Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bazaar successes and Romit

*First and foremost, I have posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook and made the album public. You can check it out by visiting my Facebook and looking at the public album titled "Goin' to Dushanbe".

This is probably going to be a long post, mostly because I couldn't get to the internet this weekend and a lot has happened since my last blog post! I'll try to keep it in chronological order.

After class, Behrooz and I went to the bazaar nearby our university. I was hoping to find one or two t-shirts and some underwear (needless to say, I packed very lightly for this trip). What's interesting about Tajik culture is how much peer-pressure store owners like to put on potential customers. The first thing you'll notice when you walk up to someone's merchandise is how quickly they hound you and tell you how good their merchandise is. This makes "window shopping" relatively difficult to do in the bazaar.

Anyways, I found a few stores where I liked the shirts, but finding my size can be difficult. They usually only have M/L (Tajik men are small and most of this stuff comes from China). Usually, I would find a shirt I liked but they wouldn't have the size I needed. Eventually, I found a nice, plain orange shirt. They had my size, and then the fun part started! We had found out beforehand that in this particularly bazaar it was possibly to haggle down to about 75% of the price they initially tell you.

When I initially asked the price of the shirt, I was told it was 45 Somoni (~$9). I counter-offered 30 Somoni, and instead the store-owner told me it was 40 somoni. I asked for 35, and she agreed. It was pretty easy! Afterward, I wandered around until I found the right size underwear and had a similarly successful experience.

On Saturday, we headed to Romit. Romit is about an hour outside of Dushanbe, in the foot on the mountains and next to a glacier fed river. Many Tajik families visit Romit as a weekend getaway spot. Our group consisted of students, teachers, and some of the teacher's families. We found a nice spot next to the river, and our teachers started preparing food for us. Romit also has a pool, so a few of my friends and I swam. The pool is filled from the river, so it was suppppppperrrrrr cold. After swimming, we went back to our camping spot and ate a ton of osh (you can read about osh here). Afterward, I napped. It was great!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Rules of the Road (The Tajik Edition)

Last night, our family took Behrooz and I out to see the largest flag in the world. At night, the flag is lit up from all directions and really looks quite specatular. Afterward, we went out for ice cream and baklava. It was really a great experience. However, the after quite the exhilarating car ride, I decided to focus my next blog post on the things one should know before they drive in Tajikistan.

1) Seatbelts... wait. What are those?! Not a single person ever wears them here. Ever.
2) Potholes are much more important to avoid than people. If you're facing a car in a narrow alley, stand in a pothole. You'll be fine.
3) Passing is always acceptable. If someone is going slower than you'd like them to go, simply pass them. Oncoming traffic will see what you are doing and provide you a barely large enough area to complete your task.
4) Make your own lane. I'm unsure as to why the government has even painted lane markers on the pavement- no one follows them.
5) Red means go. One might think that green is ordinarilly the color that denotes "go", but in Tajiki culture this does not hold true. If the intersection is relatively clear, red is just another way to describe green.
6) Cars are the king of the road. This goes hand in hand with number two, and is essentially a warning to all pedestrians. Pedestrians never have the right of way.
7) No spot is too small. If there's one thing that's true about Tajikistan's drivers, it's this: they can pull in and out of any space, no matter how little room they have or how impossible it seems. It's true, because I've seen it done many times.
8) "No parking here". This is of course a joke. You may park here, and you may do it for as long as you like.
9) Left turns are for red lights. Similar to the fifth rule, red is just another way to say go. If you feel the need to turn left when the light is red, go for it!
10) The "double turn lane". This rule is applicable if you are coming up to an intersection and you want to turn. You (apparently) can use the non-designated turning lane to turn as well. If the person who is in the turning lane isn't paying enough attention, you simply cut them off mid-turn (this coincides with the third rule).
11) Everything is a race. Self-explanatory.

Just a little fun. I'm not kidding you though, this is really how people drive in this city. I think everyone here is also a way more competent driver than in the US, only because the rules demand it.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

All cake in Tajikistan is dry!

At first I thought that the particular cake we had for dessert one day was dry. Don't get me wrong, it was pretty tasty, but it was dry! Soon after I discovered another dry, tasty cake. After finding a third dry cake, I think I've decided that all cakes in Tajikistan are dry. It's really not all that bad because it still tastes good, but it's just so dry!

Anyways, aside from my issues with cake the food here has been fantastic. Every morning Sharnova (our host mom) makes us this really tasty "sheer-berenge" which roughly translates to milky rice. It tastes a lot better than it sounds, I promise! We also get some hot-dog like meat, dates, and fresh tea (we drink a lot of tea here).

For lunch, Barrington (or Beh-rooz as they call him here in Tajikistan) and I try to find a new resturant everyday. Even though we are in the heart of Dushanbe, it can be hard to find places to eat because not every place is open because of Ramazan. Yesterday, we found a weird alley with a woman seemingly standing guard. She asked us if we wanted food, and we said yes. She led us back into the alley and it turned out to be a decent sized resturant area hidden back there. We ordered some chicken kebobs (they were incredible) and some "kompot" (kompot is the local drink of choice; think raspberry juice).

Dinner is my favorite meal because, luckily for Behrooz and I, our host mom is probably the best cook in all of Dushanbe. We usually eat rice pilaf with home made meat balls in it, fresh made bread, and various salads. Of course, we have kompot and tea at every meal!

Two nights ago, Sharnova made fish. I don't think any of you would believe that I ate this. When she served us our meals, I had to put every ounce of effort I could into not showing my disgust, because on the plate was an almost whole fish with only the head missing. Puzzled, I watched my host father (Shareef) eat his fish, so that I could figure out how to tackle mine. I'm not sure how to really describe the technique. Essetially, you just grab the fish and pull it open (almost like a book), and then you pick the meat off the skin. Relunctantly, I ate almost all the meat. I was a little geeked out because the spine was still in the fish!

All in all, Shareef and Sharnova and fantastic. Even after four days, they are super patient and accomadating. For example, during the first day or two here I got some pretty bad blisters on my feet. I needed to pop them (yeah, I know, yuck) but I didn't know the word for needle in Persian. So you can imagine how interesting this conversation was when I had to ask Sharnova for the "tool used to fix clothes" (I also don't know the word for sew!). She thought I wanted to sew my clothes, and proceeded to tell me that she didn't have the right color thread for my clothes. It was pretty funny, until I had to explain why I needed the needle!

Shareef is also hilarious. I actually think this guy is the funniest guy in Dushanbe. I don't think we can get through a single conversation without him cracking a joke about something. Sometimes I don't realize he's even joking until afterward when everyone else has finished laughing. All and all, it's really quite the comical experience to be around him.

Behrooz and I are going to the bazaar today. I'm interested to see how this goes and, honestly, I'm a little nervous to try and haggle. I'll let you all know how it goes tomorrow!

P.S. that's what they call me here

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Day 3 in Dushanbe

Hi everyone,

Finally have a chance to post something longer and more interesting about what I did in Frankfurt and what I'm doing here in Dushanbe. I have a few pictures I want to upload, but I think I'm going to do those in seperate posts later on. I still have to figure out an effecient way to get pictures from my phone onto the internet.

I flew Lufthansa from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt, and it was basically a brand new 747. It was a double decker, and everyone had their own TVs. It was a relatively enjoyable flight (as enjoyable as any seven hour flight can be, anyway). Initially I was sitting in an aisle seat, but two small boys were sitting next to me and their father was in the window seat in the row behind me. I thought I'd be the nice guy and offer to switch- turns out his window seat was probably one of the worst seats on the plane! The seat in front of his had a metal box that took up about a third of the foot room underneath the chair. So after I graciously offered to switch with him, I got less-than-normal leg room! What kind of karma is that?!

Our plane arrived about an hour early in Frankfurt. After "freshening" up in the airport, Kathleen (CLI's program director) headed out to explore Frankfurt with me. Luckily, Kathleen spent a few years in Germany and is fluent in German. It was pretty chilly and a bit drizzly at first, and also around 8am. So we went hunting for some food, but only found bakery's open. Eventually it started raining pretty heavily, so we headed to a bakery and had some pretzels and coffee. We sat around until the rain stopped, and headed back out.

After the rain, a ton of people were out in Frankfurt walking around and the weather turned quite nice. We eventually found a traditional German resturant and I had my first locally brewed German beer and some weinershneitzel (spelling?). It was pretty good, and there was some pretty cool architecture (more on that when I can post pictures!)

After that, we went back to the airport and got on our plane to Dushanbe! The airline, Somon Air, is the national airline for Tajikistan. It was almost identical to any American airline except, for the first time I think in my life, the plane wasn't full!

Upon arriving in Dushanbe, we spent about an hour getting through customs and waiting for bags. Afterward, one of the program's contacts in Dushanbe picked us up and drove us to our host families. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I met my host family, but I assumed there would be some relatively significant introduction. I couldn't have been more wrong. We pulled up to a house, Nodir (our driver) said that this was my house, and that was that. I got out of the car. I said hello to a woman, and into her house we went! After exchanging names, she insisted I was tired and should sleep. So, I slept for quite a few hours (I think until about 1pm) and then woke.

Since then, I have met my entire family. The father and mother are fantastic, they are both super nice and willing to explain things I don't undertsand. They are incredibly patient. Almost every other sentence there are words or phrases I am not familiar with.

They have three children, two boys and one girl. The oldest boy is seven and a half, their daughter is six and their youngest son is three and a half. The first day and a half they were really shy and wouldn't really talk to me, but last night they were running around and I played with them for a little while.

I have class every morning from 8:30am to 11:30am. The university is about five blocks away from our house. I met my professor yesterday, and today we had our first class. She was incredible! She is very nice, asked us exactly what we wanted from the class, and exactly how we wanted to go about doing that very thing. I feel as though this class is going to be very worthwhile and helpful for my Persian speaking skills.

As far as getting around Dushanbe, I only rarely have problems in expressing what I need. Sometimes I have difficulty in understanding their responses (due both to dialect differences between Tajik/Persian and their speed!) My roommate (Barrington) and I have explored a fair amount of the area around our house and university. Yesterday morning we visited the bazaar nearby, and it was incredible cool. Tomorrow we are going to try and go to the bazaar to buy things (we both need tshirts).

So far this has been a great experience. I can't believe I've already been here for two and a half days. There is still so much more to do here!

Sorry for the long blog entry- I'll try to be more regular so they're not as long!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

A small update (for now!)

Wow I've got a lot to say! Unfortunately it's a little more difficult to find WiFi than I expected. There's plenty of places that have wired internet, but not a lot with wireless! I finally found a hookah bar / cafe that has WiFi, but I don't have my iPad, so typing a long entry on my phone wouldn't be fun! So for now I'll give you a funny story until tomorrow when I can post a longer entry. Originally my information said that my host family has a grandfather. It turns out the word for grandfather is "Baba", and one of my host family's child's is named "Baba Jan"- so when it got translated, it became grandfather! My host family thought it was pretty funny, and I did too! Until later, Nick

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Scholarship/family update

For those of you that I haven't told, I found out that I will be the recipient of a small scholarship provided through CLI. It is called the International Distinguished Engagement Award (IDEA) and all CLI students are eligible to apply. It provides a small monetary scholarship for any study abroad program, as long as you go within the next year. Obviously, I applied this to my upcoming trip to Dushanbe!

Today we received information about our host family. It looks like I'll be living with a family that has a grandfather, father, mother and a younger (7/8) son living in the house. I am actually really excited to be living with a younger kid, because he might be more willing to correct me when I say things in a funny way! Also, if you have never heard little kids talk in Persian, it is probably the coolest sounding thing ever. You can check out this video here for a short listen.

I took my final oral and written exams today, so now I'll be packing up and getting ready to leave the country (can't believe I'm days away!) I'll have more in the next few days with travel updates and the like.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A week away!

I still can't believe how fast this summer has been going. In less than 20 days I'll be 21- and in less than 8 days I'l be in Tajikistan! It has been quite a hot and draining summer in Arizona, but I know that the culminating experience abroad is going to be more than worth it.

For those of you that don't know (or don't remember), I wanted to get a post together before I left the country that gave some travel and abroad details.

I will be leaving Phoenix the morning of Friday, July 20th, flying to Washington D.C. and then onward to Frankfurt, Germany. I have a few spare hours in Frankfurt, and then I fly onward to Dushanbe!

You can see a more complete itinerary here.

While in Dushanbe, I will be living with a host family and studying at the Tajik National University. By this coming Tuesday, I will know if I have morning or afternoon classes and more information about my family (if they have children, ages, etc.). 

Interestingly enough, the Muslim population of Tajikistan will be observing Ramadan for the entirety of my trip (it starts on July 19th and ends on August 18th!) Ramadan is a religion holiday where members fast from sunrise to sunset. Usually, families wake up just before the sun rises to have a breakfast. This will definitely make my time abroad much more interesting, and I have heard that the food served when they break fast is the best! It also offers an incredibly unique opportunity to observe a Muslim community during a religious holiday.

I think that's all for now. I'll try to get another post up once I find out more details about my host family!