Thursday, August 16, 2012

The end is near!

I cannot believe I've already been in Dushanbe for a month. Today we all have our final exams, and tomorrow we have our oral proficiency exams.

Last night we had a "party" at a local resturant where all of the students and a member of each host family attended. The food was alright, but there was some interesting dancing going on. Berooz and I each recited a Persian poem, while some other students did a song performance.

Truthfully, I do not know how my time here went by so fast. I have really enjoyed my experiences here and I am very sad that I have to say goodbye to my family and friends here tomorrow!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Varzob - as written on Saturday the 11th

I am sitting on a cot, suspended beneath trees and above a small rocky creek. This is definitely the coolest I have been since arriving in Tajikistan, aided by the trees above that block most of the sunlight and the glacial water below that cools down the air. In contrast with last night's birthday bowling adventure, Varzob is very peaceful and (for me) much needed.

The cot I am sitting on can seat about nine people comfortable, and is currently sleeping six relatively well. The creek below us has a number of small waterfalls and pools and the sound of the waterfalls is very relaxing. I have to say, this is probably my favorite place in Tajikistan so far. 

Varzob is a community with a number of families that own houses on one of the many rivers here, and they regularly rent out their backyards/pools/grills to groups on a daily basis. The particular house we are at has two cots suspended next to eachother, a relatively large pool (I would say 20k gallons; unchlorinated of course), and a smaller kid like pool. There is a mini tiki bar with speakers, an iPod jack, and a gazebo. 

Some of the other students have gone exploring, but most of us have stayed back and are enjoying the cooler air. I imagine that after writing this blog post, I'll probably nap until the food is ready. If I'm feeling adventurous, I might brave the pool (though I suspect it's fed with river water, so it is probably ice water).

One thing that I do really enjoy about the program here in Tajikistan is how many days/excursions we have had specifically designated to rest. Many of you know how much I like to sleep, and these excursions give me the perfect opportunity to catch up on my rest. In particularly, it is nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Dushanbe (specifically the constant sound of car horns) and enjoy some more natural sounds.

That being said, I'm starting to get sleepy. Nap time!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The best haircut ever

Barrington and I were in desperate need of a shave and haircut, so we asked Sharif what where we should go. He told us about a local guy that he goes to, so we decided to go for it.

Finding the barber proved a bit difficult. For those of you wondering, anything in Dushanbe is diffcult to find because there are no street signs, so getting directions can prove a little fruitless.Anyways, lucky for us one of our extended family members took us to the barber. To be fair even if we had street signs, I'm not sure we would have been able to find this place. Off one of the streets there is a small doorway, unmarked, and inside is two barber chairs, a sink, a hot water heater, and a bench. 

Sharif had called ahead for us, so we were expected. I was first up, and had to describe how I wanted my hair cut. I can barely do this in English. Remember, I've been going to the same barber (shout out to Pat in St. Charles, IL!) for years. I walk in, I sit down, I get "the usual" and I leave. So, I just picked some numbers and hoped it wouldn't be too short.

This man was a professional. I'm not sure I can come up with the right words to describe how amazing it was, but this man knew what he was doing. It felt like he knew my head, as if he had been cutting it as long as Pat had. He shaped and molded my hair until it was perfect. I literally don't think my hair has ever looked this good.

One funny dialogue occured while getting my haircut. One of the other men in the shop asked me how much haircuts are in the US, and I said they vary from 12 to 20. He then asked if that was in dollars. The entire shop got dead silent, and then my barber responded "no, in Somonis". Haha. Ok. It's not as funny over text, but it was pretty funny when it happened.

Then came the shave. Unlike Barrington, I opted for a trim and not a complete shave (I get baby face with no hair). My barber asked if I wanted the "mulla or American style" trim. Obviously I picked American. Barrington on the otherhand opted for the baby face, and he got quite the intense straight razor shave. It was pretty impressive. Did I mention the guy was a professional?

Perhaps one of the funniest parts of the whole experience was how interested all of the men in the shop were with Barrington's hair. Obviously his hair is a little different in feel and they were literally grabbing entire chunks of it because they wanted to know how it felt. Now that I write that, it actually seems less funny and a little more creepy. But, as always, I will gladly say my adventures here in Dushanbe are far more interesting because I travel with a black man.

Surviving in Dushanbe [A Guide to Everyday Tajik Life]

I intended to be bold with my next post and blog about the role our digestive systems play in our daily lives in Tajikistan, but Barrington beat me to it and has already made a post. (I highly recommend reading that blog post). Instead of talking about poop, I figured I would write a guide explaining all the things you need to know to survive in Tajikistan.

This guide will be complete with useful phrases, tips for getting around, and most importantly the nuggets of information you need to survive here.

1) Toilet kujast? (toy-o-let koo-jast): Where is the toilet?
-Did you read Barrington's blog post?

2) Na fameedam (na fah-me-dom): I didn't understand
-Useful for any situation. For example: police officer has you stopped? Na fameedam. Someone is harassing you for money in the street? Na fameedam.

2) Bebakshid (beh-bach-sheed): forgive me (sorry)
-This one is pretty self-explanatory. Most useful when you are trying to get off a bus (think sardine can, then add a few sardines).

3) Ahoste (a-haw-stay): slow(ly)
-Whether you are in a taxi or trying to understand someone talking, you will find ahoste to be your good friend.

4) Chand pul? (chand pool): How much money?
-Prices are negotiable here, but you always want to ask how much money something is before you commit to anything. You also do not even have to know numbers- everyone has a calculator handy and if you point to it they will show you how much they are asking.

5) Khub (khoob): good
-Cat got your tongue? Not sure what is happening in a conversation? Just nod and say khub.

6) Khob (khob): ok
-Use this just as you use khub.

7) Salaam (saw-laam): hello
-Potentially useful.

8) A salaam ale kom (ah saw-laam ah-le comb): hello (to you, and your kin)
-Used interchangeably with salaam.

9) Kebab (ka-bob): meat on a stick
-You have to eat eventually.

10) Juje (joo-jay): chicken
-Interchangeable with morg.

11) Morg (morgh): chicken
-Interchangeable with juje.

12) Gov (gaw-vh): beef/steak
-Remember, cuts of meat are a little different here. Don't get too excited when I say steak.

13) Gusfand (goose-fond): sheep
-Usually cheap and tasty.

*Each phrase is transliterated for my dear friends and family who have no idea how transliteration works. For proper pronounciation, read the words as if you were reading English.

Bathroom Tips:

1) Always know where your nearest toilet is.

2) Always carry toilet paper or baby wipes (baby wipes are preferred; did you read Barrington's post?).

3) Make mental notes of where you are when you see a western toilet. You or your friends will appreciate it later.

4) All toilets (even western ones) have smaller pipes than what we are used to. A good rule of thumb: if it did not come out of your body, do not try and flush it. Follow this rule, and you will save yourself from an awkward conversation (in a foreign language) later on.

5) Take off your pants and underwear before you do your business. You'll thank me later.

Getting around Dushanbe:

1) Wherever you go, note big landmarks around you.

2) When telling a taxi where you want to go, pick the nearest landmark and ask to go there.

3) Always ask the taxi how much money (see above) the ride will be before getting into the cab.

4) Always give taxi drivers as close to the exact fare as possible. They do not like to give change and they may take everything you give them before screaming at you in Russian to get out of their cab.

5) Busses will be hot, may occasionally stop working for minutes at a time, and they will be packed full. Remember you are only paying one somoni (about 20 cents), so no one wants to hear you complain about it.

6) Big spenders can take the "bus-taxis" that follow the bus routes for three somoni (about 60 cents). WARNING: the word ahoste (see above) will not work here.

7) As previously mentioned, crosswalks and street lights are suggestions. Use discretion when crossing the street, but remember that all cars stop for a confident pedestrian crossing the street in Tajikistan.

General Tips:

1) Never assume any internet, anywhere, will be moving faster than a snail (or for that matter, never asssume that it will be working at all).

2) Everyone else is in more of a hurry than you. Taking turns is a nice concept at all, but save it for when you are state-side. If you want to get something done, push your way to the front and tell them what you want done.

3) Unless you are buying something really nice, you should rarely be spending more than 50 somoni ($10) on anything.

4) Prices are negotiable.

5) Always assume you will not be walking on flat ground. Plan accordingly.

6) The availability of hot water during the day varies. Plan accordingly.

7) The world is their trashcan.

8) If you make eye contact, say hello (see above).

9) Know Russian.

10) Coca Coke is significantly more expensive than RC Cola. If you are here for a short time, suck it up and drink the RC Cola for a few weeks. You can get your Coca Cola fix when you return to the states.

Tips for eating out:

1) Almost all resturants have kebabs. If you find yourself at a resturant without a menu (common), go for a kebab (see above).

2) Most meat has bones in it. Keep this in mind when eating meat.

3) Avoid fruits and vegetables (the water here is not so good- you did read Barrington's post right?!).

4) Grapes usually have seeds. Keep this in mind when eating grapes.

5) Avoid water or beer (unless bottled).

6) Checks are not brought until you ask for them. Plan accordingly.

7) Usually people do not tip unless it is a higher-end place. I think waitresses/waiters like us more because we tip, so I say do it if you plan on returning to that resturant.

8) Before passing judgement on the quality of a resturant, wait a day. (I'm only gonna say it one more time: Barrington's post).


Alright, well that's all I can come up with for now. Hope you all enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lived Islam in Tajikistan

The most useful class I took before coming to Tajikistan (aside from language classes) was without a doubt the Anthropology of Islam. Despite the fact that I kind of despise anthropology- it's really quite different than the economics world I live in- that class has really helped me understand parts of life here.

The class was really all about understanding that there are differences between the percieved "law" of Islam and how it is lived around the world. Essentially there are 1.2 billion Muslims in today's world, and we can only really expect divergence in how it is lived.

Interestingly, I get to see these very things being played out within my host family and the Tajik culture. Recently, Sharif's father visited from his home about an hour away. Like Sharif, his father is a relatively devout muslim. That day, Sharif and his father got into a pretty deep conversation about religion (specifically Islam and its tenants).

While I understood most of everything that was said, I regretably had a hard time formulating my thoughts/questions/concerns into coherent Persian sentences. Nonetheless, I wanted to note some of the things I found interesting in the conversation and my subsequent response (that I wasn't able to say). The following are the best translations that I can come up with (assuming I understood correctly anyways). My commentary is italicized.

*Remember, these are only two mens' thoughts on what Islam says about the things we do or the way we should live. The interesting part about this excercise is that at the end of the day I will not know what Islam really is, only how Islam is lived by these two men.

1) Plastic surgery is wrong because it alters your appearance. God is the ultimate engineer, and so you should embrace what you have. This goes for eyebrows too, they should not be plucked by women.

Well then why are we allowed to shave our beard if it was given to us by God? Then of course the women wouldn't look at us! Sharif and his dad are jokesters, so I'm not sure how serious this response was.

I think this was particularly interesting because it highlights part of why I think Islam is so interesting: it offers a lot of contradictions that are usually used to give men what they want.

Also this rule applies to transexuals and women/women relationships. man/man was not mentioned. Men who want to become women and women who want to become men are against God. They will go to hell. But what if they should have been a man? What about in between cases? They should be what they are born as. Obviously my vocabulary wasn't strong enough here, because I wasn't able to explain that gender neutral cases existed naturally, and that there is not always an obvious male/female organ.

2) Islam says we can have four wives, because the Prophet Muhammed said it was God's will. We can have four wives for four reasons:

-There are more women in the world then men. Huh? That's not true... Women live until they are 100, and men only until they are 50. I think the flaw in this logic is obvious, so I won't go into more commentary.

-If one wife is pregnant, you can have another to sleep with (and impregnate, I suppose). Ladies, this topic is not my speciality- so you can tell me what you think about this one.

-If one wife is sick, you can sleep with another. Makes sense.

-It is the optimal amount of sex for a man (I think this is what was said, this part got a little weird because I wasn't so sure where it was headed). Anyone wondering if this is the optimal amount of sex for the women?

I take issues with this because the reasoning was flawed from the get-go. And besides, why stop at four?

3) Women should work in the house. Men should work outside the house and earn money for the family. This is the way it should be because it is Gods way. So what happens if a women works and doesn't get married? That's not good, a woman's job is to have kids and take care of the house.

4) Don't drink alcohol. It's bad for you because it makes you sick. A little is okay. But not often and not a lot. No comment.

5) Ultimately, when you die it's a scale, like the ones in courts. If you're good outweighs the bad, you will go to heaven. If you're bad outweighs the good, you go down. How do we know where things fall in this scale? Why is being transexual weighed more heavily than drinking alcohol or eating pork?

Overall I think Islam is a good religion. Despite what people say, it stands on similar grounds that Christianity and Judaism do. The real issues with understanding Islam come when we try to understand what is Islam and what is culture. In Tajikistan, I can't reasonably say what parts of the mysogenistic attitudes taken here stem from culture, religion or some mix. While any muslim man will probably argue that it comes from Islam, that may not always be the case.

So can the lived catagory of Islam help me understand Islam? Often, people bend parts of religion to fit into their culture. I'm not really sure what that means in the grand scheme of things. If religion lives in culture and culture lives in religion, then can we ever really understand a religion without living in its culture? I don't think we can. I'm not entirely sure what that means in the grand
scheme of things, but it's an interesting thought.

Thanks for reading my jumbled thoughts!

The Hovlee and Cots

I want to focus a few of my blog posts on cultural aspects of everday life that I find interesting here. For this particular post, I am going to focus on the "hovlee" and "cot".

What's interesting about Tajikistan is taht every house (or at leastevery house I've seen so far) has a hovlee. My best attempt at a translation would be a courtyard, but it is a lot more meaningful than that.

When you walk into a Tajik home, you have entered the hovlee. Generally, the ground here is paved or conrete. Most hovlees I've seen have a tree or two (depending on size). There is no roof, so usuallythere are clothes lines here as well. Some of the hovlees, depending on the number of nuclear families living in one "house" will have many doors into seperate living corners. In bigger ones, I've also seen shared bathrooms and kitchens.

Most families have a "cot" in their hovlee. The cot is very different than the English equivalent, and there's really no translation. I'll do my best to describe it, but without pictures it won't do it justice.

The cot is usually a wood (or if it's cheaper, metal) platform that stands at about knee height. The platform is about the size of a queen/king-size bed (this varies with family size / price) and has rails (almost like a crib) that surround three sides of it. An unattached peice of carpet (usually very nice) sits on the platform surface and, depending on the number of people, a number of what I refer to as portable matress pads make up the perimeter of the guarded sides.

The cot is where we most of our meals and sometimes nap (sometimes right after a meal, even). Shoes are not worn on the cot, and food is served on a table cloth in the middle. When guests come over, conversation over tea almost always happens here as well.

What I find particularly interesting about the hovlee is how signifcant and central it is in everyday life here, even though it is essentially the entryway to the house. Likewise, the cot is central to daily conversations, meals, snacks, and naps.

I've actually begun to really like the cot/hovlee- I kind of want both in the US!

Tajiks Know How to Cut Cake [a birthday recap]

Well, it's official. I'm 21. Thanks to Behrooz and some of my other friends here, I had a really memorable 21st.

After our class ended, I headed to the computer room to check my email and Facebook. There, Behrooz and co had organized a mini birthday celebration complete with cake and tea. After listening to the very long Tajik birthday song, it was my turn to cut the cake.

Now, I know some of you have seen my cake cutting skills, but for those that haven't: it's not good. Luckily for me, the Tajiks have a brilliant method to cut cakes. I don't even know if its Tajik or if people do this in the US, but I have not seen anyone do it until yesterday. Azim (our Tajikistan program director) took a cup pushed it into the middle, and then pulled it out. Then, from the empty center of the cake, I cut the cake into quarters. Then I cut the quarters in half; the eights in half; and so on and so forth. I guess it seems really obvious, but it was the easiest cake cutting I've ever done.

Before you ask, yes; the cake was dry (though delicious).

Afterward, a few of us set up a projector in a classroom and watched the film Gladiator in Russian (we couldn't find this movie in Persian/Tajik). I know it seems random; but ever since my brother told me he used to watch this movie for his birthday, I have done the same. Anyways, despite the horrible dub job, this was a nice getaway from the Tajikistan life for my birthday.

In the evening, my host family through a small party for me and my close friends. My professor also came. Sharnoza made all my favorite dishes (and, boy, did she make a lot of it) and the biggest cake I've ever seen in person. We all ate until we were stuffed, and then I got two gifts.

My host family gave me a new pair of light nike flip flops. It was really a great gift because they had been telling me to buy a pair of these since day one, as my shoes were not light enough for around the house/light walking. The best was my professor's gift. I wish I could describe the reactions of my friends when I opened up- because it was literally priceless. My professor got me a small, maybe foot long, sword. Yes. A sword. It's awesome, and curved, with a sheat and everything.

Afterward, almost all of the students in CLI went out with me to the Irish Pub. After some interesting (and some unsuccesful) cab rides, we found ourselves in our own private back room of the Irish pub. I had my first "legal" beers and vodka shots and we all enjoyed some rare drinking in Dushanbe for about two hours. Don't worry mom, I didn't get drunk.

All in all, I had a really great birthday. Thanks to my friends and family here it turned out to be one of the most memorable birthdays I've had.

I have another blog written on my iPad, so as soon as I get WiFi I'll have another post up!