Dance Party- Shaartuz Pre-New Years Party

My coworkers, Nodira and Abdulrahim

My coworkers enjoying our office new year party!


The Realities of Winter

Tajikistan in winter is distinctly different from in the US for two primary reasons.
In Shaartuz electricity is rationed and the markets aren’t connected to the global food supply. From 6am to 10am and 5pm to 10pm we have power. This totals 9 hours per day; Shaartuz is rationed 3 times the amount of power that neighboring villages receive during the months of November to March. Our office runs on a generator during the day. *

With rationed power the neighborhood becomes a social place. It’s commonly warmer outside than inside, so people visit with one another in the sunshine. Kids play games, men play cards, women socialize when their chores are completed, and strong social bonds are reinforced daily. It’s impressive.

Another noteworthy thing we can learn from Tajikistan is how to manage our own vanity. Tajik people dress exceptionally well most of the time, but the difference is each person has an average of three stylish/professional outfits. It’s the norm for people to wear the same outfit repeatedly, and my co-workers’ outfits are always clean and pressed. I’ve thought about it, and this makes sense. Why are our closets filled with so much stuff? Why do I have a significant amount of clothes sitting in a storage unit in Montana?

The truth is, I’m a consumer, it’s my culture, and it’s something I’m evaluating as I live in Tajikistan. My consumer instincts have been curbed regarding food purchases too. The markets are filled with cellar crops and not a lot else. Each meal is a variation of potatoes, carrots, onions, green turnips, rice, pasta, broth, meat (sheep, goat, cow, chicken), and the beloved dumba oil. Dumba oil is made from sheep butt fat. The food is tasty!

When things are predictable it’s easy to adapt and overcome. If you know electricity will be rationed, you plan for it. When you know you’ll have limited ingredients, you develop delicious recipes for what you have, no big deal. These are just a few of the reasons why Tajikistan and its people are inspiring.

* So where does the power go? Here is just one contributing factor: “The Tajik Aluminum company, Talco, consumes up to half of Tajikistan's electricity, contributing to major seasonal shortages and suffering. Though Talco is technically state-owned, most of its revenues end up in a secretive offshore company controlled by the President.”


What am I doing in Shaartuz?

Shaartuz is an arid region constituting the South Western corner of Tajikistan. It’s nestled up to both Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The desert terrain traverses the borders, as do the many rivers that flow through the area. Agriculture is the primary source of income for the region. It took consultation with an agronomist to convince me that the region is good for growing things, and I’m still not certain, and I’m certainly not an expert. It was counter intuitive for me to come to this conclusion, because there is sand, not soil, making up a large part of the landscape. How does gravelly earth get transformed to viable soil: water, lots of water.

For the most part, the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan disappeared in the 1990’s, it died a rapid death under the guise of Soviet progress. Specifically, irrigation systems watering the arid regions across Central Asia, irrigation systems that are still in place today. A small portion of the Aral Sea has been rehabilitated, but it’s such a small portion I’ve been told that it’s not linked to Shaartuz’s local river outputs. So, Shaartuz’s rivers end by flowing into the dead Aral Sea. With this rationale, there is no reason to stop growing things in the desert, and that’s exactly what’s happening in Shaartuz. Cotton, yes, thirsty cotton is one of the primary cash crops.

I am working on making sense of this while I am engaged with another part of Shaartuz’s economy: youth employment and empowerment. I am working for Mercy Corps as an intern until the end of February. Mercy Corps is in the 2nd year of implementing a 3 year US AID funded project: TSEP (Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program). TSEP works in 3 regions of Tajikistan: Shaartuz, Garm, and Khojand.

Each region has a youth coordinator; Hakeem is my main man in Shaartuz, he has creative ideas and is patient with my Tajik. Farhod is the Shaartuz training coordinator, he possesses a wealth of knowledge, and I expect to learn a lot from him, he also serves as a translator for Hakeem and me. I have high hopes for what we can accomplish together! In the upcoming weeks I will be investigating how to link youth being trained in TSEP workshops with regional and national markets. The second aspect of my internship will focus on how to mobilize and train youth to accomplish community service projects funded by TSEP. These projects will be linked to crisis prevention in the areas of health and environment.

Next week I will be meeting with youth from 3 villages to listen to their thoughts about what the primary health and environmental risks are in their communities. From their feedback I will work to construct proposals for community service projects. I am learning that it’s important to take my time, there are a lot of stake holders that must be considered before projects are approved. This is why I am hoping to create pre-approved projects that reflect local youth’s interests. Once these projects are approved, youth will be able to choose what project they want to implement in their communities.

Minimally, I want to create a methodology for training and project implementation. If this is successful, the hope is to mobilize youth into action, launching a pilot program for in Shaartuz. If successful, the model could be implemented in the other TSEP regions.

Wish me luck, and if you’ve got ideas, I’d love to hear from you!


The Social Scene in Shaartuz

There is rumor of an underground disco in Shaartuz…there is rumor of an UNDERGOUND DISCO in SHAARTUZ! As this rumor was being discussed over a meal of shashlik (kebabs), my fellow Mercy Corps interns and I were contemplating how we could find the disco. One of our fellow coworkers responded “why do you need to find a disco, I know the owner of this restaurant and this can be our disco.”   

This conversation was at the beginning of dinner, we all chuckled, and continued to enjoy our meal. We were sending off a Mercy Corps intern, Vanessa the agronomist, who was returning to America. She had made quite an impression on the community, in 5 months she had mastered conversational Tajik. I was told this week that to learn Tajik, one must love Tajik people, and then it will be easy to learn the language. It is clear that Vanessa loved Tajik people, and I like to think I am following in her footsteps.

As the meal came to an end, we were all lubricated, and the idea of making a disco in the restaurant sounded less funny and more like a good idea. The tables were pushed to the side, the music was turned up, and we danced! We danced with our arms in the air, as is the Tajik way. We embraced the moment. This is the way to live and enjoy Shaartuz.

I couldn’t help but notice that our Tajik coworkers danced similarly to their fellow Soviets in Georgia. The music is different, but the body movements are similar. When surrounded by the people of Tajikistan when they are speaking Tajik, it is easy to forget about the Soviet past. This week we received a new American supervisor, Justin, he speaks Russian. With his presence, Russian is used more frequently in the office. It is amazing to see how easily my coworkers move in and out of Russian, both linguistically and culturally.

Justin arrived from Mercy Corps Afghanistan in Kunduz. As the bird flies this is approximately 80 kilometers from Shaartuz. Last night he made the comment, that to see how significant the Soviet influence was and is, you just need to cross the border. He is happy to be in Tajikistan. We are happy our American enclave in a region of 100,000 has expanded to 3.


Can you be a Victim of Hospitality?

Let’s talk hospitality...
As the recipient of incomparable hospitality, sometimes you have to rise to the occasion and be the exceptional guest. You have to eat two dinners in one night, you have to finish the bottle of vodka, and you have to dance. To never say “enough” is an art form that guests in Central Asia must master. As my changing physical form attests, I am an apprentice of this skill.

While sitting around dinner tables being goaded to have more, eat more, enjoy more…I have found myself wondering: Why didn’t I pack more pants with stretchy waste bands?

In the video below is Uncle Imimyor and the beautiful family of his side kick Ahmad. This was a feast night to be remembered (and yes, this was our second dinner of the evening)!

Women in Barcheed

In Barcheed, like a duckling I followed and imitated what I saw Maino doing. Maino is a strong, intelligent, capable, and patient Pamiri mother. She is pictured above making pilov, a prized national dish. Maino is the mother of my friend Zor, a Pamiri student attending the University of Montana. Maino is the mother of three children; those children have chosen to study overseas (two in Russia, one in Montana). Maino adopted me into her daily routine very easily, even if I resembled a misfit duckling.

I stuck close to Maino, eager to practice my language and learn about her life. Village life followed a clear routine. A routine no matter how closely I watched, things escaped me. It took me the entire duration of our stay to realize the cow got milked twice a day. If this was the animal kingdom, my chances for survival would have been slim. Thank god for opposable thumbs and grocery stores!

In the village (кишлок), when the sun comes up, the cows, chickens, and sheep got moved to pasture. All of the houses surrounding ours were inhabited by relations. All these relations also had cows and sheep. The sheep watching responsibilities rotate among the families. This includes grandma, mother of 12 children, Soviet hero; she’s tough as nails and smaller than the average 10 year old.

The role of women is foundational to community life. Grandma’s raising grandchildren, while their daughters are migrant workers in Russia, earning money for the family. 36% of Tajikistan’s GDP is based on remittance payments. Women working overseas is new to this generation. It will be interesting to see if their daughters follow in their footsteps. To work hard abroad with the hope of retiring at home, with the hope of one day being able to raise grandchildren, make bread, plant and harvest crops, live a routine life. Village life is full of work, so retirement doesn’t seem like the best word choice.

To live and enjoy life without complaint, this is what I observed. Who’s got time for nonsense when there is so much work to be done? Not a pint sized Soviet hero with more great grandchildren than you can shake a stick at, not Maino, not any of the women I met in Barcheed. 

I blog. I'm a blogger.

Here is a link to my Buskashi photos. Also included are some pics from the Heli ride from Khorog back to Dushanbe, that was awesome: http://www.flicker.com/photos/mikeylikesbikes
I have posted a few pics here, but I encourage you to check out the rest at the above website.

Yes, as Ali points out this is my first blog post ever. I blog. I'm a blogger. It is also my first on-line photo album. I recently purchased a digital camera and I have been spotted texting very slowly. Are these all symptoms of my sisification--the wimpyness of modern man? (see Reuters article "Modern Man a Wimp says Anthropologist"). Note: I don't Facebook, I don't exactly know what Twitter is, and it took me several days of work to get my photos on the Internet, but my friend Alex did once convince me to open a Friendster account.


Tajik Shake Down

As a continuation on the previous post, I want to tell you about returning to Dushanbe from the Pamirs. Mikey chose to stay in the Pamirs a few more days, so I headed to Dushanbe alone. As mentioned, there are two ways to travel by road to Khorog from Dushanbe. On my return trip the driver chose to go through the Rasht Valley. This is a region that has experienced some internal instability since our arrival to Tajikistan. Because of this, there is a heightened military presence in the region. This was visible in the amount of checkpoints we went through.

I would now like to tell you about the attempted shake down of me. At one checkpoint after giving the soldier my documents I was asked to get out of the car. Since I was located in the back of the land cruiser everyone in the vehicle had to get out too. Once out of the SUV I was asked in Tajik:

Soldier 1: Do you speak Russian?
Me: No, I speak a little Tajik.

Soldier leads me over to a fold out table, I move to the table followed by my driver and another passenger who speaks excellent English and is prepared to translate. The soldiers tell them that I can speak a little Tajik and they need to go hang out by the car. They follow this request.

Soldier 1: Who are you?
Me: I am Jean Allison Church. I am from America. I live in Dushanbe. My husband is a graduate student in Tajikistan.
Soldier 1: What were you doing in the Pamirs?
Me: I looked at the big mountains, I visited a friends family in Barcheed.
Soldier 1: Tourist
Me: Yes

Soldier closely inspects my documents

Me: My papers are good
Soldier: ( I don't understand everything but I get the gist) I want 50 somoni ($11) from you
Me: No, Why?

Soldier signs 50 somoni on the table

Soldier 1: Come on, give me 50 somoni
Me: No, Why?
Soldier 1: It is night, you can not travel at night
Me: You are not correct. I have apples, would you like some apples?
Soldier 1: I don't want apples, do you want a persimmon?
Me: /no, I don't want a persimmon
Soldier 1: 50 somoni

At this point I realize Tajik isn't getting me anywhere. We're in a stand off, so I switch to English...

Me: Are we just going to play the waiting game? I am giggling at the ridiculousness of the situation. The soldier is smiling too.

Another soldier walks up...

Soldier 2: Do you have a baby. (Soldier 1 mimes rocking a baby)
Me: I understand, no I don't have a baby.
Soldier 2: How old are you?
Me: I am 30 years old. ( My giggling increases)

I walked away giggling to where my driver and volunteer translator are standing with the other soldiers. I seek council. I explain that the soldier would like me to pay 50 somoni, I am happy to pay it if that's the only way we can continue on the road, but my papers are good. At this point the translator explains to the driver the situation. The driver has a short exchange with the solider attempting to extort money from me, my passport is handed over and we're on way.

Mikey and I have held to our policy: we don't pay bribes 100% of the time. This isn't the first time we've been asked for money from public servants. Part of the issue is that corruption is part of the system. For police in particular, we have been told that their wage is barely livable. Tajik police are like waiters, it's the standard to tip (or bribe, depending on what linguistics you prefer). This is how it's justifiable to pay them so little, the income on paper is not their actual income.

Continuing on to Dushanbe from the Rasht valley we passed the location of the proposed Rogan Dam. This Dam is the proposed location of a large scale hydro electric plant. Who will pay for the construction of the dam and hydro electric plant? That's the multi million dollar question.

At Rogan the roads shifted from 4-wheel jeep tracks to smooth, well laid asphalt. From Rogan back to Dushanbe the roads reminded me of Kulab (the president's region), really nice. The road to Rogan is like red carpet leading potential investors to the promise land, or at least that's what's being sold.


Looking at Afghanistan

Driving to and from Khorog is an amazing experience! There are two routes to travel. On our way there we took the Southern route through the Kulab region. The president of Tajikistan is from Kulab, which has resulted in a lot of money being funnelled to this region: the road was very nice, the fields were well irrigated and bountiful, the homes were well built...the list of niceties is numerous.

From the Kulab region we transited to the Gorno-Badakshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO). GBAO makes up 50% of Tajikistan's land and is home to 4% of the population. The reason for the small population is that there are more mountains than people... these mountains are big and beautiful! Where GBAO begins the road meets meets the Panj River and the border with Afghanistan also starts.

Until this region it wasn't clear why we had woken up early and gone to the bus depot to reserve our seats 2.5 hours before our land cruiser left for Khorog. Mikey and I had passenger side window seats (the coveted seats) in our land cruiser that was packed liked sardines with 9 full grown adults inside. With window seats we had a clear view of the Panj and the mountains in Afghanistan.

This region of Afghanistan is also called Badakshan. The Tajik and Afghan regions have similar names and are inhabited by the same Pamiri people. The language spoken in the two regions is the same, Shughni (an Eastern Iranian language unrelated to Tajik). The type of Islam practiced is the same, Ismali (the second largest branch in Shia Islamic faith, the Aga Khan is the Ismali Imam). It's funny to refer to it as two regions, because it's really just one region, with a border bisecting it into two. We were told by our host and local resident that before the Soviet Union "We were one, we are the same people. Before the Soviets a brother might live on one side and a sister on the other, there was no difference between us and them." When asked if he had family on the other side, he remarked "No, perhaps, but no, we have forgotten over time."

Visiting this region, it's hard not to contemplate the ridiculousness of borders. It's also hard not to be amazed at some of the things the Soviet Union accomplished. Looking at Afghanistan out the window of a land cruiser I saw villages connected by walking paths. The topography on either side of the Panj is similar. Contemplating what it would take to build roads where the foot paths are in Afghanistan I concluded that it would be a nearly impossible feat. The Soviets executed the impossible on the Tajik side of the Panj, they built roads that makeGlacier National Parks Going to the Sun Road look like an easy construction project. The Soviet Union didn't get everything right, but they did some astounding things.

With roads come resources. This was clear looking at the types of houses on either side of the river. In Afghanistan the houses are built with flat roofs that likely have to be reinforced annually. In Tajikistan where large sheets of corrugated metal are available the houses are built with peaked roofs. Tajikistan is not a rich country, but from what I saw, it's sitting pretty in comparison to its neighbor.

Included below is a video from the Barcheed village where we stayed. You will be able to see the valley that  I have been discussing. It should be self evident why thoughts of borders were so prevalent to us while we were in Gorno-Badakshan.


A link to Buzkachi Photos

Another weekend...another Buzkachi Match!

Our photo's of Buzkashi will soon be posted, but in the meantime feast your eyes on these photos taken by Olivie, one of our French companions from last weekend:


Today's match was sweet, I got to ride a Charvando's (competitors) horse around while he was taking a break from the game. I had a grin ear to ear!

We returned home to our neighborhood a buzz, the tandori oven in the courtyard was blazing, and everyone older than 10 years old was beginning the preparation for Eid. Everyone younger than 10 years old was hanging out with Mikey and me. Mikey has won hearts and minds fixing all the neighborhood bicycles. An older woman from my building mistook me for being Iranian today...a fantastic sign...I can't say a lot of things in Tajik, but my sentence structure must be good. My accent is still a little off if someone thinks I'm speaking Farsi, but I'll take it.

Less than 12 hours and we begin our journey to really big, beautiful mountain country :)


To the Roof of the World we go

This week has been a busy one for Mikey and me.
I have had a variety of volunteer opportunities since arriving in Dushanbe. Both projects I have contributed to have been working towards creating an infrastructure for the social and educational inclusion of disabled children. Most recently, I worked with Caritas Switzerland on a multi-component grant proposal. This was an amazing learning experience.

With this project I visited one of the two public schools in Dushanbe that provides inclusive education. Under the Soviets special education did not exist, so the idea is a novel one here. I have heard that at least 50% of the Tajik population is under the age of 18. This leaves a lot of kids to be educated. The local school system manages the masses by creating shifts. There are 3 shifts each day (approximately 2 hours each) for 6 days a week. Around 40 students per class. At the school I visited the teacher had amazing control of her students. Working with 120 students per day for 6 days a week, makes Tajik teachers among the most patient people on earth...and the teachers who are willing to put forth the extra energy to provide inclusive education spots are truly worthy of admiration. (Especially when they're making less than $100/month)

The project proposal  had 6 components:
1) Early intervention
2) Kindergarten
3) Primary education
4) Community rehabilitation
5) Government support for inclusion
6) Capacity building for NGOs

The hope is that the majority of the objectives set will be accomplished in a two year time frame, and that Tajikistan's government will have a stake in building and maintaining an infrastructure for inclusive education. From the ground level up, change is happening.

As my involvement with this project concludes, I am moving on to other things. I am hoping to start an internship with Mercy Corps in Tajikistan. The internship, if it comes together, will be focused on youth initiatives in two rural regions: Shartuuz and Garm. I am excited to travel outside the capitol city and have more chances to practice my budding language skills.

Mikey and I will leave this Sunday to travel to GBAO, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, home of the Pamir Mountains, this region is where the term "roof of the world" originated. Getting there is suppose to be an adventure in itself. Mikey made a tough decision to pass up a ride on the Aga Khan Helicopter to Khorog in order to stay here and meet with our St. Mary's professor (Michael Cain) to hash out the specifics of his research plan for the year. Things are coming together, and adventures abound.

This Tuesday, November 16th, is Eid Corbone. From what I gather it's a holiday thats celebration is kinda like Halloween and Thanksgiving combined. Halloween because the children go from home to home asking for candy, sometimes singing as they make their requests. I was told "Do not be surprised if the children come early, I mean 7 am early." And like Thanksgiving because every family makes a feast that takes more than a day to prepare. The feasts are shared amongst the community as neighbors visit one another to share in the holiday. Eid Corbone is the holiday where mourning ends. For those individuals who have lost a family member or friend in the past year, this is a day of remembrance and release. We are excited to take part in our first Muslim holiday.


Buzkachi Season has Begun!!!

This weekend Mikey and I had our first buzkachi experience. For those of you who don't know what buzkachi is, I will attempt to explain. There are two goals in buzkachi, we witnessed a goal to be deliniated by two tires barried half way into the ground, approx. 15 feet apart. The players can be as many men on horseback as show up to play. The prizes can be big, so the competitors are often in the 100s. The ball, if you will, is a beheaded goat that is soaked in a barrel of water overnight, the average weight 40 kilos. The aim of buzkachi is to pick up and carry the be-headed, water logged goat through the goal. This becomes difficult when 100+ men are all trying to do the same thing for the glory and prizes. At the buzkachi match we attended prizes ranged from rugs, horses, goats, cows, and money (the largest prize was awarded to the final goal, it was $500, a horse, and a cow). A prize is given for each goal. As we were leaving I witnessed someone transporting their prize home, a goat in the trunk of their car.

So, how is a goal scored? These are the words that come to mind: chaos, strength, speed, alliances, beating your horse and your competitors with a whip, pure adrenaline, and commitment. Would I go to a buzkachi match again, of course! In fact, Mikey was so enthusiastic he caught a double header this weekend and attended the Sunday match too. Mikey witnessed an act of commitment to the game that goes beyond Super Bowl victory potential! A middle aged competitor was hit hard in the head resulting in a lot of blood. He rode away from the action of the game to clean himself up, how did he do this? He had a young relative pee into his hands and then he splashed the urine on his face (where the cut was) to clear away the blood. Blood is apparently a natural antiseptic, who knew?

Documenting buzkachi is an athletic art for the adrenaline junky. The mob of horses can move in any direction at any time, there is no out of bounds. In order to get good photos, you have to get close to the chaos. Mikey was better at this than I was. Another skill to learn is how to take good photos while sprinting to safety as the horses charge towards you. It will take some practice. Buzkachi season lasts through the winter, we've got time to get better! We will post photos and videos sometime soon.


Bike Rides

For the past two Sundays Mikey and I have picked a direction to ride outside the city. Our first Sunday, we headed East towards Hissar. Hissar is the location of an ancient fort that is in the process of having it's entrance rebuilt. We have read that on certain holidays, buskachi matches take place inside the old fort, pictured to the left. We will keep this in mind for the future.

It is really amazing how quickly the development of Dushanbe transitions into small village communities. We have had the experience that Tajiks are very generous and engaging, especially when you get out of the city. On one occassion, a man we met gave us 3 liters of Pepsi to take with us.
This past weekend, we rode our bikes into the Varzob gorge region, it's pretty, really pretty. The mountains around Dushanbe are becoming snow capped, while in the city it remains quite warm.

And at the end of each ride it's always good to return home...Dushanbe :) Mikey and I have just found an apartment that we will be moving into soon, it is located on the same street as the botanical gardens... the best place in the city to go for a run. Things are coming together!

Welcomed Surprises, St. Mary's Style

Living in Dushanbe, life is unpredictable. Last week Mikey was at the US Embassy, in the cafeteria Mikey literally ran into a St. Mary's College professor of ours, Michael Cain. Much to our surprise and good fortune Prof. Cain is in Dushanbe for a month doing research on small hydro-electric projects in Tajikistan. As Mikey's Fulbright is also a project involving water, it has been a wonderful coincidence. Prof. Cain's enthusiasm for meeting with us and assisting us while he's in town reinforces to me how lucky we are to be alumni of St. Mary's. To the right is a photo of Prof. Cain and Mikey in front of a bank, the dollar bill signs were too good a photo opportunity to pass up.


Tajikistan is great! Mikey and I had a very fun and funny Halloween, celebrated on Saturday the 3oth. Mikey started his holiday as he does every Saturday morning at 7am playing futbol with his team. I spent my morning cooking two large and delicious apple pies for the party we would attend later in the day. The next part of our day was to finalize our costumes. Mikey was a Tajik Sportsman, complete with a gold medal and the Tajikistan Olympic team warm ups, and non-traditional short shorts. I was an ambiguous American Super Hero... a blue towel as my cape, a blue, circular tupperware top as a shield and an aluminum foil sword. See photo below:
Halloween was an interesting holiday to spend in Tajikistan, because not everyone knows about it. So a Tajik Sportsman and Superhero walking down the street isn't easily explainable. Similar to our day with Baby Harbooza, we made a lot of people smile and laugh. In the back of a Marshuka (Mini bus) I announced in English as we were getting out, after receiving a lot of weird looks, "Happy Halloween"! Much to my surprise a man in the front seat responded, "Is Halloween today?... I understand." This made me feel better knowing that this man knew what Halloween was and might explain to everyone else in the bus why we were dressed up.

The highlight of Halloween was attending a University of Central Asia Halloween Dance Party. Let me tell you, Tajik people can dance exceptionally well. I cannot say the same for Mikey and I. Many of the students were very excited that we were in costume attending their party and frequently made us the center of their dance circles. In our not so rhythmic way we danced our hearts out.
From this party we migrated to another Halloween party hosted by the US Marine Corp. At this location we continued to dance and be merry. The international community went all out in being inventive with their costume creations, it was a lot of fun.

The US Marines who are stationed at the US Embassy in Dushanbe are a lot of fun. They host basketball games on Saturdays, volleyball games on Wednesdays, and are among the boisterous members of the Dushanbe Hash House Harriers. Mikey and I have been committed attendants every Saturday afternoon to the local Hash. This week Mikey won the "Hash Shit." This is an award that is won by being the Hash member who does the stupidest thing during the week. I nominated Mikey, and he won, for packing a glass bottle of BBQ sauce in one of our boxes to be sent to Dushanbe. When the box arrived all the contents smelled delicious, as they were marinated in BBQ sauce, as the glass bottle had smashed. Included in the marinated contents were: a years worth of feminine products, batteries, stationary, gifts to be given during our year abroad.
We hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween!!! We would love to hear about your costumes and celebrations :)


A view from our roof in Instanbul

This is a video from our hotel roof in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Nobel Hotel is located in the Sultan Ahmet neighborhood. In the video you will see the Blue Mosque, which is located directly across from the Aya Sofia. As tourists, this was a great location to stage our adventures.

Condalisa Rice: Calendar Girl?

A photo album from Turkey is up... Thank you for your patience!

Mikey and I have had a lot of fun this week!

We have started our language lessons with Dr. Abdul Rashid, aka Bobo (Grandpa) Abdullo. Dr. Abdul Rashid is a Persian language scholar/ translator. His English is so-so, which makes him a great teacher of Tajik. With his basic level of English he was able to share with us his love of Condalisa Rice, whom he has a framed photo of. Did you know Condi speaks very good Russian? Commonalities between Condi and Putin: they our loved by Dr. Abdul Rashid and they both speak Russian.

Another funny occurance was after purchasing a very large melon (Harbooza) in the green market we had some arrands to run around town. As we were walking I queried to Mikey, do you think people are staring at me or the melon? This fostered the idea for us to draw a face on the melon. The melon was transformed from fruit in to Baby Harbooza. Baby Harbooza got a lot of smiles from people. As we are minorities in a city of predominately Persian people we stand out. Standing out results in being looked at. With many people looking at us they couldn't help but look at the giant melon we were carrying, when they saw the melon had a face, there was lots of instantaneous laughter. Without language we communicated: not only are we different, we're a little bit odd too, and this we can all laugh about.

When we made it home with Baby Harbooza, our housemates were not home yet. Baby Harbooza was put into Uncle Imimyor's bed... more laughter. Baby Harbooza was delicious!


Getting Settled

Mikey and I have now been in Tajikistan for a week. We've been busy meeting people, obtaining official documentation, taking care of mundane affairs (cell phone, housing, setting up tutoring, etc.), and familiarizing ourselves with the local food and markets.

Dushanbe is a city with wide streets and an abundance of fountains. We have learned the Marchuka (mini-bus) system by trial and error. Our Marchuka drivers have been rightfully concerned at times when we insist on riding in a certain direction. Sometimes we've been lost, and sometimes we've intentionally ridden to the end of the line just to see where it goes.

We've unpacked our bikes, but have done less riding than we do at home. There are a few reasons for this 1) Drivers are unpredictable here! In Tajikistan you don't have to pass a drivers course in order to obtain a license, you just have to buy a license. This creates an environment where not all drivers are playing by the same rules. A story was related to me where a fellow ex-pat overheard his taxi driver stating "The lines (on the road) are for beginners." With this said, I've witnessed some testastorone driven showmanship, but overall the driving is good. 2) It's affordable to ride the Marchukas at 22 cents (1 somoni) a ride. Mikey and I plan to do some longer bike trips out of the city when we have a few days to adventure.

Mikey is meeting with the University of Central Asia staff (one is a fellow U Montana grad) today. He's working on further developing and coordinating his research plans. The University of Central Asia has been helpful in recommending a Tajik language tutor for us and they are also assisting us in looking for an apartment. We should have formal language classes beginning next week. In the mean time...

We've been cramming as much vocabulary into our brains as can fit! Yesturday we got Tajik-English and English-Tajik dictionaries. These were extremely helpful in facilitating conversations between our current flat mates and us. In Dushanbe, we are currently staying in an apartment of a Tajik friend from Missoula, Zor. His Uncle and friend are also staying in the apartment for a few days. Zor's Uncle kicked our butts in chess, it was great fun! And after he let Mikey win an arm wresting contest because he was a guest, Mikey declared this morning "Today begins the witness the fitness regime!" Push-ups every day was the declaration, it's a great goal, but we'll see.

Other language training has been taking place in the park each evening from a gaggle of teenage boys. Notable characters are: Muhammed, a sixteen year old boy, who can do a nearly flawless Michael Jackson interpretation. Faroukh, Muhammed's best buddy, who is shy but is always the first to understand my questions. And a motley crew of university students who are eager to hear English spoken. Out of this group an informal language exchange has developed where we play ping-pong and assist one another in understanding each others language better.

This is the news from here... I promise pictures are coming soon!
Spell check wasn't possible, so please forgive any mistakes I've made.
Much Love,


Made it to Dushanbe

We had a wonderful 10 days in Turkey. Spending time in Olympos, an ancient Greek and Roman city of ruins transformed into a bohemian beach hang out. We relaxed with abandon; swimming, hiking, and eating as many pomegranates as we could consume. Our bungalo was in a pomegranate orchard!

On our bus trip back to Istanbul we were lucky to meet a young Turkish man named Ali. Ali wanted to make sure we experienced Turkish hospitality, buying tasty pancakes and tea for us before our bus trip started. Ali's English was great as he'd been a TA at the University of Maryland while working for NASA in Greenbelt. We had lots to talk about. He talked to us about how great the Ottoman Empire was and political reform taking place in Turkey today. A referendum was voted on and passed in early Sept. to reduce the influence of the Turkish military in politics. Interesting stuff.

We spent 2 days in Istanbul to finish our vacation. I explored the Ayasofya, originally built in 360 AD as a Byzantine church until it was transformed in to a Mosque with changing empires in 1453 AD. It was the largest building in the world for nearly 1000 years. Currently it is a museum (secularized in the 1930s by Ataturk) that reflects the traditions of almost 2000 years of Istanbul/ Constantinople religious heritage.

While I was exploring this architectural masterpiece, Mikey explored a local neighborhood and got a straight razor shave. Highlights of his shave were having his ear hair fuzz burned off with a lighter, as well as his nose hairs trimmed by Yusef the barber. Yusef didn't tell Mikey what he was doing with the lighter until he'd already started the process of burning his ear hair. Mikey's account of his reaction is pretty funny.

Our final morning was spent having tea at the Pera Palace, a hotel where T.E. Lawrence, Agatha Christie, and Earnest Hemingway stayed on their visits to Istanbul. It was very fancy and wonderful!

Today we arrived in Dushanbe. We were very fortunate to be met at the airport at 4:45am by friends of a Church family Rotary acquaintance. Veronica and Shocrat ushered us and our big luggage (bikes and backpacks) to an apartment where we will stay for a few days while we apartment hunt. The generosity we have been recipients of is heart warming! We are currently at the US embassy getting organized before we adventure out to start our lives here.

Let the adventure begin...I'll keep you posted on our progress :)



We have been really enjoyıng ourselves ın Istanbul! At the aırport we were told that all the Turkısh we would need to know ıs the phrase "Choke Guzell" translatıon: "How Beautıful!"
Thıs statement seems approprıate for everywhere we've vısıted and most everythıng we've seen. Archıtectural feats, wıld and crowded bazaars, Doner meats being sliced in store fronts creatıng salıvatıng scents along every road, and of course havıng tea ın Europe and lookıng at Asıa, and havıng tea ın Asıa and lookıng at Europe.

Both literally and fıguratively this is the meeting place of two continents and many cultures. This mixing has created a chaotıc perfection that buzzes about the streets. Thıs ıs a city to visit and re-visit ın your lıfetıme!

I am lookıng forward to sharıng photos and vıdeos wıth you, but I left my camera charger in the US. I will be reunıted with ıt ın Tajikistan, and visual aids will be posted then.

We leave for the Adrıatıc regıon of Olympos today. Woo Hoo!


Church Love

This is what happens when our Church branch gets together with the horse thieving Church branch. Ben (horse thief Church) I have never met someone so completely ridiculous, it was wonderful spending the day with you and Maggie. You can always bring out the best in people, in this case Mama Church.


Canoeing the Blackfoot River, Missoula

Following in Lewis and Clark's Footsteps... Adventures on the Wild and Scenic Missouri River

A 150 mile float from Fort Benton to Fort Kipp, Montana: 3 canoes, 6 people, and a dog. The crew was composed of Mikey and me, Zach and Barbara Dziedzic, Kenny Fletcher, and Katphish. We paddled, sailed, and floatilladed our way down the river as we were serenaded by the bards of nature and the musicians in our group. Spectacular!

The trip as a whole was a huge success! Mikey escaped the library and his thesis to enjoy the Montana summer in all its glory. Zach buffed up his already extensive knowledge of Lewis and Clark, while teaching all of us along the way. Barbara sang like an angel with her travel guitar and made the birds jealous. Kenny picked the places we hiked and then motivated the willing to beautiful views. Katphish caught a massive catfish and decided to change his name in honor of the moment. Venga overcame all sorts of adversity and survived another trip into the wilderness, she's built quite an impressive resume. I enjoyed the company of good friends, wild landscapes, and delicious food more than I can explain here.

As we floated down river, there was lots of talk about Lewis and Clark pulling their canoes upriver, one thing is certain, they were a lot tougher than I can ever imagine being. Between the prickly pear cactus and swarming mosquitoes, land could be inhospitable, while simultaneously acting like a siren in all it's beauty calling us to hike its cliffs and mountains. The views from above were incredible.

Check out the slideshow to see photos of the trip.


Getting Started

I decided to start a blog for myself and Mikey to make our photos and adventures more accessible to everyone. The slide show to the right displays the photos we took during the Winter and Spring. Including: crossing country skiing which we fell in love with and did a lot of, goldbug hot springs in Idaho, my first triathlon, Ping the duck (before Ping's untimely death) and Oliver the house cat, a double rainbow in our front yard, misc., and our most recent adventure...

This past weekend we explored the Rocky Mountain Front of Montana, near Choteau. This is where the prairie meets the Rocky Mountains. The change from flat to mountainous is abrupt, creating mountains on the rim that are referred to as reefs- steep cliffs. It's incredible, neither of us had ever seen anything like it. Mikey forgot to pack his hiking boots, he toughed a long day of snow trekking in tevas and socks with no complaints, impressive to say the least.

Following the recommendation of Mikey's professor Rick Graetz we explored the area around Rocky Mountain, the tallest peak on the Rocky Mountain Front. We made it to the ridge, but not quite to the summit. It was a long, fun day of hiking straight up. Check out the video below to see a portion of our quick decent, use sound if you can. Woohoo!

A lot of work is being done to protect the front from further development, for more details on this effort check out:
and a local Missoulian article about Rick's personal efforts: