Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Different Life

It's quite obvious that life is different here in Tajikistan, but I have not taken the time to really explain how. Here are a few points:

First of all we sleep on Korpocha, not in beds. They are homemade cushions on the floor, not too soft, but still not too hard. At first my back was sore from sleeping on them, but now it's a welcome place every night.

Also, every week, or sometimes a couple times a week, I wash all of my clothes by hand. I mix boiled water with cold water to make the right temperature, add detergent and one by one (starting with the light things so the water doesn't get too dark) I scrub all of my clothes with a bar of soap and my hands. I squeeze them out, and when they are all washed, I do it again. Then I rinse them all under a cold tap water and wring them very well and hang them on our indoor clothes line. It usually takes two days for them to dry, and then I have to iron out all the wrinkles in every item, including in towels and underwear, since the detergent can be rough on the skin. I've gotten faster now, so it only takes me a couple of hours to wash everything, and one hour to iron and it's a good skill to learn. One becomes very conscious of daily stains and dust as a result!

I didn't really realize until recently how lucky I am in my living situation. I live in an apartment which has a bathtub, hot water and a toilet. Yes, we have to sit on a stool in the bathtub and wash ourselves with water which comes through a rubber tube, yes we have to get up at 3 in the morning to turn on the hot water heater, if we want hot water in the morning and yes the toilet is old and leaking and breaking, but it's a better situation than some. At the other apartment, where I eat, they have to boil their own water, and have someone else help them bathe. At the outskirts of the city there are Tajik houses, where the bath room is a hole in the concrete, and the toilet is also a hole in the concrete. These houses are more spacious on one hand, there is a central courtyard, beautiful porches, but obviously personal care is a bit more difficult. Canyon lives in one of these houses and laughingly admits that he has taken three showers since we arrived.

Another aspect--there is no temperature control, from my experience. The closest was a radiator in one classroom, which obviously only works when there is electricity and a small heater in one home. In summer the weather gets very hot and in winter, very cold. Families burn coal in the winter when the electricity and gas are out. Quite, honestly, though, life is comfortable during this "transition" time of year. It's not too hot, not too cold, sunny and beautiful. The locals are dreading winter, however, as well as the rainy time of year which is just weeks away.

Every winter, the government turns off the gas and electricity for most of the day. Even now, they have started. It hasn't become too much of a problem yet. My family has a gas stove and a tea pot the plugs into the wall so at least we can boil water at any time. The water went out a couple of times, and goes out more often in winter, so there are huge water stashes at each house. I fill every water bottle I buy (I buy 1.5 liters of drinking water every day), fill it and place it with the others for future use in cooking and bathing.

Мусор - pronounced "moo'-ser," this is the Russian word for trash. It's everywhere. Someone forgot to introduce the Tajiks to trash bags, so the garbage is loose, even in public trash bins. These are scarce, and many times I have been out with friends who just litter--in the gutters, on the sidewalk, anywhere. It becomes someone else's problem. Tahmina has started using trash bags in her home as she hates this practice, but she's exceptional. And then, every now and again, someone puts all the trash in the bins on fire, leading to air pollution etc. True, the trash trucks come every week and store owners sweep the pavement in the mornings as do home owners on the weekend but it all ends up in the gutter, then. Only once have I seen the government trucks scooping the mud and trash from the gutters but this is not a common occurrence, as I understand. The Tajiks just have a different relationship with trash as well their out door environment.

Pets-- I have only seen two pets so far. Our neighbor has a cat who constantly whines outside the door. She could be there for hours, but they don't usually hear her because they have a sound-proof double metal door, so we often have to ring the door bell for her. The other was a cute little puppy dog, whom a man was walking across the bumpy gravel. There are many dogs and cats around, however, but they are homeless, starving and shaggy. Their eyes are sad, and in some cases, rabies has taken over their lives. They dig in the trash bins, scrounging for bits of watermelon or potato (both of which are very common here) or any of the people's edible мусор . They never cease to make me sad, these regected, uncared for animals, ignored by all and frightening many. One night as we were wandering home in the dark, our brother Kakramon, our "guide and protector," chose to take a different, longer route just because a few dogs barking ahead. He himself admitted being afraid of them and their diseases. I guess I always took animals shelters for granted; there certainly is nothing of the kind here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Waldorf School Pt. 2

There is actually a significant difference between school children here in Tajikistan and school children in the U.S. These children are incredibly expressively loving of teachers and Canyon and me as guests. Every morning when we arrive at school, they run to be the first to greet us, and hug us and and shake our hands and say "Zdrahst-vwee-tyeh" or "Guten Morgen"or (more rarely) "Good Morning." They take our hands and lead us to the class rooms asking us to join their main lesson class. The second grade girls even fight with each other over who gets to hold our hands and sometimes feelings get hurt. I have observed that all the students are very respectful of the adults in particular (even to the ones they don't know), always greeting them with the Russian "Zdrahst-vwee-tyeh"and shaking their hands.

I have spoken with Tahmina about the relationships between children and teachers and she admits that while such closeness creates friendship and trust, it also leads to some difficulty in the classroom. There is not the same respectful distance between students and teachers that I experienced as a student, which means that the children are sometimes able to use the teachers to their advantage. The fourth grade, for instance, when they didn't want to do Russian work one time when Canyon and I were visiting, yelled and yelled "Flaete! Flaete!" (meaning flutes ) and the class teacher was forced to give in to their requests. Despite a few instances like this, though, classes are quite energetic and participatory as a whole leading to a very lively learning environment.

Another difference is that the children are much smaller than those in the U.S. It's especially evident in the 5th and 6th grades where there are a couple of tall girls, but the boys and some girls look like the could be in third grade. It surprised us a lot at first, but by now we have gotten to know the children and used to the way they look.

We have a variety of tasks here. In the mornings we choose which main lesson to attend and teach morning games to the 2nd grade, or sing Headstrong Horses with the 6th grade. At 10:00 there is a 20 minute break and the 6th graders ask us to play basketball or tag. The next classes, 45 minutes each, depend on the day of the week. If there is a music class in any grade, we always to to help out with flutes and singing. So far we have taught Insy Weensy Spider (to the 2nd grade) and Headstrong Horses and Down By the Sally Gardens to the older grades. Teaching English words is difficult, but the students watch our lips very closely and eventually get the basic sounds. We also participate in sport classes and have taught the 2nd grade such games as Hill-Dill, Duck Duck Goose, Octopus and Circle Around Zero. (We have a good, understanding relationship with Eliana who really appreciates our presence, and so we attend her classes often.) Today, also, we attended a drawing class in the 6th grade, and Canyon drew a Greek picture (corresponding to their Greek history main lesson) on the board for the students to copy.

Translation is still a bit difficult, but as the teachers start to understand how we can help them it becomes easier. Before the music or sport classes, we usually come up with the ideas together and then I translate to the teachers --in broken German--who then translate into Russian. (It's also worth noting that Russian is a second language for most students, so understanding is not always clear, especially in the 2nd grade.) Sometimes in the 5th and 6th grades I can just teach them directly in German and they understand without translation. The third grade teacher is also an English teacher so it's very easy with him. But the first grade teacher doesn't know any German or English so we have only visited her class once.

We, and some of the other students, eat hot lunch in the little room by the kitchen every day during the breaks. For us it costs 3 somoni (about $1) and for the students it costs 1 somoni. Barbarosa also provides other small snacks such as candy, nuts, apples, bread or khurut, which is like dried yogurt rolled into small balls (I think they taste like the smell of goats, but they are quite a treat for the locals!) The day ends at 12:00, 1:00 or 2:00, depending on the day. The Kindergartners stay until 3:00 to nap and the 5th and 6th grades also have classes on Saturdays.

We have really been enjoying meeting and working with these VERY energetic students, but I must say that I have much admiration for the teachers who teach them everyday without tiring. By 1:00 Canyon and I are usually spent, from all the hand holding, the shouting, the basketball as well as trying to communicate effectively, and we leave to teach English or learn Russian with students closer to our age.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tajik Culture: Arranged Marriages

I've now had a couple of weeks to observe the Tajik people and their ways. The first thing I noticed upon entering Khujand was the colorful dress of the women, a huge contrast from the gray soviet buildings and the dusty roads. The natural environment, too, is generally beautiful -- the sky is very blue and mountains line all horizons, but there are few trees and no grass here in the city. Perhaps out of habit from the days of the Soviet Union, the Tajik people seem to care much more about preserving their culture --their national dress, the national dishes, their commitment to Islam--than about bettering their country as a whole--the economy, the roads and the buildings, for instance. Or perhaps it's just because they cannot.

Whatever the case, Tajik culture is still very rich -- remarkable that it survived the uniformity of the Soviet Union. All Tajiks are Muslim, but few fundamentalists live here in the city. Families vary on how committed they are to Islam, but Tajik traditions exist for all families, no matter how devout. One of these, and perhaps the most different to our Western traditions, is arranged marriage.

When a young woman or man is in his or her early twenties, thoughts shift almost exclusively toward marrige. Unions are made on practicality and the modest woman who knows how to cook and clean well is the choicest pick, though her beauty also plays a role. Parents, often it is the mother, choose the bride for their son who then goes to "look" at her to see if she pleases him. If she does, then her parents are contacted and if they too, and the girl (though her opinion is secondary), agree the marriage happens one month later. Often, the two have not done more than see each other once or twice and have exchanged just a few words if any. After the wedding, the girl goes to live with her husband and his family and her married life begins in a new family.

There is nothing close to Western "dating" in Tajikistan. If two people fall in love it must be secret and hidden. Young sons, no matter how "in love," rarely request to marry a certain girl because in the event that the marriage does not turn out, a mother would blame her son and turn against him. Sometimes these arranged marriages do not work and the couple ends up divorcing, or he has a woman on the side, or he marries another woman (polygamy is illegal, but since Muhammad had multiple wives some men do not hesitate to follow his steps.) Quite often, though, these arranged marriages do work, perhaps because of the sharp intuition of a mother, or perhaps because the son makes it work to please her (in Islam, the mother is placed #1, #2 and #3 in the family, the father placing only fourth).

Many many girls my age have spoken with me about marriage, since it's such a big event in their near future. One girl has a so called boyfriend, whom she sees only at the University (rarely in public) but she is taller than he, so she doesn't hope too much to marry him (his mother won't like her height). Another Russian girl is in love with a Tajik, but is having to fight the Tajik tradition of Tajiks marrying Tajiks to enter his family (she's even willing to convert from Christianity to Islam for him). My brother here, Kakramom, is 26 and unmarried, somewhat uncommon for a man his age. But he's in no hurry. His parents are searching and he went to "look at" a girl last week, but she didn't make his heart pound (he said so himself) so he won't marry her. (His sisters don't mind that he's taking his time, except when he asks them to wash his clothes for him and then they tell him he needs a wife, because it is not their duty.) Another girl claims to have a Tajik boyfriend in the Red Cross to whom she will be married in two years after she finishes University. Most girls, however, have never been in any type of relationship as it might diminish their prospects of marriage. (Friendships between guys and girls are not uncommon, however, and happen at school or in large groups. I went skateboarding with a group of 16 year old boys and girls from the 11th grade last weekend, for instance, and it was quite normal.)

Tajiks as a whole, though they love their culture and religion very much, are never imposing. They often watch Russian TV and are understanding that life is different in other places. They are not at all condemning of other ways of life, so the Russians who live here in Tajikistan have also managed to keep their own culture, seperate and different from that of the Tajiks.

I will have to write again about the food. the dress and music, for these are also different and very fascinating. Hopefully by that time, I can upload some more photos too.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Waldorf School Pt. 1

I have hestitated to write about the Waldorf School as I have been, until now, a little unsure about mine and Canyon's place there. We have just been visiting classes and getting to know the students and teachers for the past week and collecting ideas on what we can do to help and now are implememting our ideas. One unfortunately large draw back is the language barrier, but Tahmina and Rano (the school's founder) have been translating for us from English and German and we are learning to work around it.

The Waldorf School offers classes for children in the first through sixth grades as well as a non-Waldorf kindergarten and currently has over 100 students. It is housed in one building, a soviet kindergarten which had fallen into abandon and disrepair until seven years ago when the school was started. Seven rooms on the second floor have been renovated, not with any help from the government the teachers assure me, but by the teachers themselves alone. (Parents seem to be difficult in this school, as I understand, because it is a government school and many do not think it needs the help. It is also against Tajik tradition to donate money, even to the most needy situation, though many parents have plenty to give.) There are now six class teachers as well as an English teacher, a sport teacher, a handwork teacher, a painting teacher and a cook-- all of whom are women, except the third grade class teacher. Many of them have had at least one year of Waldorf training in Germany, but their teaching also has to (somewhat) follow government regulations. Most of them, too, are related: the sixth grade teacher, Jamila, is sisters with the handwork teacher and the painting teacher, and Babarosa (the cook) is the mother of Rano (the fifth grade teacher and also the school's founder) and the sport teacher. Her husband is the security guard.

The first floor of the building has only one usable room, the first grade classroom The rest are torn up from looting during the Tajik Civil War. All the windows have since been boarded up to hide the mess inside but the teachers are ever seeking means of renovating this floor so that the school can develop further. Next year, for instance, there will be a seventh grade but since there are not enough classrooms, alternative plans are being thought out.

The classes themselves are very reminiscent of Waldorf with many poems, songs, games, drawings and main lesson books. Sufficient supplies for all classes are, however, significantly lacking. The sixth grade handwork class, for instance, is making puppets out of scraps of cloth brought from home, cut by (very) dull scissors and sewn with bent needles. The Tajiks, as a people, are known for being very resourceful, so teachers are finding way to create a Waldorf education out of what is available, but it makes me realize how very rich my education was: there are no water colors, wooden easels or desks or faceless gnomes, nice German pencils or colored cheese cloth. The balls are flat and there are no jump ropes, hula hoops or javelins and not even a proper bathroom (just a pit in the ground, Tajik fashion). There is, however, a core group of teachers putting their efforts together, learning together and successfully creating an education center for these 100 children. There are many ways to grow, in singing and games, for example and you can be sure that these teachers are doing what they can to make this growth come about.

I must not forget to mention that "Madame Director," the government-sent employee with no relationship to Waldorf education, oversees all the teachers and tries, I'm sure, to understand this Waldorf system. There is also in EVERY classroom a picture of President Emomalii Rahmon as well as a poster of all the Tajik heroes. Ribbons of red, white and green (the colors of the Tajik flag) decorate the outside of the building, establishing a feeling of Tajik nationality and reminders that this school is not entirely free from the government's influence.

More about the students and our place there again. (To satisfy you, however, I will say that I have so far taught many music classes as well as a bit on the alphabet in Eurythmy and some games.)

Some Photos!

I have posted a link to the right where you all can see some photos. Unfortunately, I would like to post many more, but the internet speed is so slow that I'll have to do it gradually. Be sure to check back every now and again!


Thursday, October 4, 2007

My Life So Far

I am currently living in Khujand, in Microdistrict 18 with the Джумабаева family. There are three children living at home (Tahmina, 30, Padramon, 26 and Nigina, 20) and one woman, Medina, 24, who is married and lives with her husband and child. On my first day, Padramon (who likes to be called Garry) pointed to me and then to himself and said, "brother and sister." The mother and father's names are .....but I cannot speak with them much as they know no English (and my Russian has a long way to go). It is fun trying to understand hand gestures for a change.

Though I feel very welcome in their family, I am still treated as a guest. When we eat our meals (on the floor at a small table near the TV) I am always given the spot next to the wall, with a blanket and a pillow and a good view of the TV. We eat dinner together everyday, but for breakfast and lunch we are left to our own devices. Tahmina, Nagina and I all sleep in a different apartment in microdistrict 19 and nice walk away from the parents home. We leave this house at 6 am every morning and do not return until 7 or 8 at night.

The three of us girls sleep together in one room on kurpacha, cotton-filled blankets laid on the floor. Though there are three rooms in this apartment, we use only this one and the other two are virtually empty, save for one table and chair, the only furniture in the whole place.

At 7 or 7:30 in the morning after helping to clean up the breakfast, I take the microbus to the Waldorf School. Microbuses are essentially old and rickity vans with up to 15 people crammed inside. I stand by the side of of the road to wait my microbus and when I see 9A, 52 or 74 I wave out my hand and the bus (usually) stops to let me in. In the event that a seat is free, I sit, but most of the time I have to crouch for awhile until someone gets off. I hand my money (35 or 50 dirams which is about 10 or 17 cents) to another passenger who hands it to another until it makes it's way to the driver. The car is silent until someone wants to get off and then commands of "Dorit!" (Tajiki) or "Astanaviti!" (Russian) stop the van. Fortunately for me, my stop is right by a market where many people usually get off, so I don't usually have stop the bus, but every now and again I say "Dorit!" myself and then the driver looks at me funny before stopping.

The school yet another walk, not too far, through the dust and cracked pavement that is all Tajikistan roads. The school grounds themselves are all dust and pavement, and building is grey concrete "Waldorfianized" by some colorful cut glass in the shape of animals.

I stay at the school for just five hours, from 8 until 1 and I eat lunch there: hot Tajiki dishes and tea prepared by the school cook, Barbarosa. At 1 o'clock, I go home to nap and study Russian or to the internet cafe (where I am now). And then, soon enough, it's dinner time, and we are all tired and we watch TV and go to bed.

More again.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

German anyone?

Well, I had planned on writing a nice long entry about my family and daily life, but suddenly a girl came up to me here in the internet cafe and started speaking with me in German. It turns out she is a German student at the University and will be in the English club Canyon and I will be leading. And then her friend, who is the owner manager of this (very nice) internet cafe just told her (to translate to me in German --to translate to Canyon in English) that we can use this internet cafe as much as we want with out paying. He will also come to the English Club. This language game is fun. Neither one of them speaks ANY English...

It's funny that I've spoken more German here than I did in those 24 hours I spent in Frankfurt on the way here. Most teachers at the Waldorf School speak German because they recieved their Waldorf training in Germany, and there is a very good German teacher, Rano, who teaches in area high schools as well as universities, so her students are competent with the language. Many people want to learn English, though, as going to America is the biggest dream for them so we hope to be able to help them with our English Club.

10/9 SORRY! There is only one club, the English Club. I meant to write that but wrote German instead, so sorry about the confusion.