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Part I: Homeward Bound

Thursday, December 14th, 2006


It’s kind of strange thinking about going back to Uzbekistan this trip. So many of our friends have gone and moved on. Quite a few are working in Afghanistan right now for a variety of companies, but you’ve also got those who went to Russia, people who’ve gone to Dubai, and several who made it stateside. There are only a couple of people I can think of to visit with that are non-family at this point.

We get a bunch of gifts for various family members and her huge rolling suitcase is dedicated solely to that, so that once we distribute, it should be much easier to lug our stuff around. This is foreshadowing of the ironic sense, of course, and will return later.


Sharjah is Dubai’s little brother. Sharjah has a number of facilities of various types, but Dubai has made “bigger is better” it’s watchword and of course the glamorization of it’s marvels makes a big difference, too. I can’t figure how it successfully promotes itself as a shopping destination (it’s typically noticeably more expensive than American prices by a good third or more) and a tourism destination, since of course it’s a desert where there’s only so much to do and you’d want to avoid it close to 8-9 months of the year. Now I’m not trying to slam Dubai, just demonstrate it’s relation to Sharjah. Somehow Dubai has managed to put a nicer sheen up against the sand and does actually promote itself as a business and play center for the Gulf region. Good for them. Anyway, the point I’ve taken a long loop around getting to is that we flew out of Sharjah airport instead of it’s much larger, better equipped, and better staffed cousin in Dubai.

We are pleasantly surprised at the short flight. I was thinking it was about 4 hours, but it’s only about 2 ½ hours instead. Hardly long enough to get really bored with Tomb Raider II: Lara Croft and the Cradle of Boredom and Crappy Movies. Soon enough, we were landing in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


We flew into the airport, and for the second time in all my trips there, the plane went right up to the terminal instead of having to take the bus back and forth. We helped this little old babushka with huge heavy bags (as they always seem to have) but she was almost hard to keep up with. When we got close to Passport Control, she took her bags back and pushed her way to the front. Shortly thereafter, she was gone.

We got through passport control, got our bags, moved through customs, and made our way through the mass of humanity waiting to greet people. The problem with them of course is that they seem unable to get out of the way. We exit the airport into a city where it’s rained recently. OMIGOSH! Water falling from the sky! What a novel concept. We don’t see Katya, who is supposed to meet us. My phone isn’t getting a signal (the old Uzbek SIM card that I dug out of my wallet is not longer fully functional, but we don’t realize that yet) and we don’t have money changed yet so can’t use a pay phone. We can’t just take a taxi, because if they haven’t forgotten us, then they won’t be there to let us in at the apartment. Guli goes off to find change while explain to a persistent taxi guy that we’re ok for now. He still hangs around in semi-concerned fashion. Guli brings her sister back instead of change, so it’s all good in the end.

Madina, Katya’s daughter, is a really cute kid but too shy to be able to speak to me in any of the potential languages. Making faces is the best we can manage, though mainly she blushes and hides. I figure she’s too old for peek-a-boo, but that seems to be what we are left with. We decide to steal her and take her back with us. Once the suitcase full o’ presents is emptied we will have more than adequate room for her, since she’s small, and it’s a short flight.

We wake up the next morning to find several inches of snow on the ground. Snow, if you will recall, is semi-frozen water that falls from the sky. What a novel concept. It is like an old friend after a long absence. We take off on a documentation run for some school paperwork and then to update Guli’s passport. We still haven’t changed money yet, so we have to track down an exchange point first. We find one with a small crowd around it and expect to have a little wait, or to find a new one, but it turns out they have no dollars to sell. Luckily we need to sell dollars and buy soum so we go straight through. One of the militia guys looks at me and asks if I’m with Guli, which is kind of a stupid question as we came in together, are walking around together, and as a guy who sticks out like a sore thumb as being “not from here” no one would expect me to be able to do anything for myself anyway, so you’d expect a translator of some sort to be in tow. :)

Why does everything here have to be so much harder than it needs to be? It’s not even that the documentation translation and legalization process is necessarily complicated, it’s that so much doesn’t work. Go to change money, they don’t have any, though we got lucky there. For the passport update, we need a copy of the marriage certificate, even though the fact of our marriage is actually stamped in the passport itself. I have a scanned copy on our machine at home so all we need is an internet café and we can process. The first internet café has no working internet. The other one we go to isn’t actually there. The third one works but is slower than Christmas for a child. I finally get termed into our computer back home and send off via email the document we didn’t know we’d need, and it turns out the internet café doesn’t have Acrobat on the machines. I term back in, convert the scan to a series of images, and send it off again. Oops! Turns out that the printer connected to their server machine isn’t actually installed. Crap. Well, we’ll save the images to our flash drive and print them somewhere else. What? Flash drives are locked out? Later we find a working internet café with decent speed and a working printer, so all was not lost except for those several hours and my patience. My perfectionist streak doesn’t help matters, so I need to remain uninvolved in getting things done I guess.

Well, we jump through those hoops, but they won’t update her passport, because she’s registered with the consulate in Dubai, who’s supposed to do those things, but don’t. At least the notarization and legalization of her university diploma seems to have gone well. This is foreshadowing of the ironic sense, of course, and will return later.

Eating philosophy here is different. While in America, we want to finish our plates because of the starving Ethiopians (and Armenians for your older crowd), whereas they cook the huge feasts and want to have some of everything. That ends up in far too much food that I personally end up requested to eat. This is tough because while I have lost several kilos (about 5, or 10-12 pounds) post surgery, I am still a bit swollen around the stomach and I’m not currently buttoning my pants up top and am depending more on my belt. It’s quite sad, really.

I am kind of sad to find that “Broadway” is no longer a lively walking street full of eating places, drinking places, trinket shops and crapsellers. They’ve moved everyone out and it looks so sterile now. We did have a small encounter with a fortune teller wandering around the empty avenue though. She was pretty good, I must say. “You’re preparing documentation!” Really? Could you tell that because I am obviously a foreigner? “You’re preparing to take a long journey!” Really? You figure I’m not from here, and I’m going to leave at some point? It was kind of funny and I was willing to listen to the spiel at least, but frankly she took too long getting to the point and kept going over the same stuff, so I told her I was bored and we moved on.

An Empty Broadway in the Snow

2006 11 Uzbekistan Trip Pics Uploaded

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

The Gallery has been updated with 80 some odd pictures from our recent trip to Uzbekistan. Primarily we just visited family in Tashkent and Karshi (this implies lots of eating), though we did mount expeditions to Shahrisabz to see some things, in addition to visiting still more family, and also a short trip about Karshi to look at some things.

Check out the 2006 11 Uzbekistan gallery pictures. Trip Report to follow before too awful long.

Wow…has it really been 4 years since I got there the first time?:!:

Some of you may be a bit surprised to receive an email notification on this, as I subscribed you without asking, but only because you’re family. It was a lot quicker that way. Let me know if I missed anyone or if you want out (no hard feelings) and also you can unsubscribe / resubscribe here at the site if you like.

Back Home from Uzbekistan

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

Well, we had a nice little vacation where we didn’t do a whole lot. I didn’t take all that many pictures (619 total) and many of those are redundant so the number will shrink quickly and the editing time oughtn’t be too long. Aside from Tashkent and Karshi, where the millions of relatives reside, we only went to Shahrisabz, birthplace of our friend and yours, Amir Timur. Luckily we were able to use my recent surgery to good effect explaining why I couldn’t eat or drink so much, as otherwise they would be sure I was about to die of starvation. You couldn’t ask for a nicer family though, they’re great.

You will see pictures up in the Gallery soon and I might even whip up a trip report on it! :mrgreen: Incidentally, while I had stopped doing those, this format combined with the Gallery might make it much easier to do and get caught back up on. I’ve still been taking notes on all the trips so I’ll be able to use those.

Part IV: Dublin Castle

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Dublin Day 2: (Oh come on, really Day 1 Cool)

One thing that strikes me about Dublin: normal size cars. No SUVs to be sure, but…compare to Tashkent — there it’s nothing but tinymobiles. Ok, I saw a few Toyota Landcruiser types in Ireland. No monster SUVs though.

In general traffic outside the US is quite scary. However in Ireland it’s different because I keep expecting to get clobbered from the opposite direction while crossing the street! At some of the busier intersections and on main roads they do have markings painted into the road “look here –>” to the appropriate direction. I looked both ways compulsively, just in case. The width of the sidewalks has a tendency to vary down to the very not wide. When they are that narrow, and it’s time to place a lamppost, signpost, or fire hydrant type object…you step into the street.

I wander down to Dublin Castle. It’s just down the street from my attic prison with a view. There are mainly government offices in here now, primarily what I could see the Garda (Police) at least around the back side, with some others I don’t recall. The Cathedral area is now a museum / art gallery type place. The Presidents are all inaugurated here, but I don’t think their residence and offices are there anymore. The castle dates from 1204.

These next three are still in Dublin castle. There is a courtyard area with a pattern worked into it with stone. You don’t really see it from ground level unless of course you were to walk into the grassy area, but there are areas where you get above ground level where you suddenly see it. This is in an area built out like a garden. It was very relaxing, and I just sat there for some time.

More of the area around the back…

That’s all for the back area of the castle…

Part II: Tashkent Too

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

So if you know me and you’ve been out drinking with me, you might know sometimes I start speaking odd words. Well, that’s not much of a problem here, as they understand them. Part of my reluctance to use my Russian involves under confidence with it, or more specifically irritation with myself that it is not better. My perfectionist streak is showing again. You go to the trouble of learning a language, and maybe we didn’t use it enough in school for me to declare I was fully fluent in it, and no one would mistake me for a native, but I could get by…and then you don’t use it for six years or so. It’s gonna go away, trust me. However, the under confidence goes away with some alcohol down me. Confidence aside, I think I actually get better, too. Well, eventually it became time to speak out. Small stuff at first. Just bits and pieces, here and there. Then sentences. My main obstacles are of course grammar problems and missing vocabulary. I’m creative enough to work around some of these by over-explaining. Smile

Over the course of the afternoon, sitting at the bar, I start letting more out. My impish nature takes over of course, and I deny any ability to speak Russian. I’d like to thank Jordan, long time friend and hero for the model of plausible denial. His particular trick was that you had something on your shirt – even if you had just checked and knew you didn’t, he had this way of making you doubt yourself all the same. Kamola scowls at me delightfully. I don’t think she’s falling for it. I think she suspects!

Chester is actually quite personable and outgoing, and seems to have met and talked to everyone in the hotel. As the mid-afternoon shift moves in all of his close personal friends stop by to bask in the warmth. Eventually he heads up for nap time, but will come back later. After a while, who comes back down but the codename Goofy. It’s been about a couple of hours since he staggered out. I foolishly try to engage him in conversation. “Hey man, how’re you doing? Were worried about you for a bit, you looked like you felt a bit goofy earlier.” Haha. Only he’s not taking that well at all. Not wanting at all to have caused offense (me happy drunk) and trying to fix this unhappy situation, I try to buy him a beer. Mistake number 2! He seems to have headed upstairs to hit the bottle some more. Oops. Unfortunately he seems to be angry grumpy drunk instead of a happy drunk. “Where I’m from, you don’t drink with someone that’s just called you goofy. You just don’t do that!” He goes on about that for a while. Ok, this is clearly an unsavable situation. However, at least I have irritated him enough that after only a sip or two of the beer he stalks away. Small victories I guess. Ken and I are a little embarrassed about certain Americans at this point. After we realize he has disappeared, hopefully for good, I tell Kamola I’ll cover his beer if he didn’t pay for it yet, but I guess he did. It seems like too much work to want so badly to be pissed off at things, and we can all just shake our heads.

I get a great idea. Why don’t I email people to let them know I am successfully drunk? Of course it’s a great idea! How could it not be? It beats the crap out of drunken calling, since that would be ungodly expensive. I’m drunk at this point, not stupid. A quick trip to the business center it is! Mr. Attendant Guy (forgot his name, sorry) has left the keyboard in Cyrillic. That’s fine, since I was going to send it out in Russian anyway! I’ve gotten much better at my typing, now I only rarely look at my keyboard reference taped to my monitor, but it’s still hunt and peck typing. I just have to remember to ignore the Latin characters on the keys. Smile Mr. Attendant Guy and I speak a bit, he’s surprised enough I speak but typing, well that rewards me a shocked look. So I send my message, and pass along one for another too. Hmm…time for another beer!

At some point it becomes “must eat!” time. Diana brings us a menu, and it looks like the $14 cheeseburger is a winner. Now $14 sounds expensive, and of course it is. At the same time, it’s a hell of a big burger, double decker no less, with a boatload of fries along for the ride. Still works out to be expensive anyway. Somehow there’s been a miscommunication and we’ve gotten the chicken burger instead. That’s fine with me, but I ask for some cheese. It doesn’t come that way. She’s very earnest and hard working and pretty, and you don’t want to misstep with people like that. However, she forgives us our stupidity and retrieves some shredded cheese for us. I barely manage to eat the whole thing, but at least now I have more confidence I will make it through the evening. Little do I know it’s going to be a lot longer than that. It’s somewhere in the 4PM vicinity now.

After another indeterminate period of time, the agreed upon bar switch occurs. Kamola is clearly disappointed to lose such great company and stops scowling at me in disbelief. However she understands, and since Chester had done all the arranging to meet up there later. They worship him. Shriven of our sin, we move upstairs. By now I am speaking much more. Alfiya is running the Library bar tonight. Great personality and several other qualities I like in a woman – I like her. We babble at each other some, and she declares that my Russian is good. HA! That couldn’t possibly be true I say, since my grammar and vocabulary are…well, missing isn’t a bad term for it. It’s improved lots since I got here in Uzbekistan, and a good bit more in the past few hours. Actually the grammar isn’t so far off, but the endings aren’t so well remembered. (Quick note: the endings for words tell you what function they serve in the sentence, as opposed to English where it’s word order that does that.) She argues that you don’t so much need the grammar. I agree only when you are trying to speak sloppy Russian that will be understood, but I want to speak good Russian. And then of course the vocabulary lags, but I work around that where I can, and ask when necessary. Not having the words themselves is the worst part. Not using them the correct way is minor in comparison, since people can figure out what you mean to say. I start to feel good about my skills (aside from the nagging thought that it used to be better, but conversationally I must be at the top of my game – before it was mainly with other students that weren’t really sure how to say things either!) but know I need to use it more. The glow of beer gives me courage.

Chester shows up. Chester is quite cool. Very outgoing, talks to everyone even when he isn’t drunk. Alfiya starts a discussion about Cheetos. Alfiya and I talk about advertisements for Cheetos. “Chester lyubit Cheetos” is the phrase. Chester loves Cheetos. She looks at me blankly when I refer to Chester Cheetah. She declares that he is in fact a tiger. I don’t know the word for cheetah, but it doesn’t sound like cheetah. (It’s gepard.) However leopard and tiger are essentially the same words in Russian as in English. It turns out to be a neat conversation over a rather inane topic. I’m drunk. She’s polite and supportive.

One of the things I like about the Sheraton is how everything is so incredibly expensive. Ok, that’s not true. Yes, it’s expensive, but no, I don’t like it. However, the uniform of the day requires short skirts. It makes me all happy inside. Don’t see much of that here on camp. None at all, to be exact.

As time passes I get great enjoyment from speaking to people that expect me to be just like all the other Americans. The surprise is noticeable, and brings curiosity along with it. The more you speak, the more you speak. Outside the library bar, the whole thing just kind of accelerates. I’m talking to everyone now. Eventually I will become positively exuberant in introducing myself to people. Somehow I become very popular. My name is being called from every corner. I’m drunk on beer and friendly acceptance. That people look at me with a bit of wow factor is icing on the cake. People have been aware of me before, but I have never been popular. It’s like a drug. Then again, maybe that was all the beer. Too much beer. No true ill effects, but I think in the midst of experiencing all this, I missed out on some things. Just a mental note for next time, something to improve upon. Drink some. Not ALL.

It’s interesting though, how just one night can change things. Maybe I’m not destined to be just some other schmuck all my life. I’d hoped it’d be that way, but didn’t have faith I could pull it off. I figured I was going to be trapped wanting to be better but not knowing exactly how to be anything other than invisible. A turning point: rounding the corner of the bar, this one woman gives me the eye. It was obvious. It was nice. Instead of running over like a puppy dog, I simply filed her away. Had to get a beer first. Never even got around to talking to her either, sorta got distracted about halfway down the bar. But it was no big deal. I felt like I was on top of the world at that point. I even let someone drag me out to dance – don’t think I even fought it. Twisted Evil Note: I did not suddenly acquire any dancing skills mind you. But I did advise her regarding my lack of dance floor ability beforehand.

[redacted – some other day, maybe]

And before you know it, it’s 4:50 AM. With lightning speed, I throw my stuff into my backpack and roll downstairs with a casual “nothing to see here, I’m not slightly late” look. While we are still waiting I ask Svetlana for some water. Without the gas, you know I can’t drink that stuff. (Asking for water is apt to yield you a bottle of carbonated water if you aren’t careful – ack!) All in Russian of course. She actually did a double-take – the look of shock on her face was the best of the whole day. Cool

So we get to the airport, but I am starting to fade. I vaguely remember going through Customs and ticketing and such. I am sure I performed all the necessary functions with the requisite skill and grace, but certainly was the very picture of exhaustion. Kept going all afternoon, evening, night, and back into the morning, but eventually you are going to run out. We were all flying to Frankfurt, and parting ways from there. Standing in the doorway waiting for the bus to come take us to that wonderful bird, I concentrate intensely on the act of continuing to stand. Someone to the side said “hold on, you’ll make it.” I’m really running out of steam at this point. I just want to sit down. From there I think it will turn into a passing-out. Finally, oh wonderful bus! Up the drivable stairs, into the bird. I’m not introducing myself to people any more. I can’t get the bag into the overhead compartment on the outboard side, but it goes in fine on the interior ones. I didn’t realize they were bigger. I was starting to get concerned. Into the seat! Victory!

I’m sure the plane took off and those kind of things, but to be honest I only dimly recall repeatedly being woken up to eat. Uzbekistan Airways WILL feed you. More on that later.

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