Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Tribute to Food

(check out google photo's for more as usual)
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Anyone who knows me knows how much I love food - both to cook/bake it, as well as eat it :) So many (including myself) were concerned about how I was going to survive in Tajikistan. As a vegetarian I was told it would be very difficult for me... people who had been to Tajikistan laughed and told me "good luck!" They said in the summer it wouldn't be so bad, but when winter comes be prepared to starve. Well I have some good news, I will survive! I have a suspicion that these critics either 1. don't prefer to cook their own food or 2. aren't very creative in the kitchen! While the variety of fruits and vegetables may be limited in the winter, (and they may be more expensive) I've assessed the situation and I have NO worries.

When dining in a restaurant it is a challenge, I must admit. However it reminds me of the limited menu that I had in Canada when I first decided to be vegetarian - BEFORE it was trendy! There are always the few choices, maybe they aren't a real meal but it's sustenance, such as french fries... tomato and cucumber salad... I've even had them melt cheese on pasta noodles for me (they don't do spaghetti sauce, I don't quite understand why they have spaghetti then!?). So the real solution is to cook for myself. One of my co-workers who is from the states loves to cook as well and has quite a list of western dishes he's managed to find ingredients for, including my favorite... PIZZA!!! He had me (and Susan!) over for dinner wed night, and he had made pizza dough the night before so we could design our own pizza. Well we made a sauce from fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes with the juice and garlic, mushrooms, basil, salt and pepper. We simmered that while we sauteed some eggplant to use as a topping, chopped lots of fresh veggies, then grated the cheese. Well, the masterpiece was DELICIOUS... not bad at all!

Earlier this week Susan and I were invited for dinner by the owner of the restaurant/hotel she is working for (my soon-to-be landlord). He wanted to show us how they make their "national dish"... pilaf! It was quite amazing, of course when we arrived there was already a spread of fruit, nuts, salads, bread and candy. They then brought out the wine, beer, and vodka! (Just a note - don't start vodka unless you're serious about it, they don't joke around! After your first shot, about every 20 minutes your expected to do another one until you leave...) And all the while they had a fire going (we were in the courtyard of the house) to cook the pilaf on. They had all the ingredients measured out and ready on the table, just like a professional cooking show on TV. They added them one by one, and after about 2 hours...voila! Dinner is ready! But the worst part was that I had been eating that whole 2 hours, so by the time it was ready I was full... well, maybe it was strategic... they cook lamb in it :( But it was quite and experience that I will never forget.

So there it is, a detailed verdict on the food situation in Tajikistan... with a little creativity, it won't be bad at all!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Down to Work!

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This week I finally got out to visit projects that MEDA funds. The people here are faced with many challenges when trying to start or improve a business; first of all the country is post-soviet, so entrepreneurs simply were not allowed to exist a short while ago! Therefore business skills are lacking, they have never been taught anything about finances, business plans, etc. Secondly, it is a cash based economy; could you imagine barely making ends meet and trying to save enough money to start a business with 100% cash upfront!? Another large obstacle that the people must overcome is the lack of power, gas, and running water. Every winter, for about 4 months, these utilities are turned off the majority of the time. It's on for a couple of hours in the morning and in the evening... other then that it's just up to luck! And how are the citizens supposed to have successful businesses without such basics!

Enough of my rambling... so MEDA has given out several Small Matching Grants, where the people must save up half of the fund, and MEDA donates the other half. This ensures a sense of responsibility in the clients to make a success of the project because they have personally invested. MEDA also supplies them with mentoring from agricultural specialists, lessons on business skills, how to write a business plan, etc. And the results from the projects I visited were outstanding! We saw several greenhouses that are built into the ground to insulate them and help protect them from frost in the winter. People here love eating tomatoes, they really are a staple food item, and to grow them all year round would make for excellent business. We also visited a partner NGO's project where they built latrines at a primary school to collect urine; it collects in a cistern type storage facility and drys out in a couple of years to use as high quality fertilizer.

One of my favorite parts of visiting our clients is seeing how happy they are when we arrive. They are so excited to show us what they have done, tell us all about their project, and see our reaction! Then they tell us to have a seat on the topchan, relax, and enjoy an abundant amount of food and tea! The project we visited at lunch time filled us full of fruit, veggies, nuts, bread, candy, tea... it was unbelievable! Then the next project we visited after lunch had a huge spread of desserts - cookies, dried fruit, candies, tea and coffee... I was stuffed!

Another thing to mention is the truck ride to visit the projects, the roads are quite rough and the truck was not so smooth. I thought a couple of times my head was going to hit the roof when we went over the bumps! But apparently I was the only ones that thought the drive was bumpy, the locals kinda laughed and told me to just wait... those were some of the best roads in Tajikistan! The scenery along the way was also quite the site; sometimes we saw mountains, sometimes it was desert, and sometimes it was lush vegetation near a river.

Check out google photo's for more!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's a small world after all!

Saturday morning I woke up and wanted to get out of my apartment to explore. I decided to check out the museum that is by my house because that is easy to do alone, and I was hoping I could get by with a little English/Russian/charades combination. I was partly hoping I'd run into another foreigner there, but seriously doubted I would. And when I walked in, there wasn't a single person there... I figured out what I had to pay, and started wandering around looking at everything. When I was nearly done I heard another women speaking English! We started talking and I said I was Canadian, she said she was too! She asked me if I was the MEDA intern, I was shocked!? Apparently she is a consultant MEDA hired to develop the business at a local restaurant/hotel/cafe/conference center, etc. So she invited me to join her and her crew for the day!

So Susan and I become best friends (that's how things work over here!). We did some more touristy sight seeing of monuments, etc. with her interpreter and an owner of the restaurant she is working for, then she invited me back to her place for lunch and to hang out for the day. She is staying at the beautiful hotel/restaurant, and the food is fabulous, and the outdoor patio is a great place to spend an afternoon! We went there and we had some excellent salads on the patio of the cafe and chatted to catch up on each other. Then we decided to get some novels that she brought, and bring her laptop back to the cafe to play music and read and enjoy the scenery.

After a while we went back to her room to catch the 6:00 news, and we were having such a great time she invited me to stay at her place for the night so we could have dinner together then watch a movie. Sounded great as we both only recently arrived and knew no one else!

The next day we went for a walk to get out and see a little of the city, then we were taken sight-seeing once again to the "Tajik Sea" and back with many interesting stops along the way! We went to a stunning meeting house for a very large farming co-op, we drove through cotton fields, and fields full of fruits, with cows grazing in the shade of apricot trees while thier owners had them on a lead (no fences). We stopped at a carpet maker/seller who also makes slippers, and wool socks.

On our way back from the lake we stopped for some freah bread, they were making it right there. It was a round oven, and they throw the dough on the side of it, it bakes, then they take it out with a poker. And it's VERY yummy!

p.s. there are more pictures in my google photo albums

Museum of Asian Civilization (right by my apartment)

Me and Susan with a museum worker!
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Cotton... makes me feel guilty knowing how much work it is to pick this in this HEAT, and for very little pay!

Tajik carpets and slippers
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Finally back in the water! If only I had a bathing suit :(

A man baking Tajik national bread!
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I have posted some pics (finally!) but there are more on my Google Photo webpage:
Check them out!

p.s. I love hearing everyone's comments xo

This is by Panchshanbe Bazaar (about 10 min walk from apartment).

Tajik family walking infront of a Mosque.

A small section of Panchshanbe Bazaar (can you believe it!?).

Mmmm... famous Korean lady salads at the Bazaar.
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This is right by my guest apartment!
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Beate and Gary's dutcha (garden), so beautiful! And the shade is a result of grape vines growing on a trellis overhead, I could get used to this!
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Monday, September 10, 2007

A nice looong weekend!

I had only really worked 2 days and the next thing I knew it was a 3 day weekend! Finally I could see a bit more of the city and sleep as much as I needed to get in sync here!

Friday night was a beautiful, warm night (like they all are). My manager (Beate-Germany) and her husband Gary (US) took me out for dinner at a beautiful outdoor patio around the corner from my apartment. We met up with two other German expats who happened to be in Tajikistan for a short stint (honestly, people do come here!). We ate and drank, it was great to hear a lot of stories from these experienced development workers! The best part was that the one man was a Food Processing Expert!! He was here as a consultant for a juice company, and he has done a lot of work getting plants HACCP certified. I was thrilled to meet someone with a similar background to me in the development field as a specialist!

Saturday came and Dilya, the cook from MEDA's office, met me at my apartment and took me to Panchshanbe Bazaar, Khujand's largest market. It was unbelievable, it was huge and very very busy. There was rows and rows of vendors as far as the eye could see! They sold everything from spices, nuts, fruits, vegetables, fresh salads... and unfortunately I was almost run over by a man pushing a wooden cart with a large hunk of a dead animal that still had fur! I think it was a cow's leg or something, I tried to revert my eyes as soon as I noticed what I was seeing! This market is indoor and outdoor, and indoor up on the second floor is hundreds of vendors selling non-food goods such as clothes, shoes, and many random items that you would find in a dollar store imported from China. It was quite overwhelming, but worth the experience! The food is also so fresh here, and so cheap! I just need to work on my Russian/Tajik so I can understand how much things cost!

After the hectic trip to the market, Dilya and I stopped at a Turk/Tajik cafe and enjoyed nice and cold lemonade (more like orange pop to us) and PIZZA!!!! I was sooooo excited to have pizza here! And it was quite tasty with tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese, lots of cheese! After we ate we were so hot and tired I went home, showered and passed out. What a day!

Sunday was more relaxing, Beate and Gary to me to their Dutcha, it is another property they have that has a huge garden. There is a little house and a kitchen, but it is lovely to just spend the day outside in the garden. There was a little kitten when we arrived, Gary said he appeared the day before. Gary asked if I wanted to give him a bath so he didn't look so sad, so I put my old pet grooming skills to work! lol, poor kitten... didn't like the water much, but now he looks like a real pet! All he needs is a few more meals and he won't look so sad!

After I helped dig up a new bed in an area weeds had taken over, and we planted some new seeds. We collected a bunch of ripe vegetables and Beate made a delicious casserole with over a dozen vegetables, beans and cheese! In the afternoon we packed up and went home, they sent me home with a bag full of vegetables from the garden too! I thought that when I got back I would take a shower to cool off then wander on the busy streets where people seemed to be celebrating Independence Day, but when we got back not much seemed to be happening so I ended up resting all afternoon and slept through the fireworks, oops!

Monday was a holiday, so I went with Gary back to the Dutcha for a little bit while Beate had to work. We put some medicine in the new kittens eyes to clear them up, then re-heated some lunch and took care of a few things around the garden. Gary ended up picking me a huge amount of more vegetables, I didn't know what to do with so much food! But we shortly went home and I cleaned it all up and cut them up and put them in my fridge... boy is that a lot of work! Everything is organic here, so most vegetables come "with meat" and you need to really wash off the spiders, slugs, worms, etc. before they take over your apartment, yuck!

So for dinner last night, I cooked a little of everything that I had collected in my fridge the past couple of days, there was over a dozen vegetables, I probably can't even name half of them, but they were tasty!

p.s. I tried to post pictures but the internet connection is too weak, I will figure it out soon!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

First Impressions...

Well, I'm here! I had three great flights, from Toronto to Vienna, Moscow, and finally Khujand! All were relatively on time and my luggage arrived with me, I couldn't have asked for a better trip!

It was dark when I arrived so the drive to the guest apartment where I am staying was not very scenic, however along the road I could see a lot of bright flowers everywhere. It left a lot to my imagination, I couldn't wait to see everything in daylight!

I arrived at my guest apartment and was surprised how large it was! And very HOT! I opened a window so I could try to sleep, although I was a little concerned what bugs I was inviting in, but at that point sleep was more important. When the driver dropped me off he asked me what time I wanted to be picked up to go to the office, he suggested 10am. At this point it was 5am, but I agreed because I was anxious to see the office and meet people.

As I was getting into bed at 6am the sun started rising. I looked out the balcony windows and saw mountains! Yay! I grabbed my camera and took a quick pic before passing out. 10am came faster then I had hoped, lol, jet lag is rough! But it was a beautiful drive to the office, we followed a river which has huge mountains on the other side. There are also flowers everywhere, this time of year is very beautiful here!

At the office everyone was very friendly, I just came to meet people, use the internet, and to my surprise had an excellent home-made lunch of soup and fresh bread! You see, the office is a converted HUGE Tajik house, it has tonnes of rooms and very tall ceilings; and they put the kitchen to good use! There is a lady who comes in and cooks home-made meals everyday for lunch... they told me it would be difficult to eat as a vegetarian here, but I beg to differ! The last thing I have to worry about is starving... more like how to excersize enough to make up for the food!

After my short visit in the office, I went home and slept, and slept... until about 4am. Then I was wide awake. I hope I can stay up until dark tonight, then I should be on schedule by tomorrow! (oh ya, I also found an A/C in the living room window, so that helps me sleep now too)

That's about it, I haven't ventured into the city yet, perhaps tonight after work... and I'm looking forward to this weekend as there should be much going on around thier Independence Day (Sept 9).

Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

T-2 days and counting...

Hello all, I hope I will get a chance to update this blog regularly with interesting stories and pictures of my time in Tajikistan. I am preparing for my internship and I fly out in 2 days. I am almost all packed but I'm still running around with last minute errands, and trying to say bye to all of my friends and family (the hardest part!).

I am anxious to arrive and see the mountains and meet the Tajik people whom I hear are very friendly. I am also looking forward to meeting everyone at the office, especially those I've only corresponded with over email.

The project I will be working on is well under way and will be wrapping up during my time there. I look forward to seeing the difference MEDA has made in the lives of the Tajik people over the 4 year project. I hope to contribute as much as I possibly can to the MEDA projects in the next 7 months, and I am looking forward to the learning experience it will be!