Anna's host mother, Mavjuda Niyazova (a wonderful, wonderful lady who has been hosting American students for this program for about 10 years) picked me up, brought me there, and showed me around my beautiful apartment. After she left, I unpacked some, found CNN international on TV, napped (soothed to sleep by the familiar voices of Christiane Amanpour and Matthew Chance, and awakened with a jolt to Larry King ;-)) and then napped again. The next time I awoke, I thought I heard a very loud bird. I ignored it for a while, then decided to sleepily investigate. For some reason, I checked out my front door, and realized there was someone there. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the door open, even though Mavjuda had shown me how. It was so frustrating to try to communicate my inability to open it and understand what this man was saying to me, since despite all of my pre-departure Russian lessons, I seemed to have forgotten everything as soon as I arrived in Uzbekistan. Dictionary in one hand, I struggled with the lock with the other, to no avail. Finally, I understood the word for window, and heard it again in proximity to the word for key. I ran to my bedroom window, and saw Mavjuda and a young man standing outside, facing me. They nodded when I mimicked throwing the key, so I lobbed it down to them. Pretty soon, they were inside my apartment, and I was ready to die from sheer mortification. How very embarassing! They were so nice about it, though, and it turns out that they had come by to bring me a brand new microwave! Again, the mortification. But we talked a little, and I showed her family photos (sidebar: she thinks that Dad is VERY handsome in the old photos where he has a beard, and that Aunt Debbie looks like a Pushkin heroine.) Abdulla (Mavjuda's husband, who had been talking to me through the door) also tried to fix my TV, which had apparently thrown a temper tantrum while I was sleeping and was now providing only audio. The young man there was Bahodir, the best friend of one of Mavjuda and Abdulla's sons (both Akbar and Sobir Niyazov moved to New York in August to study there, leaving only their sister Rahima behind). I seem to be assigned as Bahodir's special project, as he escorted me for the last couple of days to the grocery store, the internet cafe, etc., so I wouldn't get lost. He's really nice, and I am so grateful to him. Even though I haven't been here very long, it seems like I have, and I feel like I should be able to speak both Russian and Uzbek already, know my way around the city, and be at least as independent as I'm used to (which, granted, isn't a lot, but compared to here, where I feel like a baby...) Anyway, Bahodir and I are working on my Russian and Uzbek, and it's coming along slowly. At the very least, we can usually understand each other. Of course, there are exceptions, like when he was asking me after a trip into Tashkent with Anna and Scott (an American PhD student who is also living with the Niyazovs and speaks Uzbek really well) when he should pick me up that evening. I didn't know what he meant exactly, just that I was tired and didn't really want to go anywhere, and didn't want to take up any more of his time just yet, so I tried to tell him that I just wanted to sleep. He asked if I would be bored, since the TV didn't work, and I told him I was very happy sleeping. Well, I didn't realize that Mavjuda had invited me to dinner when she was settling me in, and it seems that this exchange was for that purpose. Oops. I had just woken up around 7, still in my pajamas and bathrobe, when Bahodir came by. Well, I got dressed in a hurry, we hightailed it to the Niyazovs, and enjoyed really, really good osh, made with special care by Abdulla not only to make sure there was no wheat in it, but also so that it was less greasy than normal. It was so good! It was nice to have dinner with everyone, too-- I had assumed that the rest of my evening, until I was ready to go back to sleep, would be spent studying my Russian, which seems to be a fruitless exercise since so little seems to stick. I seemed to understand a little more, and can at least tell when people switch between Russian and Uzbek during a conversation (they can sound really similar, depending on accents, so it's more about vocabulary recognition), so that's reassuring. More about the excursion into Tashkent, though: that started when I was waiting outside to be taken to the Accels office at 10:00. As he was bundling me into the car with Mavjuda at the hotel right after we arrived, I thought the Accels country director had told me a car would come for me at 10:00, since I didn't know where the office was. Now, this was a misunderstanding in English, not Russian. The next day, I was up bright and early, to hell with jetlag, waiting for the car.... no car. I went upstairs to see if they were trying to call, or to at least try to call them... but I couldn't get into my apartment. Not good. I had my keys, but they diidn't seem to work, despite the countless times the day before that Abdulla had shown me, and made me demostrate that I could do it. I struggled a while, then went back down, waited, came back and tried again. This time, I struggled loud enough that my Russian neighbor, Svyeta, finally came to try to help me. No luck for her, either. So she invited me into her apartment, which is rather a trip, and I try to call the office. No luck. (I found out later that the office was closed for the weekend. Go figure.) She tried to call Abdulla (she knows the Niyazovs pretty well, thank goodness. No answer. So she made me tea, and we ate candy and tried to talk. Of course the first thing she asked, after my age (as soon as she has her hands on my Russian-English phrasebook, which facilitated our conversations a great deal), was if I'm married, then if I have a lover. Then if I have a mother, father, sister, brother, dog. What's my dog's name? Where do I live and go to school? Eventually, she got a hold either of Bahodir or Scott (who I hadn't yet met or even heard of), and the one contacted the other. Finally, Bahodir managed to get my stupid door open, and Scott and Anna came to help with general comprehension of the problem. Apparently, the bottom line is that my door is very secure, and I am a weakling-- in my fingers. Go figure. It's all okay, now, though. After that, we went on the metro (first time for me and Anna) which was cool because I live practically on top of the Oybek station, where two lines meet). We went to more central Tashkent, and saw the Concert Hall, the Parliament building (from farther away), walked through the Alisher Navoi National Park (it had carnival rides, petting zoo, and a widened part of the canal so it was more like a lake-- very refreshing.) We also went to a different part of the canal for lunch-- tucked out of the way, with more churning water, which created a really nice breeze, and I tasted some salat that was apparently gluten-free-- egg, mushroom and mayonnaise, I think. It was really good. I passed on the non, of course, but guess what-- Mavjuda has a friend that makes RICE and CORN NON!!!!! This could be the answer to so many problems! I can't wait to get in touch with her! My adventures today were with Anna-- we went to the bazaar, where she used her bazaar vocabulary for the first time "for real" and I got some food-- bananas, tomatoes, rice, nuts, etc. We brought that back home, rested (it's hotter than hell in the middle of the day, although dry, but it's supposed to start getting cooler next week), got some water from the supermarket across the street from my apartment, came back and rested a little, and are now at the internet cafe. My next challenge will be navigating my way back home alone for the first time. It's pretty straightforward, so it should be fine, but wish me luck!

- Having my own apartment, even if I'm still figuring out some of its quirks
- Figuring out pretty quickly how my shower works-- what a feeling of victory!
- Having a TV, even if it functions as a radio most of the time now
- Having 2 balconies, creating a cross breeze so I don't need the air conditioner (but it's cool to have one all the same)
- Having an apartment that overlooks the presidential parade route-- I saw President Karimov's motorcade pass twice yesterday
- Being close to the metro
- Having a bird live in one of my windows, with her nest and eggs
- Being more or less adopted by the Niyazovs, even though I don't live with them, and by Bahodir. I can't stress enough what wonderful people they are
- Learning "yes", "no", "ok", "moon" and to count to 10 while walking from my apartment to the Niyazovz with Bahodir

- Finicky, uncooperative plumbing
- Finicky, uncooperative locks
- Not being able to speak Russian well, and only knowing how to count to 10 in Uzbek, as well as knowing "yes", "no", "ok", "thank you", "hello", "moon" and "May peace be with you"

Looking forward to:
- Starting classes. I think I expected that they would have started sooner, so I wouldn't be as much at loose ends with language, but they will start soon-- either tomorrow or maybe the day after. I'm really excited. I've heard the teachers are great, and we might get tutors, as well, for extra help and socialization. Oh, the anticipation!
- Speaking Uzbek well enough to go to the bazaar by myself. I can't wait to be able to conduct transactions, and especially bargain, in Uzbek! That will be a major victory.

So anyway... all is well, I'm adjusting as well as I can. My only frustration is with myself, as far as my Russian is. But everyone is really understanding, and I know it will just make my eventual understanding that much sweeter. Besides, I am told that it's better to learn Uzbek without having to much Russian, because that way you can't get lazy and fall back on the Russian too much as a crutch. I hope that's true!

Ok, this was much longer than I anticipated, but lots has been going on! I hope everyone is well, and I will try to update again pretty soon. Take care!!!!
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