14 July 2017

Uzbekistan

So.  I'm sitting in Tashkent right now and even though I've been here for several days now, I still can hardly believe it.  After dithering over our summer plans all spring and not having anything quite work out, it suddenly became possible to go to Tashkent in July if we could get everything together in time.  That wasn't a given since it's Central Asia, but we pulled it off with only a few days to spare. I keep looking at the Uzbekistan visa in my passport and remembering how we spent 6 months in 2010 trying to get visas here without success.

We mostly have to be in Tashkent but we're working on weekend jaunts to Bukhara or Khiva.  Plus Samarqand, of course.  It's been a long, long time that we've been waiting to go to these places.  And Tashkent is interesting too.  Just for a reminder, Tashkent is also a very old city but it's almost entirely Soviet now since it was demolished and rebuilt after the 1966 earthquake.  But there are still some old mosques, madrassahs, and mausoleums around the city.  Last night we spent a lovely few hours in the area around the Hasti Imom Masjid. There will be many more photos and posts about the buildings we see.

It's so nice to be back in Central Asia.  It's complicated, like always (it took five days to get the internet sorted out, even with expert help) and we were dropped off at our house at 3 am with no money, no cell phone, no food, and no idea where we even were in the city because the street name we had been given was either old or incorrect.  But we've done this before, and this time we speak some Uzbek and Russian.  So when I woke up, I went outside to find out the name of our street.  Then I found an old map in the house.  Next I got the house phone to work after 15 minutes of trying and figured out how to call from a landline to a cell phone.  The nice LDS man on the other end understood where we live based on my very sketchy instructions and took us to his house for church where we also met the son of a couple we knew well in Bishkek 12 years ago. They fed us shepherd's pie for lunch and loaned us 200,000 som to get through the day and dropped us off back at home.  We found a grocery store down the street and got naan, juice, salami, crouton snacks, cheese, and bananas and checked the guidebook to find an ATM that might have cash in it.  We found a taxi (since any car might be willing to taxi you about) and got money. So by that night, we had friends, food, money, and we knew where we were.  Mormons to the rescue again.  The cell phones and internet have been more complicated, but one can deal without those for a longer time.  One of the people we met on Sunday gave us a ride to the grocery store on Monday morning. You can't imagine how lovely it was to go grocery shopping without an abaya on and be driven by a woman.

The house we're in is so Central Asian.  It's a much bigger and nicer house than anything I've lived in before in this part of the world, but it's definitely not western.  The doors, the floors, the windows, everything is so familiar. And it smells like Central Asia outside. Also, everything works (almost) which is nice.  I warned my youngest son who doesn't remember Kyrgyzstan that you have to be careful with things here because they break easily. He is getting the hang of that.  He doesn't love the walking everywhere part though and can't believe he used to walk 3 miles in Kyrgyzstan when he was four.

It was unusually hot when we arrived, but it still felt cooler than Riyadh.  Now it's a little cooler than normal we are loving it.  It's so nice to be outside again.  The stars are lovely. We went on a walk at 2 pm and didn't die.  Everyone kept warning us that Tashkent is hot, but they can't scare us anymore.  The mid-90s, which are normal, feel AMAZING and right now the temperature is around 90 which is like early November in Riyadh.

It's interesting coming here straight from Saudi Arabia (Suudi Arabistan in Turkic languages).  Uzbekistan is so paranoid about Islam that they don't even allow the call to prayer to be broadcast. We were standing next to several mosques last night during maghrib and there was no hint of the call to prayer.  Also, they've adjusted the official prayer times quite a bit.  The dawn prayer is over an hour later than it should be, noon prayers are at 1 pm instead of about 12:30, and asr which should be around 4:30 here isn't till 6.  In other words, the prayer schedule is adjusted to fit the work schedule, except for maghrib. I hadn't really paid attention to this in Kyrgyzstan (I should go back to check old photos to see if they did the same thing) but it's so glaringly obvious right now since prayers control your life in Saudi.

We've eaten laghman twice- they sell the noodles at the grocery store- and potato vareniki once.  I found beshbarmak(!) noodles today so we're trying those along with another local noodle and we'll get creative with some Sovietized ajika (and since I didn't get this posted that day, I'll report back that it was delicious).  We've also had lots of juice, plenty of hot naan, kattama, and more.  There was some unfortunate processed cheese that was so creepy it couldn't even melt, but there was backup kashar cheese and everything was fine.  We've had yellow carrots and orange lemons and the yellow-green peppers I love so much here.  And watermelon for the little one, of course. And milkshakes in a bag.

Money is a little complicated here.  There aren't many ATMs (to the point some people say there aren't any at all) and the exchange rate depends on whom you're talking to.  The official, legal rate is just over 4000 som to the dollar.  The (black) market rate is quite a bit above that- I've heard anywhere from 5500-8000.  The largest bill is the just-introduced 10000 som.  As you can imagine, you need a large number of bills on hand when the largest bill is worth less than three dollars at the official rate, and much less at the real rate.  Up till just a few weeks ago (maybe a month or two) the largest bill was 5000.  The 10000 notes aren't very common yet.  You spend a lot of time counting money here.  Places like the grocery store have money-counting machines at each register.  I also haven't figured out how people colloquially give prices and once even had to resort to handing the cashier my money and having him figure it out.  How embarrassing.  I'm doing a separate post about food prices.

I hope I get to live here someday.

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