In my previous posts I have reflected a lot on how I react to the way Uzbeks are, how Westerns behave in foreign territory and how I try to position myself between these two fronts. As you might have realized, sometimes it’s not that easy.
This post, however, is going to focus a little more on daily life in Tashkent, and the things that I encounter day by day.. things that fellow Austrians/Germans would consider strange, curious or simply different. I may have mentioned some of these things in my previous posts already, so let this be a summary:
1) Mahallas and the Uzbek trash system: People here live in so-called mahallas, something like a neighbourhood and an urban subdivison. You may have heard about it in the context of Arabic countries, though I suppose that Uzbek mahallas are slightly different (there is even a Wikipedia article on this!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahalla_%28Uzbekistan%29) I am not really sure where my mahalla starts and ends, but I was told it is one of the better areas. This is also felt.. I feel mostly safe, except for one dark alley which is a short cut to our house. There are a few nicer houses in our area, but most buildings in Tashkent are standard Plattenbauten, and so is the building our apartment is in. The reason why there are hardly any historic buildings in Tashkent is due to the earthquake that destroyed most of the city in 1966, which resulted in Tashkent’s soviet appearance today.
People living in the mahallas also share a common trash system. This took us a little while to figure out, as waste separation is completely unheard of, so all you do is throw your trash on one of the trash collection places like this one:
Funny story: Ulrike arrived in Tashkent one month before I came, so she hadn’t really worked out how the trash system works and was a little unsure what to do with the plastic bottles. Well, we now have a beautiful collection of about 30 plastic bottles in our wardrobe press because “she simply didn’t know where to put them”. As these things are, neither of us has thrown them away yet ;-)
2) Taking taxis: The public transport system in Tashkent isn’t too bad, but it isn’t great either. There are buses, but no clear indications where they stop or where they go. If you have figured out which one your bus is, you may be put off using it because buses are always full. And when I say full, I mean full to a degree where you can hardly breathe and don’t know where to put your arms because they are in the way no matter where you put them. So, while the metro and busses are the cheapest option, many people take taxis. A “taxi” in Uzbekistan means: stop a stranger’s car, tell the driver where you want to go, bargain the price and get in the car. Then they usually ask if you are either American, English or Canadian, and when you tell them that you’re Austrian, they always pretend to have understood, only to ask you later on how hot it is in Australia. And, if they ask if you’re married, you say: of course!
4) Chaihanas: Chaihanas are tea-houses where most people go to have lunch. There are numerous of them, and the food you get is local, (mostly) delicious and cheap (2-3€ for a meal). Local food includes plov, lagman, shashlik and other Russian-inspired meals such as pelmeni, manti, borschtsch or kotleta. I go there for most of my lunch breaks, may it be after teaching at university or after Ulli’s and my Russian lessons. And, Uzbeks eat most of their meals with tea and bread. So even when you already have your daily amount of carbs by eating plov, you order bread too. Apparently, even cake comes with bread...
A few other curious facts: Coffee is only drunk in winter, and when you want to order green tea, you get confused looks because apparently, green tea is not to be drunk in winter.. only black tea.
5) Imported products: Uzbekistan is mostly cheap for European standards.. how else would it be possible for them to survive on an average income of 300$ per month. You get a feeling quite quickly for what is expensive and what isn’t, so the prices I am going to mention may not seem THAT crazy to you. However, imported products are extortionate for most Uzbeks – Shampoo and shower gel that would be one of the cheaper ones back home (e.g. Fa) can cost up to 6€ for a bottle, and washing powder up to 5€ for the smallest package. To buy something Western becomes like a treat, as you obviously try to avoid to buy products that are way too expensive for what they are in the end. Particularly when you are poor interns like Ulli and me...
6) Heating system: While you can regulate the temperature in some houses, most apartments are part of a central heating system for which the government decides when it is cold enough when to turn it on. There is no fixed date, but the rule of thumb is in mid-November and when it has about 8 degrees Celsius during the daytime. In some cases, it does not make a difference if the heating system is turned on because the houses are hardly isolated. Luckily our apartment is nice and warm and we didn’t have to wait too long until they turned the heating on. Unfortunately, this is not the case at university, so that I have to teach most of my lessons wearing a coat and scarf..
7) Electricity: I won’t go into too much detail here about Uzbek politics, but Uzbekistan has a bit of problem when it comes to getting access to water.. do the research yourself, I won’t risk anything here due to censorship issues, but it may help if you research the catastrophe of the Aral sea. In any case, due to these water problems, electricity is affected. Consequently, electrical power outages are common. It’s happened a couple of times when I was at home, and also in a restaurant so that the waiters had to walk around with candles. I don’t mind it that much, as long as it doesn’t happen in my lessons when I want to do listening comprehensions with them. Well, guess what, it’s happened three times that I couldn’t use the CD player because the power outage lasted over three hours. Hello improvisation...