Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sunday, October 28th

I admit I had a bit of a scare there in the middle of my Tajik adventures. Well, it wasn't a life-threatening scare or even one that made my heart pound fast and my blood run cold. It was just an instance where I felt like I had no control over what was happening to me and that all the steam I had initially put into my Tajik experience might puff out in one quick blow.

The source of my anxiety was my visa-- just one week from expiring and there was no certain way of extending it in sight. The woman on whom I was relying was out of resources, there was no place in Khujand to get it done, and an envelope (holding an American Passport) might 'get lost' in the mail on the way to Dushanbe. Also, the only possible way for any American Embassy to grant my extension was if the Waldorf School issued a letter (with the official stamp of approval) requesting my stay, but some voice in the head of the Director told her that the longer I stayed the more problems I (might) create with the government (since I have no teaching certificate) so she refused to write a letter. There was almost no option for me but to pack my small little suitcase and leave the country (there are stories of deportations to Uzbekistan when visitors over-extend their stay, but I'm not so sure about that). Anyway, I was about lost, and it was really the first time I have ever I felt like I had no say in the course my life was taking.

It almost astonishes me how sad I was those days. I had made my friends, established my routines, made plans to go to the Theater, and perform in concerts. Even I was a bit angry as well: at the Tajik Government for making a simple visa extension so hard, at myself for having to rely so much on other people (most especially for translation) and just at the pure fact that there was nothing I could do to get what I wanted. The tangles I would have to loosen to change my ticket on such short notice would also be hard to deal with.

And then by chance (though really, it was too good a happening to be any chance occurrence), on the way home from eating 'Krutob' (a favorite cheesy almost Mexican-tasting dish) with Canyon and some friends, I met Farid. I remember it too well. He was the best dressed person I'd seen around, with sunglasses and one of those small-brimmed hats worn back to reveal his uncommon curly hair. I noticed his distinct (and quite Italian) appearance before he got on the microbus, but forgot in an instant when other drama caught my attention: the microbus had suddenly stopped, the driver had gotten out and was running across the road where another, fortunately passenger-less, microbus was in flames. Canyon and I watched in amazement as all the cars stopped and the men (no women) ran, with their small water bottles and moldy rags in hand, to the aid of the other driver.

And then Farid interrupted us too interested spectators with his southern drawl, 'So where are y'all from.'

I was so surprised and the first words just fell out of my mouth. 'I knew you weren't Tajik!' I said almost too excitedly. It just went from there. He is, in fact, Tajik, just one of those few people who was able to plow through restrictions of both Tajik and US governments to go and study for a few years in the Alabama. (It has quite obviously affected his appearance, although the curls are still very rare amongst Tajiks.) He asked how long we were staying (it was days before Canyon left--he had decided not to extend his visa) and I told him my story. And then he was offering to help me--he had 'connections' he assured me--and two weeks (and $130 later) later I had a new one month visa in hand.

It's crazy how life falls into place. Things have always seemed to turn out okay in my past nineteen years and it was the first time that I had ever given up total hope but as things go, I still got what I wanted, and another adventure as well, for Farid turned out to be my brother in my new host family. But that's really another story for another time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Greetings from Germany

Dear Readers,

I am currently in an Internet cafe in beautiful, historical, fashionable and modern Munich. It was a bit stressful, I admit, to return to such a place after the comfort and security of a simple system in a small town, but I am getting used to it all again and, of course, love this city.

My last days there in Tajikistan were some of the best. I hardly had a moment to stop by the internet cafe as I was so full with music classes, visiting families and going out with friends, not to mention my responsibilities as a member of my host family. My whole experience had such an impression on me, that I have plans to return back in 2008 to spend longer there learning the culture more deeply and studying Russian and Farsi. This blog will probably continue periodically until then, with some updates on photos, more cultural aspects as well as some details about my family, but will return to full swing when I arrive in Tajikistan again.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you,


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Did You Know?

What I've learned from the Tajik locals:

Tajikistan is 93% mountains.

The second highest peak in the world is in the Pamir mountain range in southern Tajikistan. It used to be called Mount Communism, but since has been renamed to Mount Somoni (after the first King of Tajikistan).

The currency is also named after Somoni. 1 US dollar equals 3.45 somoni. There are 100 dirams in 1 somoni. One loaf of bread costs 1 somoni 50 diram, a marshrutka ( microbus) ride costs 35 to 50 diram and a restaurant meal for five costs 12 somoni.

Every cellphone service in Tajikistan gives the first 10 seconds for free, so many people have multiple 10 second conversations in a row.

There are only 11 grades in Tajikistan.

There is no college application process. You can go to whatever University and study whatever you choose depending on your interests as well as money (Some courses cost up to $800 a year).

University students in the first, second and third courses are required to go cotton picking for an indefinite amount of time every fall to help their government (which pays for tuition). Teachers are supposed to go on weekends.

Money speaks really loudly here: for University diplomas, tests and grades, for driver's licenses and especially to get out of cotton picking. If you've got money (and I'm not talking millions, I'm talking hundreds) you've got it.

Enrique Inglasias is by far the most popular American artist here. Other well-liked groups include Pussy Cat Dolls, Rihanna, 50 Cent, Eminem, James Blunt, Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson.

The Tajik language is the same as Farsi (spoken in Iran), but the lettering system was changed from the Arabic script to Cyrillic after Tajikistan became part of the Soviet Union.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tajik Culture:Dress

ookWhen Canyon and I arrived in Dushanbe, we both noticed that we were the worst dressed people around. And here in Khujand, we stand out, not only because of our light skin and "blondin" hair (our friend Jalil claims that even Canyon is considered blond) but also because of our relatively bedraggled dress. Personal appearance is almost too important to the people: as one Tajichka said,"if the people have no bread to eat, no food on their table, you will never know, because they will always dress themselves well. "

There are two basic styles of dress: traditional Tajik clothing, and Western styles which in many cases are mixed together. All students are forbidden from wearing traditional dress to classes, and school children are required to wear white tops and black bottoms. Most men and boys wear suits with well polished shoes and perfectly ironed shirts. The girls wear skirts, stockings and heels, all of which are creative and different in appearance: the skirts have many layers, or slant sideways, the stockings have flowers or diamonds or waves on them and the shoes are mostly round-toed heals with beads, sparkles or buckles. Working women most often wear dress suits, with matching jackets and skirts, unless their husband requires them to wear the Tajik dress. Jeans are very popular for men, boys and girls (not so much the women) as weekend or even everyday dress. None of these clothes are cheap, but all Tajiks know how to take care of them and often wear the same thing day after day.

Traditional Tajik dress, for men, is basically just pants and a collared shirt with a traditional or Muslim hat. The traditional hats are black with white embroidery and pointed at the top and lay lightly on the head. The Muslim hats are white or dark colors, flat topped and also just rest on the head. Women wear a long shapeless dress out of very colorful material with matching pants underneath. They often accompany this with heels, or at home, the comfortable, embroidered flat Tajik national shoes. Many older women cover their hair with a scarf (which does not usually match their dress), but few wear the hijab, which also covers the neck.

Marriage plays a huge role in a woman's appearance. Most married women take on the national dress at marriage as well as the head scarf for both work and at home, though for special occasions they have a skirt and beautiful jacket waiting in their closet. Only married women pluck their eyebrows, and they often paint them on again ( using natural homemade plant dye) as a full unibrow or two dark, thick eyebrows. Certain earrings are also saved for married women: the Tajik gold hoops with dangling pearls that cost at least $100 (their often included in a woman's dowry). For the girls, gold earrings in the shapes of flowers are very common.

One thing is certain about Tajikistan They may not have electricity or water or food, but they will always look nice.