this blog is my poor attempt of putting my impressions and experiences of living in Uzbekistan into words, as well as serves the purpose to give my friends, family and all interested the possibility to join me in my Uzbek adventures. I hope that this blog will spark your interest in Uzbek (expat) life. I haven’t really decided in which language to write this blog, but since I will primarily interact with German (or Russian and Uzbek…) speakers here, I believe my English will most likely deteriorate to some degree.. I guess depending on my mood and the topic of my post I will choose the language.
I arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan safe and sound after a fairly quiet flight with a layover in Istanbul. My future roommate Ulrike (she’s an intern at the Goethe Institut) had agreed to pick me up from the airport and took me to our lovely but slightly trashy granny-style apartment. The apartment’s “granniness” is not so much present in flowery wallpapers but rather in the furniture as well as all sorts of china and useless object standing and hanging around. Drawers are filled with trash covered in dust that the owners haven’t touched for years. I had to remove some of that stuff in my room, I was pretty sure it would have given me nightmares…
Arriving in Tashkent isn’t easy, as the authorities try to make your first day as horrible as possible. Luckily Ulrike and one of the German lecturers from my University stood by my side to help me survive this day of hell. First you need all sorts of letters and confirmations and contracts from your workplace which they should have prepared but which they hadn’t even though they knew for months that you are coming. So, you sit around and wait. Then, you have to communicate to your landlord with your hand and feet that he (and his wife!...WHY) have to accompany you to the registration office (OVIR) for no obvious reason. Then you have to find the OVIR (we got lost). At the OVIR, you have to wait for the man from the International Office (who does neither speak German nor English and who was late) to bring the documents and THEN you have to explain to the impatient landlord why you have to wait for the university guy with the documents. This situation obviously inspired this blog’s title, as communicating with absolute basics is the only possible way (better than nothing I guess…). Being at the registration office involves signing a document you don’t understand, paying 100$ and people dragging your poor, sleepwalking self from one room to the other in a building that looks close to being knocked down every second (okay, it wasn’t THAT bad..but still, pretty bad).
This obviously sounds like a terrible first day, but I had a very warm welcome and a great first meal of the Uzbek national meal plov which made up for the rest. It’s difficult to put everything I have seen and hear into words, particularly because people tell you a lot about Uzbek life and people’s mentality. I don’t really know yet what to do with this information because I have just arrived and absolutely everything to me is new. I think I will share these things along the way as I make my own experiences related to them rather than passing on information without knowing if it is true.
So far Tashkent seems like an interesting city on the threshold between orient and soviet ways of living which is reflected in the way people dress, food, how streets are organized as well as in which language they speak. While I find Tashkent fascinating so far, it does seem that the city’s infrastructure makes it a little difficult to achieve things. There is a metro (which I haven’t tried yet cause I don’t really have a passport at the moment due to registration procedures) but a lot of my colleagues take (inofficial) taxis to their workplaces every day because the city isn’t really built for pedestrians and because the metro stops still seem ages away from the places you are trying to get to. Streets are enormously long and roads are wide, which makes it hard for me to gain a sense of orientation because all the streets look (more or less) the same and because Tashkent has a reputation of being a centreless city (which is kind of true despite Karimov’s attempts to change that).
The difficulty of achieving what you want is not only found in the way the city is organized but also in the way people are – communication is hard, particularly if you don’t speak the language. I am writing this on day 4 of my stay here and I guess I am lucky that I am fairly easygoing, though I find it quite annoying that I still don’t know what, where and whom I am going to teach cause I still haven’t met the dean of the German department. We were supposed to be introduced this morning, but he wasn’t in his office and didn’t show up even after a couple of hours of waiting around. I guess a good advice to take would be: Be persistent. This proved to be helpful in the case of our grumpy landlord. First, he didn’t have a second set of keys for me and only agreed to get one after we had asked for it like 5 times. Then, my room was initially locked and even though he knew that I was coming for over a month, he said that he couldn’t open it up just yet because it was still filled with (even more) trash. We were persistent, so at least he got his wife to throw out the trash so that I could have a bed to sleep in. When we got home from a little sightseeing tour in Tashkent on Saturday, our apartment smelled of gas. We called him immediately but he didn’t show up for over 2 hours, and then said that the technician would check the stove the next morning 9am. The technician rang at our door about an hour later the same day, said that everything was fine, and left. It still smelled of gas. Another technician came the next day, also said it was okay, and it still smelled of gas. We were about to call our landlord again, but he showed up unannounced and was able to fix our gas problem after two technicians had a look at it. Well, our apartment smells okay now.. because we were persistent!
Surviving here without a word of Russian is pretty much impossible, so far I think I am at least able to take a cab on my own as well as do some shopping, but communicating with the technicians was an absolute nightmare. Ulrike and I looked up random words in Russian like “stove”, “smell”, “gas”, “to turn off”, but they would just keep on talking normal speed so that we didn’t have any other choice but to call somebody who would translate their “wordsalads” for us. I guess not being able to communicate is the kind of experience my coordinator from back home wants me to make so that I can understand what I feels like to live in a country without speaking the language at all (“Hello what’s your name” doesn’t count). It really isn’t pretty but, if you have a roommate to share your misery with, sometimes pretty funny :)
I am very curious to explore the university and the city a little bit more. So far, everyone I have met (mostly Germans) has been very welcoming and helpful and I can’t wait to see more of this place :)
At this point I would like to note a couple of conversations that kept me in stitches. Not sure if this is funny for people who weren’t part of the conversation, but I guess this is just for me to make sure I don't forget it:
1) We live near a park named after Bobur. I asked Nodi, an Uzbek guy learning German, who Bobur was, and his answer was: “I think he was a scientologist and a king”…he meant scientist.
2) A Swiss guy named Mario does boxing and told us that he was boxing with one of Nodi’s colleagues (I think). Nodi asked: Hast du die auch schon geschleckt? … he meant “geschlagen”.
3) Apparently Russians/Uzbeks have the perception that Germans have a very bad style when it comes to clothes. A woman asked another woman at the Goethe Institut “Is there a reason why you are dressing so carelessly or have you lived in Germany for a little while?” (something like that, I can’t remember the exact quotation)…very charming indeed!