8.12.11

How Much is a Good Story Worth?

Lodging in India is always an uncertain thing. Especially as bike tourists operating with the plan of no plan on a daily basis we're never sure where we'll end up resting our heads each evening. India is a big place and travel guides such as the Lonely Planet do not include most of the towns we've traveled through.

Recently we biked from Cochin on the coast to Mysore in a high plateau area on the far side of the Western Ghat mountains. We were rewarded after a decent climb over the mountains with rolling hills of coffee, tea, and teak plantations. These transitioned in to two different, but connected Tiger Reserves.

The signs asked visitors to minimize sounds in order to reduce stress on the wildlife. Silence on any roadway in India is an absurd and unachievable expectation, as the honking of horns is its own language that will never be silenced. Being serenaded by horns, we traversed the beautiful landscape, and imagined the tigers and elephants roaming behind the tall grasses, having dance parties to the disjointed beats created by each driver, ringing our bells to add to the melodies.

As dusk arrived we cruised in to a town only to be met with very high hotel prices. The lowest offer we received was a room for $16 US dollars, an absurd amount for the sub continent. With the confidence of fools, we decided that we would have dinner and then search for a camp sight nearby. In the dark with our headlamps attached we headed for the perimeter of the park. Rationalizing that we would be safe because no animal would likely be on the perimeter of the park or near the road where horns continued to honk and trucks slowly rumbled uphill.

Mikey was more confident than I was. As we laid in our tent I kept asking questions about why our current location was safe. The eagle scout in Mikey was able to provide excellent answers and we had moved all of our scented belongings away from our tent (a bag that contained oranges, cashews, and peanut butter). Reassured I fell asleep with the sound of cars and horns nearby. An hour and a half later we were awakened by the sounds of bells and the clanging of chains.

Bells and the general clanging of things is normal for nights in India when Hindu temples are around. But in the Tiger Reserve there were no temples around and we were quick to figure out that domesticated elephants were grazing on the road near by. To our surprise the sound of traffic had ended too. When I asked Mikey "What do you think we should do?" He responded "This is new territory for me, I'm not sure."

Together we made the decision to pack up our tent and bike back to the town. The elephants didn't seem too concerned about our presence, but we still worked quickly as they slowly grazed and moved in our direction. As they got closer they found our bag of goodies and in one mouthful consumed our snacks. After a taste of the delectable treats they were more interested in examining our goods. Haphazardly put together we rolled down hill to avoid any further inquiry.

It didn't take long for us to realize that with the traffic and noise gone, we were not alone, and wild elephants were sounding alarms to let us know we were not welcomed as guests. Adrenaline can bring power to tired legs, and we bolted down hill. At the park entrance the gate was shut, and the light in the guard house was on. Assessing the situation we found a path around the gate and continued to accelerate as the guard was commanding us to stop. Hollering support to one another in the form of "go, Go, GO!!!"

The chase didn't pass the verbal stage and we rolled in to the hotel we'd declined earlier inquiring if the $16 room was still available. The staff asked no questions and showed us to our room, humbled by our stubbornness we shut the door. In hidden safety we laughed ourselves to sleep.

In the morning we reviewed the circumstances of the night and vowed to make better decisions next time.

1.12.11

Mikey on India and Our Lies as Circus Bums

Howdy Folks,

The long and short of it is: 1) Our shits are solid (the best consistency they have been in over a year for that matter), and 2) We have not lost our passports.  Thus reassured that all is well in southern India most of you will likely not finish reading this email.

For the rest of you: Ali's transformation into total bike bumness is nearly complete.  At this point little differentiates the experience of riding with Ali and riding with Royalty in Exile World Tour.  1) We've run out of toilet paper and gone native.  2)  We've slept in some dank hovels that make Anne Arundel County holding cells look like the Best Western.  3)  We eat what ever is put in front of us and ask questions later.

Since I last wrote, we cycled across the Terrai region of southern Nepal, rode an elephant in Bardia National Park, visited the Mikey Medium English School for ten days (which was difficult), and took a 42hrs train ride from Delhi to Travandorum, southern India.

In Travandurum we met a great Taiwanese fellow named Henry who has been cycling in India for several months without meeting another cycle tourist.  I don't think many cyclists venture down here.  They are scared by the tropes of chaos and horror on Indian road ways and the heat. However Henry was uber-enthusiastic and sent us off with a good luck talisman, good tidings and optimism in our hearts.

Our first night we camped in a wooded area next to a family restaurant.  In the middle of the night Ali started shouting at a man who appeared to be messing with our bikes and panniers, and brandishing a large knife.  As I leapt out of the tent in my skivvy's I thought to my self, "Not this again!"  Camping-out in the jungle one night in Western Nepal we had a similar incident, except it was three bandits and a sword.  However on this night the bandit turned out to be the rubber tree tapper.  We had unwittingly locked our bikes to his rubber tree.  In the morning we noticed beads of Elmer Glue like fluid spiraling down tree trunks, dripping into halved coconut shells, on ever tree around us.

We cycled south to Kunnakumari, the very southern tip of the Indian sub-continent; where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal meet.  Throngs of barefooted pilgrims, wrapped only in checkered picnic blankets filled the streets and temple. At sunset we waded out into the sea and enjoyed the spectacle of thousands of Indian pilgrims splashing and having fun in the waves. The funny thing about Kunnakumari and other pilgrimage sites is that few, if any, European tourists visit these places. I think it is because European tourists don't actually like to mingle with Indians.

From Kunnakumari Ali and I cycled north along the east coast into the state of Tamel Nadu following our typical  "plan of no plan."  We ended up at Turukchender, another major pilgrimage site.  Hinduism is confounding, and so Ali and I wandered around the periphery of the temple unsure if we wanted to wade into confusion inside.  Long after dark we bucked up our courage and made our way into the temple.  Built of ornate stone work, the temple was filled with a crush of alters, butter lamps, people and activity. We were quickly ushered down into the damp recesses of the temple, packed tight into narrow corridors with many hundreds of shirtless face painted Hindu men.  The air was thick with humidity and the smells of sweat, frankincense, and mildew.  It was pretty much exactly like the Temple of Doom.  When we got to the chamber where a blond woman would normally be sacrificed, we were instead instructed by the attendant Brahman to look into the eyes of an idol to see our future, or something like that.  It was awesome.  My future looks great.  Ali's, well Ali's is up in the air.

Next we headed inland, crossing miles and miles of rice paddies, banana and coconut plantations.  One night we rode until after dark looking for a good place to camp or a cheap road side lodge.  We arrived at a typical small, crowded, and dirty town.  After inquiring we found out there was no lodge in town, however we were taken to the local mosque and given a room reserved for visiting worshipers.  Although the room bore uncanny resemblance a prison cell from "Midnight Express", Ali and I both felt comfortable.  I know no two Islams are the same, but after the confusion of being in Hindu pilgrimage sites, a mosque and Islamic community seemed familiar, like we knew what to expect and the code of conduct expected of us.

The next evening we found ourselves in a similar situation, but with one exception: the Jumbo Circus was in town!  Three dollars bought us ring side seats, up close and personal with the chunky acrobats in lime green and pink Lycra costumes from the 80's, close enough to smell the midgets, and get splashed by the man who would drink two gallons of different colored waters and then barf them back up, separately by color.  After the crowds left we pitched our tent with the food vendor's and for one night dreamt we were part of the circus.  I dreamt that in our act, I'd light my farts on fire while jumping through a hoop of swords and Ali would tame wild asparagus before your eyes.

Since then we have cycled back over the Western Ghats and down to the sea.  After a long (100+km), hot day we arrived in Alleppy filthy and tired.  Wandering lost, searching for a cheap guest house, a guy called  to us from the gate of a very nice looking heritage house hotel.  Ali and I just looked at him with tired eyes.  "Thanks, but your place is way out of our price range."  However he persisted and Ali jumped off her bike and followed him in.  Thus we ended up spending the Thanksgiving holiday in a wonderful room that we were instructed to say we were paying more than twice the price we were in fact paying if anyone asked.  The hotel staff was great fun.  They served us a wonderful seafood Thanksgiving feast, and were all too happy to take my money when I played a gambling version of Rummy with them.

Now we are in Cochin, ready to head north along the coast, and then cut inland to Mysore.  We are excited to meet a friend from St. Mary's, Jesse McD, who will cycle with us the last few weeks of our journey.

Hope all is well.  What do you want from India?

Be cooled,
Mikey

Fat as a Good Thing

In Tajikistan last winter I was surprised to learn, and it took some time to get use to being told that I was fat was in fact not an insult but a tremendous compliment.

I was frequently greeted in the mornings with statements such as: 
"You are looking very fat today!"
"How fat you have become!"
"You are fat and beautiful!"

This form of compliment also exists in Nepal. The people of Bauniyan have previously known me only through my wedding pictures. "You were so fat at your wedding, but now, after months of biking you are very thin."

I recently completed a book May you be the Mother of 1,000 Sons, it is a book about the lives of women in India. The book shares how in Bollywood, big is beautiful and a famous actress was quoted as saying "I hate being a fatty, but if I lose weight my fans in the South will no longer support me."

Different strokes for different folks I suppose, but there is likely a balance between the extremes of aesthetic beauty that are appreciated in different regions.  

A Month in Nepal

I am sitting in an internet cafe in Southern India. We've been in India for a month. Since studying Hinduism and Buddhism at University, India is a place I've always wanted to come. Before our arrival people tended to look at us funny when we mentioned our plans to bike tour on the sub-continent.

Well, I am here to tell you, you ride your bike in and out of Kathmandu, Nepal and India seems like a day at the beach. Kathmandu is a city with narrow streets and tall buildings, it's easy to lose or have no bearing on your location from the time you turn your first corner. It feels surreal, like a video game, to share the road with pedestrians, motor cycles, buses, dump trucks, holy cows, dogs, Sadhus, and everything else you can imagine.

Riding out of Kathmandu was intense. A windy mountain road where buses (yes, plural) were flipped over, cars with tires that had fallen off, and long lines of black exhaust spewing trucks. On bikes we could thread the needle between the stalled traffic and the oncoming vehicles. At the end of the day covered in soot we found a hotel where the owner informed us we wouldn't look so dirty if our skin wasn't so white.

On our second day out of town we decided to stop and do a three day white water kayaking clinic. Pradeep, Nepal's free style kayaking champion, was our coach. He was perhaps the most patient teacher I've ever had. We spent our days learning to eskimo roll and running the Trisuli river, our nights were spent by beach bonfires, the whole experience culminated with Mikey and I running 3+ rapid. It was awesome and we would love to do it again at Royal Beach Camp Nepal.

Before the traffic thinned out I questioned Mikey's statements about Nepal being a great place to bike tour. He visited and toured in 2005 at the height of the civil war when the Maoists had put a bond on all motor vehicles. I kept thinking to myself how nice the roads would be without traffic.

Well, half way to Pokhara (a gateway city to trekking in the Himalayas) the traffic thinned out, the Himalayas became visible and it was clear that this was in fact an amazing place to be on bicycle. Riding from Pokhara to the Terrai plains region was the best road we biked in our multiple months of travel. The Terrai is flat, super flat, and we crushed some serious km on our way to Bardia National Park. The wildlife that Bardia is known for is its tigers and rhinos. Luck wasn't with us, but we did get to experience the gigantic leeches which resulted in me squeeling and teetering on the edge of tantrum as we walked through the parks tall grasses. With the noise I projected, it's no surprise we didn't see any larger wildlife.

After Bardia we spent 10 days in the village of Bauniyan. In 2005 Mikey stopped in Bauniyan and befriended two brothers who expressed an interest in establishing a school for impoverished children in their region. Over the years the brothers kept in contact with Mikey, or more accurately, his parents through calling the Church homestead. In 2008 the idea of a school became a reality, and from that time Grass Roots Education Nepal a Maryland based non-profit has been funding student scholarships and teacher development at the Mikey Medium English School in Bauniyan.

We were welcomed to Bauniyan by the students, their families, the teachers, and other community members. The Bhat brothers and their families were great hosts! Ambika Bhat has a wonderful laugh, and our antics gave her lots of material to fuel her giggle. Our attempts to cook Chapati bread on the fire was filled with misadventure resulting in deformed and ashy treats. Ever graceful, Ambika was sure to tell us we'd done a good job while chuckling all the while.

We were sad to leave Bauniyan, but our visas were expiring and India awaited...

30.11.11

Mikey on Kazakhstan and our first days in Nepal

There are similarities and differences between cycling with Cam, and the rest of the "Stinky Finger Band", and cycling with Ali.  One difference is that while cycling with Ali we never seem to completely run out of toilet paper.

After a protracted stay in Bishkek, waiting for Indian visas, we got out of dodge and into Kazakhstan.  Because the border crossing in the East (Karakol/Kegen) is currently closed, we had to use the crossing nearest to Bishkek/Alamty.  Because the area we were interested in cycling is in the east we caught a bus to Almaty and then quickly caught another to Taldy-Kurgen.  Kazakhstan is really big, so if you check on a map it probably looks like we didn't really travel that far, but it took a full day of bus travel.  I'd like to note that the Kazakh side of the border instillation is unquestionably the most chaotic and scary border crossing I have ever encountered.  Border crossings are the scene on which states act-out control and sovereignty The disorganization, panic, and violence of the scene really struck me as out of control and utter failure of the authority.  Pedestians and vehicles amassed behind a gate for about an hour.  When the gate lifted hundreds of people rushed for the narrow double doors that led into the customs building.  Above the din of motors we could here women screaming and watch grown men plowing into the crowd.  We watched little old ladies with lots of contraband tied around their waists pay small bribes to the officials as they pushed through.  It was stupid and frightened me, and I'm not faint of heart.  Luckily a nice young man, I think he was an ethnicity from the Caucuses, helped us get through in one piece.

From Taldy-Korgen we cycled south-east toward Tekkaly,  before crossing the mountains into the desert basin of the Ili river, which flows out of Xinjiang, China.  The riding was blissful, the camping spectacular.  The roads in Kazakhstan are generally good, mostly paved asphalt.  The rolling way carried us through little Russian and Kazakh farming villages.  Gold was the primary color of the landscape.  Seeing the big pastel combine tractors cris-cross the golden wheat and hay fields was like watching a sexless Soviet's wet-dream. We camped on stream banks surrounded by the golden autumn leaves of yellow birch and willow.

Crossing the desert plane was a challenge as the wind picked up to gale force.  Ali started to simply refer to me as her windshield as she hung in the eddy behind me.  All You've got to do what you do best, and in those moments being a windshield was what I could do better then anyone else around.  At one point we were riding with a strong cross wind, both of us were leaned over into the wind.  When a truck broke the gale we would swerve momentarily until we could regain our windward cant.

Last year Ali's birthday was our first day in Tajikistan, she sat in a puddle of someone else's vomit.  This year we spent Ali's birthday holed-up in a rain soaked tent in a narrow canyon.  When the rain eased we left our tent standing and sprinted to the closest village, 20 km disistant, to buy supplies.  We enjoyed several hours of reading, chess, tea, and birthday lagman in the best, and only, resturant in town.  By the late afternoon the clouds cleared and we enjoyed a liesurely ride downhill back to our caynon camp.  In the afternoon we hiked down river into a narrow gorge.  As we rested we caught sight of a small herd of ibex fleeing us on the opposite bank.  It could have been a worse birthday, but Ali asked me if next year we could just have a party.  I think that's fair.

In Almaty we enjoyed sweet backed goods and the hospitality of Lisa Min, a fellow Fulbrighter, her husband Andrew, and their Chiwawa mutt, Rufus.

After a night in the Dehli Airport we arrived in Kathmandu early in the morning.  Highlights in Kathmandu included: beer that doesn't suck, half-price after 9pm German bakery goods, wait-staff that isn't totally apathetic to the needs of their customers, monkeys, watching bodies burn at the ghats, Karmasutra temples, and bike riding in crowded narrow allies that is like playing Tony Hawk but better.

But the lights, sounds, and colors of Kathmandu are overwhelming after the sensory deprivation of post-Soviet Central Asia, so we got out of town as quickly as possible.  Along the way we picked up an American cyclist who is afraid of South-Asian traffic patterns and doesn't like to ride very far.  We helped him get out of Kathmandu and on his slow way in the countryside.

On a whim, Ali and I pulled into a river side rafting and kayaking resort to check out what they had to offer.  Four days later we emerged with water up our noses and in our ears.  Al i and I enjoyed 3 full days of instruction by Nepal's freestyle kayak champion, a wicked strong little guy named Pradeep.  After a lot of time spent up-side-down underwater I finally got a handle on the Eskimo roll.  Ali is was right behind.  On our last day we ran some big class III rapids, in which both Ali and I flipped.  This was a great experience as we both demonstrated composure and skill we had learned over the preceding days.  I was able to roll back up, while Ali signaled for a T-rescue and had the patience to wait in swirling white water for Pradeep to get to her.  At the kayak camp we enjoyed the company of Scandinavians and great Nepali guides.  This has definitely been a highlight of our journey.

Back on the road we enjoyed the scenery of steep ripe rice terraces and lush jungle foliage.  We are currently in Pokara for one night before we push on to Bardina National Park, where Ali is looking forward to riding an elephant.

Wisdom from the rear-end of a Nepali dump truck, "Love is like a Chinese mobile...there's no garentee."

That's the news.  Stay cool,
Mikey

KAZAKHSTAN WE LOVE YOU

Kazakhstan. The most developed of all Central Asian countries, this status clearly communicated to the naked eye through visible infrastructure and grocery stores with an abundance of food produced and packaged in Kazakhstan. For us, the paved roads were amazing, the trickle down of oil and gas money has reached many of the remote regions we biked through. Not to worry though, Nazarbiev, the president for all twenty years of independence, is one of the richest men in the world. A presidential slogan goes something like this: economic stability is needed before democratic reform can take place. One thing is certain: politics are complicated everywhere and the semantics of words such as "stability" can justify the suppression of a healthy civil society.

We biked for 10 days from the regional capital of Taldy-Korgan in a round about way to Almaty.

Day 0- Mosh Pit Imitates Border Crossing
As old women and children cry out in pain as they get pressed against walls by a mob pushing forward to try and enter Kazakhstan, we looked on in dismay. I respond by giggling nervously and Mikey keeps repeating "I don't want to go in there, this is crazy."  There was no political crisis, just a normal day at the border as far as we could tell. As we wait in a state of indecision the crowd thins, but just as we get close to the door, more people are let through. Young men sprint towards us faster than the old women who are behind them sprinting too, a border guard tries unsuccessfully to replace a fence that has been knocked over and we find ourselves right in the middle of the mess. It was a unique experience and the craziest border crossing either of us have ever seen.

Day 1- Up and Down Just like a Roller Coaster
On our way out of town we met a married couple who were professional cycling coaches. They were excited to talk with us and after fumbling with bad Russian and English phrases we discovered the woman was ethnically Tajik, we found our common language and our communication improved after this. She showed us her scars to prove she had raced for her country. Totally awesome.


Day 2- Golden Fields and Mountains, lots of them


Day 3- Holy Blow Jobby, I'm stuck in a Wind Tunnel
We climbed a pass and crushed some serious km this day. As the sun set we overtook a group of young men finishing a game of Buzkachi. They were interested in us, we were interested in finding a camp sight. One man tried to  get our attention by yelling "Police, Stop." We yelled back, "We're ginger bread men catch us if you can"...he didn't.

Day 4- I'm Confused, Your the Police, You Have a Car, the Car has Gas, and You're Going to Help Us, and You Don't Want Money...We're not in Tajikistan anymore ToTo. 
All foreign nationals from developed countries must register with OVIR (something like the FBI) within 5 days of arriving in the country. This was our fifth day and the clock was ticking. In the small city of Koktal there was no OVIR office. A local police officer gave us a ride to a larger city 15km away, closer to the border with China, he thought there was an OVIR office there, no such luck. We can't get registered. To my great amazement the officer doesn't ask us for money. We ride into the desert at dusk and fall asleep as our dung fires fight the mosquitoes.

Day 5- Hurricane conditions on the Steppe. 
We wake up to sand blowing in our faces and exfoliating our skin; we feel fortunate there is only 50 km to a town that will have a hotel. Riding we kept a 15 degree tilt in to the wind and made it to town before lunch time. A hot shower never felt so good.

Day 6- Wrong Turn in to the Head Wind
South Eastern Kazakhstan has some beautiful canyons, and there are many roads that lead in to and around them. We asked the wrong question when heading out of town "Which way to Sharyn Canyon?" Well 40 km into a head wind we realized we took the long instead of the short way. Mikey proved his worth as a windshield this day. We ended the day with a short climb and then decent into the canyon region. We set up camp on the river in a beautiful spot, the hard work had paid off.

Day 7- My 31st Birthday
The rain ensured a relaxed morning in the tent. When the rain subsided to a sprinkle we sprinted to a near by town to relax in a cafe and restock our food supplies.

Day 8- "The Grand Canyon It is Not" and Overwhelming Generosity
One of the great natural wonders of the country had a very small sign signaling where to turn to find it. After some turns down the wrong dirt paths, we found the right one...10km down a bumpy road we were impressed to find a beautiful Canyon region. We headed out of town and attempted to exchange some dollars in to Tengay at a larger village truck stop. No one would exchange our money for us, instead our hands were filled with gifts of chocolate, bread, and money from fellow customers. We were overwhelmed to say the least. It's amazing how potentially bad situations can lead to really positive moments and memories.

Day 9 and 10- The Final Sprint in to Almaty

Day 11 and 12- Time in the Big Apple of Central Asia, ALMATY
Almaty does not feel like Central Asia. I'd heard rumors of all the options grocery stores had on the shelves and I was happy to find that these rumors were true. I ate an entire block of blue cheese in one sitting and it felt really, really good.
We were hosted by a Fulbright Scholar and her husband: Lisa, Andrew, and their cool dog Rufane. We were delighted to sample the German bakeries around their flat.
On our final evening we visited the local Banya--cold pool, hot showers, Finnish- Russian- and Turkish spas. I followed the example set by large Russian women and beat myself vigorously with oak branches. It felt good.
 
Kazakhstan, I will never forget your head winds, your glorious pavement, and kind people. I hope our paths cross again in the future.

29.9.11

Song Kul Lake

At the recommendation of some Swiss cycle tourists we headed from Naryn to Song Kul Lake, it was good advice! Song Kul is an alpine Lakes surrounded by mountains that is at approximately 3000 meters. Where the mountains fade in to the lake is Jailoo territory. Jailoo is the term used to describe summer pasture land; higher altitude pastures are used for 5 months out of the year,  May to September.
As we rode from the pass towards the lake, the bold blue of the water showed from 25 kilometers away. It was like a siren beckoning us to come closer. We coasted down hill, greeting shepards along the way, and riding along side their herds of beautiful horses. It was breathtaking!
As we got closer to the lake to our surprise we met a solo German bike tourist, Hannes. We spent the next two days riding together around the lake. The whole time we were riding it seemed like the road was right next to the lake. When we decided to stop for the evening and camp on the lake shore, we found that because there were no trees, there was no sense of scale or distance. To our surprise the lake was over 2 kilometers from the road.

We set up camp and were treated to a wonderful sunset. As we crawled in to our sleeping bags the thundering hooves of horses surrounded us, they grazed while we slept. In the morning as the sun was rising we awoke to a natural alarm clock...a cowboy whistling as he corralled his horses in a different direction. Truly a unique experience for us all!

10.9.11

Osh to Naryn Kyrgyzstan

Mikey and I are in Naryn, Central Kygyzstan. Tomorrow we will be headed to lake Song-Kol or lake Issi-Kol, we will decide sometime soon exactly what route we'll take.

It's been a great, but challenging ride to this point, I'll share a few anecdotes...

Out of Osh we travelled through the city of Ozgen before reaching Jalalabad. Ozgen has a noteworthy masoleum and minaret. At this location we met a 25 year old named Eugene. Eugene is among the 20 Russians still living in Ozgen, a city of 50,000. According to Eugene, at it's peak during Soviet times Ozgen was home to approximately 10,000 Russians according to Eugene. His family has lived in Ozgen for 4 generations. His great grandfather relocated to Kyrgyzstan during The Great Famon in Ukraine (1930s). The prospects of growing sunflowers (primarily for oil), having an income and feeding his family was the motivation behind his family's move.

Meeting Eugene and talking about these things raised a lot of thoughts and questions in my head: 1) Am I aware of one important decision my great grandparents had to make?, Answer: No. 2) Can I fathom my family living in a place for 4 generations and still considering myself an outsider, Answer: No. 3) Will there be a time when Eugene leaves Ozgen and never looks back? Answer: Yes, when his grandmother dies he will join the rest of his family in Russia. He and his grandmother are the family's lone residents in Kygyzstan...this leads me to realize that the Soviet legacy is slowly fading, but some things like a love for Vodka are still holding strong.

Out of Ozgen we traveled through Jalalabad and into the mountains. Beautiful and challenging we realized on our climb up the third 3000+ meter pass that we need a new map, as ours only had the first pass marked. I had a little bit of a break down on the steep, wash boarded/sandy switch backed road. I found solace in singing myself a Paul Simon song that goes like this "break downs come and break downs go, what are you going to do about it that's what I'd like to know..." I decided that I would push my bike up the mountain instead of riding it. After a  few hot hours we reached the peak and relaxed with some shepards. They invited us to stay the night.

We pitched our tent next to their yurts, ate more varieties of dairy products than I knew existed, road horses, and generally enjoyed the atmosphere. Although the most difficult day-physically and mentally, it has been the best so far. I have learned bike touring isn't easy, but it comes with big rewards. 

Tonight we'll eat Shashlik with some Peace Corps volunteers we just met. Things are coming together as they always do.

To reply to a few comments. Michael, I look forward to hanging out this winter and sharing more details with you, and also hearing about how life and the Philosophy Dept. at St. Mary's are doing.

Dennis, we'll be back in Missoula is January, I have a ticket booked forthe 15th although I may drive accross country with Mikey in the Black Pearl.

Dan, we miss you! 

Thank you all for your consistant support.

31.8.11

The Bike Trip Begins

I apologize for the long silence...the last few months in Tajiksitan were amazing!

Mikey did a lot of mountaineering...lots of stories to share when we see you next, but I'll give an overview to wet your palet.

2 friends from St. Mary's came to visit, they picked an epic route to hike, Mikey got high altitude pulminary adima resulting in the need to drop altitude as quickly as possible. Mikey's health improved, but they were in a restricted area, verbal permission was granted for their presence in this area, but internal communication wasn't good. They were escorted from the area by the FSB (KGB) and were under supervision for 3 days working out all the details.

A climbing group with the American Alpine Club came to visit the Pamirs. Mikey was invited to hike/climb with them and had a great time. On one trip they summited a previouslly unclimbed peak.

As for me, I participated in some amazing work being sponsored by the US State Department in rural and conservative areas of Tajikistan. Summer Camps, specifically CAMP AMERICA! American style summer camps complete with Art, English, Drama, Sports, Rock Climbing, and more. It was spectacular, and it is my plan to return to Tajikistan next summer to repeat the whole expereince, woo hoo!!!

We left Tajikistan 5 days ago on bicylces and are now in Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. Our last day in Tajikistan we were treated to a spectacular day by a co-worker Maksud and his fmaily in the Isfara- Ferghana valley region. We will miss Tajikistan more than words can express!

Our first four days on bikes was great, my crotch and legs are a little sore, but I'm confident these aches will pass. In this part of Kyrgyzstan it is very hard to avoid Uzbekistan, which we don't have visas for, it's both inside and outside of Kyrgyzstan, and we zigged and zagged to avoid it, we'll continue to zig and zag around Uzbekistan in the next two days too.

Similar to Tajikistan, Kygryzstan has new roads being built by the Chinese. We road through a 100 plus kilometer Chinese construction sight. I was surprised to see a middle aged Chinese women in the middle of the Kygyz desert working to build a new road. When Mikey and I talked about her potential motivation, Mikey reminded me that there are more poor people in China than there are people in the U.S. People who find themselves struggling to survive are usually willing to take oppurtunities for change, even if that oppurtunity comes late in life and happens to be a desert in Kyrgyzstan. Made me think.

We discussed Chinese influence and business in Central Asia and the world, and talked about the potential for China to continue gaining influence and power and to once again perhaps "rule the world", Mikey was clear in adding "again" after this statement.

In the guest house this evening we have a small, ecclectic group of 8 people: Americans, Iranians, a Syrian-Swiss, Australians, and a Canadian. It has been informative to compare the versions of history that we have learned and use as our lenses to understand the world. They're different, and it's been fun to debate on the facts and theories (philisophical and conspiracy) of life.

On  to Jalabod tomorrow... our plans are to spend a month in Kygyzstan, 3 weeks in Kazakstan, then we will fly to New Delhi and head to Nepal. We fly from Mumbai to Baltimore on Dec.20th. I'll do my best to check in every now and then.

10.3.11

Dog Milk, Yum!

In Tajikistan it's common to have fresh milk available, many families have their own cow that they milk daily. It's a treat, especially when your lucky enough to be offered the fresh cream!

Sometimes our office cook, Venera, brings me a mug of fresh milk in the morning. So, when my co-worker asked me if I wanted some milk this weekend, of course I said I'd like a little.

Ali-jon: Would you like some fresh milk?

Me: Thank you, I'll have a little.

Ali-jon (in English- he  knows a few words and always tries to speak to me in English): I have small dogs.

My internal thoughts: His translation must be wrong, I'll clarify in Tajik

Me (in Tajik): Dogs, the milk is from a dog?

Ali-jon (in Tajik): Dog, yes. Only two puppies are alive, the others died. (He mimes milking) We have gotten a lot of milk, 5 liters.

This was a first for me. I reflected on why my internal response was not one of excitement. I drink cow milk, I drink goat milk, why wouldn't I drink dog milk? I drank a little and surprisingly it tasted just like milk, but maybe a little more like skim milk than whole milk.

9.3.11

Ladies...Yeah Ladies...

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, March 8th, иди занхо! This is a big holiday in Tajikistan with a lot of build up. During the past week it has been common practice for both friends and strangers alike to congratulate me on my womanhood. An email from my coworker Bobobek is a great example of the holiday’s sentiment: “Dear Ali, I congratulate you and your female families with international Women’s Day. I wish all the bests of the world, good health, and a long and happy life!” It is a day of rest for the whole country.

Madena, Makhlio, and Farzona are some of the women I spent the day with. 

Our lunch at work on Monday was a special treat. Osh, a favorite national dish was prepared and our male coworkers recited poetry to us about how wonderful women are as we ate. There was an awkward silence from the male contingent when I asked if they helped out with housework on women’s day. An older gentleman broke the silence by stating “well, that doesn’t happen in every house.” My female coworkers joked that it might not happen in any house. 

 Madena stokes the fire to cook dinner.

The novelty of this new holiday was a wonderful experience. I’ve never before felt so glorified for being born with two X chromosomes. I spent lunch in the company of my female friends, midday was a time reserved for females to spend together in celebration and appreciation of one another. Dinner was a family affair, with more food than we could consume, and lots of toasting to women and womanhood. 

 The dinner spread. There wasn't enough room on the table for all the food!

In a society where men dominate everything, except maybe childbirth, it was a special day and perhaps a needed one.

Cross Border Market in Ishkashim

Ishkashim is the gateway to the Wahkan Corridor in Tajikistan. From the Wahkan a person in Tajikistan can see both Afghanistan and Pakistan; it’s a place with overlapping geography and cultures. Other than its remote location, it’s an ideal place to have a market.

The Ishkashim Market is located on an island in the middle of the River Panj between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. To get to the market we left our passports at a folding table that the Tajik military manned and walked across a bridge to the island. From Khorog it costs 60 Somoni ($13) round trip to travel to this market. It’s a high price people are willing to pay because the goods are cheap and unique, and can be resold at higher prices. The market is a place where people come to do business, tourists are less common. We were novelties and attracted a lot of attention; we were both people watching and being watched.

Goods being sold included: rugs, clothing, opium, spices, soap, makeup, handmade and second hand shoes, juice boxes in bulk, cheap (really cheap) Chinese goods, fruit, baskets, and many other things that I’m either forgetting or aren’t worth listing. No market in Tajikistan has the same abundance of second hand western clothing, digging through piles familiar labels jumped out at me: Old Navy, Gap, Levi, and Patagonia. The second hand boots had soles that were worn past any I’ve ever seen before, it was clear many marathon distances had been walked on tough terrain by the previous owner(s).

The Afghans at the market had a few striking traits that distinguished them from their Tajik neighbors. Their skin was more weathered, their sense of style more conservative, and their eyes a variety of colors- piercing greens and blues among the most distinctive. Mikey found that many people were eager to have their photo taken, and a few of his wonderful pictures can be seen in the new slide show.

When we were ready to return to Khorog, we walked back across the bridge, retrieved our passports with ease, and looked for our driver. While we were enjoying the uniqueness of the market, our driver had driven into the Wahkan and loaded his Tengen (mini-van like vehicle) with soap from Pakistan. He returned to the market where large Kamaz trucks were waiting to be filled with his soap and other goods to take to other markets through out Tajikistan.

Over mountains, rivers, and borders, it was interesting to see some of the more extreme terrain goods pass over on their way to markets. It felt like I was witnessing a beginning stage of the entrepreneurial process, but in reality it was far along. We left the market with some cinnamon, pomegranates, a noodle maker (for Mino, see previous blog post Women in Barcheed 12/2010), and photos as souvenirs. It was a good day!

8.3.11

Tengen Tough

To tell this story I must first explain what a Tengen is, in the Pamirs it’s the most common form of public transportation. It’s kind of like a mini van, but looks more like a septic tank on wheels. A simple metal box with a go-cart sized engine that acts like the energizer bunny, it just keeps going and going. Well, until it doesn’t go anymore; we’ve been told one Tengen costs around $6,000 and can endure approximately 2 years of consistent work. The roads take a toll on cars and passengers.

The Tengen is rumored to be named after a character in a very popular Korean Soap Opera of the past. The character was abnormally small and was always working hard…just like all the motorized metal boxes in Badakhshan. If this story is true, the name is honoring the function the Tengen fills in a very harsh environment. Although it is easy to both love and hate the Tengen.

Mikey served as our tour guide in and around Khorog. He’s spent a lot of time in Tengens. He has a strategy: “Whether right or wrong, I always try to sit in the middle bench seat in the middle seat, if there is a wreck I think I’ll have the highest chance of survival if I’m sitting in this seat.”

On the day we traveled to the cross border market in Ishkashim, four of us were traveling and only one person could have this seat, and that was awarded to our guest Myles.  Katie, Mikey and I piled into the back seat and Myles sat in the safest spot in the Tengen, so we thought. As our Tengen was pulling out of Khorog another passenger was picked up. This resulted in 4 full grown men being squished in to the middle bench of the Tengen.

3 hours later we arrived at the market in Ishkashim. Initially, Katie, Mikey, and I were the only passengers able to walk with out a severe limp as we stumbled out of the Tengen. On this day Myles demonstrated his tolerance for uncomfortable situations, this is a good quality to have as a tourist in Tajikistan. To love and hate the Tengen is part of visiting Badakhshan.

16.2.11

White, Wild, and Wonderful

Katie and Myles, Mikey's sister and her main man, are visiting us for two weeks. We have had an action packed time together!

Once the pair adjusted to the 12 hour time difference from Denver to Dushanbe we started our adventures by going horse back riding. This wasn't a pony ride at the fair or a follow the leader trail ride like we remembered from our youth. We rode buzkachi horses, horses that are trained to run fast and fight.

We arrived mid-morning to a village where the horses and chirvandos (buzkachi competitors) lived near Dushanbe. Mounting the horses was an experience in itself. Katie who hovers around 5 feet tall was assisted by the chirvandos. Viraf, a fellow Fulbrighter and Southern Califronia native was not the recipient of such help. Men don't insult other men by offering assistance. Viraf had never sat on a horse, much less ridden one, and my laughter prevented me from being any help. Eventually our horses were led to a near by wall where Viraf and I were able to settle into the wooden saddles and join the group.

Once on the horses, we realized the plan was unclear. We were delighted when two chirvandos joined us as guides. They were clearly unaware of our expectations which were based on horse back riding tourism in the states. Initially, we were all confused. We were startled when our horses started bucking and kicking towards one another. The guides were surprised we were stupid enough to put our horses so close together, yelling "these are buzkachi horses, they will fight!" A variety of lessons were learned quickly.

The weather was snowy with near white-out conditions for the duration of our two hour ride. If there had been scenery other than white, I'm not sure we would have been able to enjoy it. The majority of our energy was spent trying to stay upright in the saddle and to restrain our horses from galloping. Katie's horse was the spunkiest; it dumped her in a pile of snow half way back to the village. What a way to be welcomed to Tajikistan! She showed her gumption by remounting the feisty steed and leading us all back to the village.

This weekend we will attend a buzkachi match with a clearer understanding of how spetacular the chirvandos and horses are!

Prostate Stimulator

This is a story I must tell vicariously, as it is another's experience not my own.

In a Tajik village there is a foreigner who rents a room with a family, the head of the household is a local doctor, he is a family practitioner, an everything doctor. This doctor is a pragmatic person. There are certain medical supplies that aren't available in Tajikistan and a foreign friend can be the supplier of much needed medical equipment.

The foreign lodger was leaving Tajikistan for the holidays and was asked by his doctor-friend to pick up supplies he needed for his practice: a blood sugar monitor and a prostate stimulator. The first request was self explanatory, but the second request needed an explanation for the the foreigner to understand specifically what was needed.

The doctor informed him there was a man in the village who was having difficulties pleasuring his wife, Viagra hadn't done the trick, and the doctor assumed a prostate stimulator was the next reasonable medical prescription. The only hitch was prostate stimulators aren't readily available in Tajikistan. There are no XXX shops with neon lights advertising adult toys like where the foreigner was traveling to.

While on vacation, with a good sense of humor, the foreigner visited a sex shop to obtain the requested prostate stimulator. The conversation went as expected:

Foreigner: "I'd like to see the varieties of prostate stimulators you have in stock. It's not for me, it's for my friend...no, really, I live in Tajikistan and this is for medical purposes."

Salesperson: "Ok, so hypothetically speaking what is "your friend" looking for?"

The selection was made, the prostate stimulator was purchased, but the foreigner had doubts about the appropriateness of his selection. His first night back in Tajikistan he had dinner with the doctor's family. New Years gifts were dispersed and the medical equipment was passed to the doctor in a brown paper bag with a discreet comment and a wink, "we can discuss this later."

Shortly afterwards the doctor unexpectedly opened the brown bag to examine its contents at the dinner table. He was pleased with the blood sugar monitor and perplexed by the prostate stimulator. The foreigner showed the doctor how to turn on the vibrating mechanism. Subsequently, the prostate stimulator was passed around the dinner table from family member to family member, vibrating all the while.

When the foreigner realized that the whole family knew who and what the prostate stimulator was for, he changed from subtle to diret communication. He inquired if the anal vibrator was what the doctor wanted for his patient. He offered to return the stimulator if it wasn't what the doctor wanted. The doctor addressed his and the foreigner's uncertainty by responding "we can let my patient try it out, and if it doesn't work, you can return it."

Having lived in Tajikistan for a while, the foreigner was able to respond to the unexpected with ease. He explained that once the prostate stimulator was used it would not be possible to return it. We can all be hopeful that what the doctor ordered is what the patient needed, and that the vibrator doesn't find intself incarnated as a child's toy in a Tajik village!

31.1.11

Plans to Purchase a Donkey

To answer a question posted in the comments section:  
How are my plans to purchase a donkey coming?

The answer is: EXCELLENT!

More specifically, I have found a donkey that I intend to purchase for 150 Somoni or roughly $33, I have shaken hands with the donkey's current owner to communicate the deal is as good as done. The Donkey is located 5 km from Shaartuz. I plan to ride the donkey back to Shaartuz once it is purchased! I am anticipating the day I purchase a mini-donkey that I can ride to be one of the best days of my life.

If anyone has any good ideas for the pet Donkey's name, I would love to hear them.

After riding the donkey around town for a few weeks, I plan to re-sell the donkey at the animal market which happens on Sundays.

My father had a saying he liked to use as a personal description: "If I were poor they'd call me crazy, but since I have a little money they call me eccentric."

I can assure you that there will be no linguistic differentiation between crazy and eccentric for a foreigner riding a donkey... CRAZY is the only option.

мумкин ман девона аст!

24.1.11

TAJIK PEOPLE ARE TOUGH


Being greeted in the Tajik language is an experience. Every morning I go through the ritual of greeting and being greeted. The Tajik greeting rolls off the tongue like a rhyming riddle, the translation is not as smooth, but it looks like this:

Coworker: “How are you? Good, Great, Fantastic? How is your family? Good, Great, Fantastic? How is your health? Good, Great, Fantastic?”

Me: “Thank you. Good, Great, Fantastic! How are you, your family, and your health? Good, Great, Fantastic?”

Coworker: “I have the greep, but otherwise I’m Good, Great, Fantastic!”

The Greep is an all inclusive way to characterize winter illness, similar to how we use “having a cold” in English. What is distinctly different is the way a person gets the greep vs. how a person gets a cold. The Greep’s most common causes are drinking something cold in winter or being exposed to a cold wind. This is a matter of fact; we’re not talking about an old wives tale.

How do you treat the greep? You go to the doctor who diagnosis you based on medical intuition, there are no strep tests here. Once diagnosed you are told what to go the pharmacist and buy, no prescriptions are needed to purchase medicine at the pharmacy. Once you get the medicine maybe you ask your friend or family what the medicine is. I have been consulted with regularity to review what my co-workers are taking.

I’ve found that people are frequently taking general anti-viral and anti-bacterial medicines at the same time. Ah-ha, I see the brilliance, just in case medical intuition fails, treat for everything, and the patient will get better in 7-10 days. If a patient doesn’t lose the greep in the anticipated time frame, this is when things get interesting. Medicines then get main lined through an IV system.

If this is how the common cold is diagnosed and treated, just imagine something like cancer. Well, you have to have a certain level of health care to be able to diagnose cancer, so for the time being Tajikistan is virtually cancer free. Tajik people are SUPER TOUGH.

This brings me to dental work. When a person’s teeth start to disintegrate they are encased in gold. The nutrient poor diet in some regions matched with teeth brushing being a new trend there are lots of golden smiles.

My co-worker was having problems with his teeth hurting after a bout with the greep.  So, for a week he received treatment at the dentist office. Out of curiosity I went with him one morning. He sat down in the chair, no anesthetic was applied, and a large needle was thrust in to his gums on either side of his mouth. Without complaint this man proceeded to lead youth meetings all week. Where is the Wheaties box for this man’s face to be displayed on?

TAJIK PEOPLE ARE TOUGH!

23.1.11

The Hard Work Begins

Hakim, Mercy Corps' local youth coordinator, and I have become like peanut butter and jelly. His patience has appeared to be unending, and I am eternally grateful. He has slowly worked with me to expand my Tajik vocabulary. But ultimately, impasses were reached, and charades was our favored option. I am still in awe that he was able to act out river bank erosion.

I supported Hakim in facilitating youth meetings in all 20 of TSEP's villages in the Shaartuz region (TSEP stands for the Tajikistan Sustainability Enhancement Program). These meetings were held to engage youth and listen to their ideas and interests about how TSEP can support their communities. Word got around about the youth meetings, and in one of the last villages we went to, 92 youth attended. 50% of the participants were filmed, below, working in small groups.
video
Now that the initial youth meetings are complete, the hard work begins. We have to figure out how to bring life into some of the ideas generated in the meetings.

I have learned that in development work proposals are often written by people who will not be implementing the project and proposals determine the scope of work before it begins. For this reason,there can be incongruity. Hakim and I have been working with our supervisors to determine how to best implement youth training and projects in the area of crisis and disaster management.

Since disaster in the Shaartuz region is slow moving, it has proven hard to define. The biggest crises are related to climate and the hardships of living in an environmentally inhospitable place. With this in mind we drafted a scope of work for the training local youth leaders will receive. "The training should address risk reduction, which includes how to develop and implement community surveys, methods to identify vulnerable households, and developing specific action plans on risk reduction issues. To provide youth with the skills needed to design a project proposal and to develop the project implementation plan." 


Hopefully we will be able to recruit and hire a skilled trainer that will be able to educate and inspire youth into action. From our meetings it is clear that youth are eager to contribute in a meaningful way. As my personal experience has expanded from Baltimore's East Side, Missoula, and now Tajikistan, I am beginning to believe believe this is a universal point.
Photo of Chkalov Youth at local meeting (same village in video above).  

Hakim and local youth working out the specifics of an idea.

A local leader speaks to youth about the importance of their ideas.

Naan

I have unintentionally set things on fire in the kitchen before. In my house, and in other peoples, I have caused the fire alarm to go off because of my cooking. But I had never deliberately created a bonfire in the kitchen before until yesterday. Please view the video footage below to see that this description is not an exaggeration. 

video
Bread. I would estimate that my bread consumption has quadrupled since coming to Tajikistan. Naan, Tajik bread, is more like a disk than a loaf. Naan is a mainstay that is included in every meal; it is cooked in a tanoor oven. To prepare the tanoor oven for baking, the walls need to be heated, and a pile of coals need to be hot at the base. This is why the bonfire is necessary. Who knew preheating an oven could be so much fun!

The dough is usually prepared in the morning, so once the coals are ready, baking can begin. The bread is slapped against the wall of the oven where it will stay (hopefully) for approximately 30 minutes. When it is golden brown it is peeled from the side of the oven. No disks fell into the coals yesterday, it was a good baking day. 
video
Cooking bread is a two woman job. One woman prepares the bread and one woman slaps the bread against the side of the tanoor oven. The woman in the videos is Zohira, she is 29 years old, mother of two with her own bun in her personal oven. She is a master of this important Tajik art. She is the sister-in-law of my co-worker, Gulraftor. Together, these women bake bread twice a week for their family. 

 Zohira is from Dushanbe. She was married four years ago and moved from the capitol city to live with her husband's family in a village in Southern Tajikistan. Zohira is a woman of many talents, she is also the midwife for 4 villages. The productivity and good will she will generate in her life is immeasurable. I am happy to have her as a new friend.

9.1.11

Finding My Way on an Inconsistent Path

Shaartuz is a melting pot where Uzbeks are the majority, Tajiks have a presence, and Russians are most notable in their absence. It is common in the city for conversations, and singular sentences, to utilize all three languages. Most of the Tajik population was relocated here in the 1950’s from an overcrowded, mountainous region in the Rasht valley. History documents the move as a forced relocation; the collective memory of the people, as communicated to me, recalls it as a better choice for the future. “My Uncle came first, he sent word that there was land and a way to make a living here, the rest of the family followed.”

In the city of Shaartuz it’s hard to know who is Tajik and who is Uzbek, most people in the city are fluent in both languages. Many people have one parent that is Tajik and one parent that is Uzbek. But, in Tajikistan there is no grey area for ethnicity (there is no mixed race option), ethnicity is a paternal trait plain and simple. I am learning that Shaartuz is unique from the surrounding rural areas where the majority of villages are predominately, if not totally, populated by a singular ethnic group.

This week I was busy helping to facilitate youth meetings in some of the communities where Mercy Corps’ Tajikistan Stability Enhancement Program is working. On Friday we had two youth meetings, one in the Tajik village of Tojikobod, and one in the Uzbek village of Hooshodi. These villages are 3 kilometers apart, but have drastically different cultures. Tojikobod’s Tajik inhabitants are originally from the mountainous Rasht region which is known for its religious conservativeness. This conservative tradition travelled with the population to the Shaartuz region in the 50s.

Initially there were 31 people in attendance at the youth meeting in Tojikobod, all of them were men. When the village leadership was asked if any women would be attending, two older women were collected to participate, initially they sat in the back of the classroom. I was surprised by this, because it was distinctly different from the 7 previous youth meetings we had facilitated in other TSEP villages.

As an American woman I can be self-righteous at times, especially when it comes to gender issues. I had to suppress my internal instincts, and instead of judging all the men at the meeting, I invested energy in thinking of how to work within the community as it is, I opened my mind and eyes and what I found surprised me. When the larger group was broken up into smaller groups, I found the two women at the meeting to be engaged and respected within their group. All of the groups identified issues specific to women that they wanted assistance with in their community: a sewing course and center for women, as well as, a gynecologist. I observed the village leadership to be the strongest among any of the communities I have visited. The village was supported by TSEP in installing two transformers instead of one, because the community contribution for the infrastructure project was 49% of the total cost.
Pictured above are two of Tojikobod's village leaders

Since the leadership is strong in Tojikobod, the strategy is clear, to engage young women, we will need the assistance of the village elders. When we asked if it would be possible to hold a second youth meeting only for women, both the male and female elders were supportive of the idea. We were assured that young women would attend, and be excited for the opportunity. I am also excited for the opportunity!

Our next meeting was 3 km away in the Uzbek village of Hooshodi. We arrived early, and were let in to the school where our meeting took place. I was extremely surprised when 23 young women walked in to the classroom, they were early too. Very few of the girls spoke a basic level of Tajik, some spoke a basic level of English. Our mutual curiosity led to an impromptu English/Uzbek language class before the meeting commenced. A complete gender reversal from the previous meeting led me to the conclusion that each youth group will be different in every village, even if they choose the same project template as a starting point
The youth meeting in Hooshodi

We have set the goal for TSEP youth groups to have a minimum representation of 30% for the minority sex, whether that is male or female. As I learn more, flexibility is clearly the most important characteristic for engaging communities and youth in the Shaartuz region. The second characteristic is continuing to study Tajik, and expanding my language studies to include basic Uzbek, because when I leave the “city” ethnic identity and language use is more distinct.

6.1.11

Outlook for 2011

After the New Years holiday weekend in Dushanbe, Mikey and I have separated on our own adventures. I have returned to Shaartuz where there is currently an ex-pat community of 1- me; Mikey has headed to the roof of the world where a pair of skis awaits him. When Mikey found out there was a pair of skis for him he had a look that reminded me of how happy he was on our wedding day. Unfortunately on our wedding day he didn’t jump up and down and say “Christmas comes more than once this year!” as he did when he heard about the skis. The skis can function as down hill and cross country skis, there utility is both practical and abstract, as it has bolstered Mikey’s 2011 outlook significantly. As for my 2011 outlook, things are looking good. In Shaartuz I am full-speed ahead with youth meetings.

Mikey and I will meet again on the 5th of February and we will be formally inducted in to the Dushanbe Hash Hound Harriers. This honor will be bestowed upon us after we set the trail for the afternoon run/walk. This tradition is hazing at its best. Following this event we will welcome Mikey’s sister Katie and her main man Myles to TJ on the 6th. We’ve got a lot of things we’re looking forward to in the near future!