Tuesday was my first day of actually doing something at Uni. I finally got introduced to the dean, who is a confused and very very busy, but nice old man. He welcomed me at the University and gave me an extensive tour of the building, which is visibly over 120 years old and close to collapsing. Apparently the entire department was supposed to move, but as my previous blog has shown, things happen here very last-minute and in a – by my standards – very unorganized manner, so who knows if we may end up moving during the term. If we don’t move, it will be interesting to teach in these facilities, as some of the rooms don’t even have a blackboard, not to mention cassette or CD/DVD players. Also, the only computer (and internet) in the entire building is in the dean’s office.
The dean introduced me to everyone and most of the teachers who immediately invited me to lunch and were extremely hospitable, friendly and interested. They also bombarded me with questions and comments and inquiries if I could speak to all of their students. I was asked if I would do a little Q & A session with the students from the first year (who I will be mainly teaching) the next morning. I ended up standing in front of 120 cute little and wide-eyed 18-year-olds who bombarded me with questions about myself, Austria, if I liked Tashkent and schaschlik and if I was married. Some of these questions I got asked up to 4 times, so I guess that 90% of what I said wasn’t understood though I genuinely tried to speak as slowly and clearly as possible. Well, that session was quite something, but nothing compared to what happened afterwards. As soon as the professor who had organized this session said that they were free to go, about 50 of the students stormed in my direction pushing and pulling me in all possible directions while all I could hear was Kristina can I take a picture with you Please can you give me private lessons Kristina will you come visit me in Bukhara it’s my home place I can show you around Kristina Kristina Kristina thank you so much for your presentation Kristina can we invite you to lunch Kristina will you go for a walk with us…. etc….Who would have thought I’d ever be such a star! One of the students even said “Du bist ein Stern Kristina”. After receiving a few presents (an apple, chocolate and a little souvenir) and promising them I would try to do all of these things with them, I was free. While I love how motivated they are to learn German, their enthusiasm was a bit too much for me, and I hope that it will wane over time. Another thing that I found striking was that almost everyone who I asked why they learned German said that they wanted to study in Germany and, if possible, stay there. Leaving Uzbekistan seems to be a dream for a lot of the people living here. I don’t think it would ever strike my mind to move to a country where I’ve never been before, particularly if its culturally so distant.. but I guess circumstances here are different.
This week has been full of watching lessons, making new experiences and attempting to make the best of my poor Russian skills. I now started taking lessons again with Ulli and a lovely quite stereotypically Russian woman as our teacher.. So far, I am quite proud to say that I managed to tell the guy at the Internet Café that the microphone wasn’t working, that we were able to order a shisha with melon-flavored tobacco in a restaurant, as well as that I was courageous enough to take a cab on my own although I still struggle with Russian numbers. “Taking a cab” in Central Asia is something quite different, as all you do is wave with your arms and wait until a car stops. Yup, I get into strangers’ cars – but that’s what everyone does here and the easiest and not too expensive way to move around. After a bit of bargaining you can get to most places for about 1€. Sometimes they will talk to you, but like I have mentioned before – English skills are very poor around here, so conversations never go beyond “where are you from”, or, as it happened to Ulli and me yesterday, “Austrian and German girls beautiful”.
Generally, money is quite an issue around here, as the Uzbek som is worth pretty much nothing. About 2900 som is a euro.. imagine the amounts of money you have to carry around with you when the biggest banknote is 1000 som. It’s happened to me a couple of times that I grabbed some money before leaving the house only to find out that what I had one me was worth less than 10€, but thankfully there was always someone around to help me out. Ulli has also helped me exchange money in the first place (which you have to do at the black market as you get up to 30% less value at official exchange places). Neither of us could believe that such a massive stack of money was worth ‘only’ 400$. Owning such a stack makes you sometimes wish that currency didn’t matter…
This first week has been great, as I was introduced to lovely people, made my first experiences with Tashkent’s nightlife and the effects of Russian vodka (and Georgian wine), tasted great Uzbek (but sometimes very meaty) food and explored some more of Tashkent.
I’m ending this blog with a song that Ulli and I are currently addicted to – she heard it in the club on Friday night, remembered some of the lyrics (я думаю means “I think”) and found it on youtube the next morning…we’ve been dancing to it through our apartment ever since!