Thursday, June 27, 2013

Celebrating National Unity Day and DOMA's Death

Well today we did not have class because it is National Unity Day here in Tajikistan. Accordingly, last night a number of decided to head out and celebrate this momentous day in Tajikistan.

Our celebration became a lot more exciting when we heard that DOMA was struck down and a number of CLSers went out to celebrate. Simsim (the local Tajik beer) isn't actually that bad- and it's only 5 somoni a beer! It ended up being a pretty fun, low-key night.

On Saturday the US Embassy is having a picnic-like fourth-of-July celebration for Americans, though its a bit early. There is also a contingent of students going up north for an overnight hike/stay in Iskander. I'm considering going but I'm not sure how intense the hiking is :).

On an unrelated note, I'm volunteering at MBO Professional (the place I'll be working come September) and teaching for one and a half hours on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays. I have two classes, a pre-intermediate and intermediate level. My first day was Wednesday, and while I was nervous I felt like it went really well. I'm excited to do it more (and especially when I start for real in the fall!)

P.S. I'm starting to get links and people's permission to share their blogs with you. Today I added my friend Eric's blog "Persian Immersion". You can check out his blog by following the link on the right side of the page.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cow tongue, foot soup, and... a job?

I've always said that I will try anything once. I stuck to my word but... yuck!

Today one of our extended family members from Uzbekistan came into town, so we had what you might call a dinner party of sorts. Apparently, our guest is pretty special and thus we had very special cuisine... cow tongue and cow foot soup. 

Cow tongue wasn't too horrible honestly. Done a certain way, I can see how it could be tasty. Nonetheless this particular version of cow tongue was... strange. It left a really awkward residue in your mouth and honestly I can feel that film now. Might be willing to try it again, but probably not here.

Cow foot soup on the other hand? I'm actually using every ounce of resistance I have to word this as nicely as possible. But seriously what the hell. Imagine a really fatty version of chicken noodle soup with overcooked calimari (NOT breaded) and then add all the usual Tajik necessities (dill, onion, sour cream, tomato)... Are you imagining what I endured? Probably not. The most shocking part of the experience was the absolute surprise of everyone at the table when I only had a little of this dish. I mean to each his own, but that just didn't float my boat AT ALL.

The good news is, our guests did bring out the vodka (which, if I read my Cyrillic correctly, was a product of Tajikistan). Let me tell you, part of Russia still lives on here in this post-soviet country. We had mini cups that were probably about 2-2.5 times the size of shot glasses, which are filled to the brim. Of course, sipping is an unacceptable method of consumption and one must consume the entire mini-glass in one attempt. My host dad and relative whose relation I do not entirely understand wanted to keep going (and did) after four of these. I opted out so I didn't make a bad impression.

Now for the big news!! I got offered a job teaching English at a local firm and officially accepted the position today. Salary is not too bad (by Tajik standards especially) and the job only carries a minimum requirement of three months. I will be starting in early September and staying for at least three months. My host family said that I could remain with them while working- which I'm really excited about. I'll still be coming back to the US, but my homecoming will be short lived. 

Pretty pumped- it'll be really cool to start working here and experience Dushanbe when it's not ~105 degrees.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Pizza Incident

Sorry for the gap in posting, I should be a little more consistent with updates (provided I can think of something worthwhile to share) now that I have wifi at home.

Everything is going pretty well here. I've gotten over the initial language shock of the Tajik accent- it seriously sounds like a language other than Persian when you hear it for the first time. Luckily this is my repeat performance in "The Dush", so I adjusted quickly and I feel like I can understand most of what is being said around me. 

My host family and I are getting along really well. Tonight during dinner my host mom said she felt as though I was an older son, so that's cool. I hang out with Baha (my host brother) just about every day, and I also see grandma too (but I still can't really understand her... lots of nodding when I'm talking with her!

The good news is I have confirmation that they still like me even after The Pizza Incident. So it all started when I first moved in and was explaining how great Chicago pizza is. This of course prompted their curiosity and they recently asked if I would be willing to make pizza for them. Chicago style pizza in Tajikistan? Challenge accepted.

So here's the thing about Tajikistan that should be painfully obvious by now; the quality of ingredients here is not so good. Here's the other thing about Tajikistan (and specifically the Tajik dialect); lots of Russian loan words.

With these two important details in mind, imagine me in a foreign supermarket attempting to purchase mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, yeast, vegetable oil (you think this ones easy, don't you?), and tomato sauce. 

Needless to say, I came home with Gouda cheese, some sort of pseudo-summer sausage, cake mix, no vegetable oil and no tomato sauce (Baha assured me they had both at home). So of course vegetable oil just straight up does not exist here (they almost exclusively use sunflower seed oil) and beyond that its probably the most impossible thing to explain in a foreign language. Whatever. Then the tomato sauce they gave me at first was super chunky and definitely a little ripe, so after a number of attempts I managed to explain that I needed a less-chunky tomato sauce. 

Now much to my mother's (and possibly my future life partner's) disappointment, I'm just not good in the kitchen. Factor in the metric system, the Russian-loan word issue, and the general lack of quality ingredients and you've got a recipe for disaster. As I'm calculating my ingredient quantities (cups to grams, ounces to kilograms and so on) Baha emerges (after some time) from the cellar with an ancient jar of tomato paste. I mean this jar was oooollllllllddddddd. But it was actually the right stuff, and sealed, so that was cool.

Basically I think I doubled the amount of water I needed, had no clue the amount of yeast I ended up putting in, and I forgot to pre-dissolve the yeast in the water (oh by the way, those instructions were in English...). The dough was super watery and didn't really rise at all, but I was already deep into the game so I preheated the oven-thing to 218.333 degrees Celsius and away I went.

The bottom of the pizza ended up getting stuck to the pan, and so when I went to serve the pizza I ended up creating a sort of pizza pasta/salad. Turns out Chicago-Tajik style pizza/pasta/salad isn't so bad tasting, but I doubt I'll be opening a restaurant any time soon. 

And thus, The  Pizza Incident.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The other side of town

It's been a long time! Sorry about that. I've been doing a bajillion things since I got here. My host family is awesome so far... the teenager in my house (Baha) has been trying really hard to make me feel welcome and hang out with me. We have pretty much hung out every night since I got here, and I've even met a few of his friends. 

My new house is actually on the other side of town from where I was last year. Before I lived off of Ayni Street in the Southeast side of town. Now I am off the other major road (Rudaki) in the Northeast corner of the city. It's about a 45 minute walk from here to there. It's probably still about half an hour on busses, but at least you dont have to walk! I'm excited to be in another part of town, because I never really explored this part of the city before. It'll be good for me to see more things and try different places! 

This house is similar to the one I was in last year, with a hovli and courtyard like before. Interestingly, my room is separate from all the other rooms and I can enter from the hovli. It's a friggin' huge room, with wall to wall carpets/rugs and a desk and bed. The bathroom (toilet/sink) and shower (seperate, walk in room) are also off the hovli. My classes and the American Councils office is about a 15 minute walk from my place.

On Friday we headed to the embassy and yesterday we got our schedules for class and I was able to visit my host family from last summer.

After going through some serious security, the embassy was pretty cool. We got the typical lectures about safety, and a stand-up routine was provided by the American medical doctor at the embassy. He introduced us to new terminology for the toilets here: 'squatty potty'. Lets just say he was a riot.

My schedule is as follows:
Tajiki 10:30-12:20
Conversation 12:30-2:20

Mass Media 8:30-10:20
Grammar 10:30-12:20

Literature and Culture 8:30-10:20
Tajiki 11:30-1:20

Mass Media 12:30-2:20
Conversation 2:30-4:20

Grammar 8:30-10:20
Tajiki 10:30-11:20
Conversation 1:30-2:20

After we got our schedules, they were going to take us to the Bazaar Sabz, which was the bazaar near my old house. I asked for permission to break from the pack and head to my old place! Luckily they said yes so I headed to the bazaar with them and picked up a watermelon. From there I headed to my old host family's house. As I was walking down the street, I saw Sharnoza (my previous host mother) and she instantly recognized me. She was with two of the women in the extended family, and she left them and walked with me back to the house.

On our way we stopped at the extended family's house (where the girls from last year's program lived) and they were all very excited to see me. Barrington will be happy to know that after the first three questions (when did you arrive, how are you, how long are you here for) the fourth question was always "Did Behrooz come?". It was awesome to visit with Sharnoza and the kids, though unfortunately Sharif was at work. Sharnoza said that any day off I had, I was welcome to hang out at their house. Felt pretty cool!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tired being the operative word

Well we are finally here in Tajikistan! I think a lot of us are pretty drained (myself included). We are staying at a hotel for a few hours before going out to get food, get a tour, etc.

The hotel has wifi (yay!) but it's not good enough to stream the Blackhawks game (boo!). I'm listening to WGN radio. And yes. The choice was between 'Hawks and sleep and I chose the former.

I'll post more tomorrow if I'm able to find an internet connection- I meet my host family sometime this afternoon so I don't know how tomorrow or the weekend will progress.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Today is the day!

Well all preparations are complete (as far as I know), and I will be heading out within the next few hours to begin the journey.

We will be flying to Frankfurt, Germany, then on to Istanbul, Turkey, and finally to Dushanbe. I will update the blog once I land in Dushanbe!

Dushanbe's weather > D.C.'s weather

I'd just like to say that my packing did not anticipate any rain in Tajikistan. Unfortunately I forgot about the D.C. bit in between. Oops.

It's been a crazy jam-packed day. We had a really early start (seriously, I had to be up and ready to go by 7:45...) and we were in various sessions all day until around 7. Our pre departure orientation is made up of three CLS language groups, including the Azerbaijani and Punjabi groups. Ours is by far the biggest (they double the size of CLS Persian scholarships this year to forty!).

Our language specific sessions began with an opening address from the Tajik Ambassador to the US, which was a really interesting and awesome experience. We also had a CLS alumni panel, as well as a panel of young professionals who use Persian in their careers.

There were a few sessions on rules/regulations. Then a bunch on safety/life in Tajikistan. Although I was familiar with a fair bit of it, it got me more excited to go back to Tajikistan. We ended the night at a Malaysian resturant nearby, and it turns out there are three Nicks going to Dushanbe. I was very quick to claim my awesome Tajik name, so at least I've got that going for me!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Do you think they'll air the Stanley Cup Finals in Tajikistan?

Well it all starts today! In about an hour I'll be in my way to Washington, D.C. I think it's finally hitting me that I'm about to leave the county in two months, especially since I will be missing the Blackhawks in the finals (well that and the fact that I packed, I'm in an airport, etc.).

Getting excited, and I'll post more stuff from DC once we start our pre-departure orientations.

For those of you wondering, I will be trying my hardest to watch / listen to the games in Tajikistan (which have a start time of 5am).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Return!

No this isn't Derrick Rose's "return" to the Bulls that we all dreamed for... Nick's return to Tajikistan? Close enough!

Within the next week I will be headed back to Dushanbe for a two month visit with the Critical Language Scholarship. Next Sunday I get to head to Washington D.C. for two days. In DC I'll meet all the fellow scholarship recipients for Persian as well as the program staff who organize and run the two months abroad.

I am hoping to keep this blog updated a little more than I did last summer, but no promises there. This summer I will be living with a host family once again (not the same family). This particular family has a father, mother, 18-year-old son, and a grandmother. It appears as though I will not have any roommates while abroad.

One interesting part of this program that differs from last years' is that I will be matched with a "speaking partner". This speaking partner will be a local Tajik around my age. We will be required to meet for a particular amount of hours per week. This is a really cool opportunity (at least I think it will be) because it will provide me with an opportunity to network with some local Tajiks, make more local friends, and explore more of the city!

I'll try to post from D.C. once I have more details. Until then- packing!