Friday, October 19, 2007

Visiting the field is one of my favorite things to do, it really is satisfying to see great results. This week we went on a rather LOOOONG and BUMPY drive to Istaravshan and Gonchi to visit some potato projects. Last time they told me the road we were travelling was not bad... well they admitted this time that the road was bad. I don't mean 'bumpy' like pot-holes, I mean bumpy like the road disappears and there is a river in front of you! Then there is some gravel, a chunk of concrete you have to ditch, then a pothole that would swallow your 4 WD truck! And if there was a smooth patch of road for 100 feet the driver would FLOOR it before slamming on the breaks for the next obstacle!

The morning started early, we met at the office at 7:30am and by 9:30 we decided to stop at a favorite cafe in Gonchi for breakfast. I was doing alright by this time, so I had an egg and bread with butter, and a surprisingly good coffee (NOT Nescafe!). Well as I predicted this was a mistake... it tasted great at the time but with the bumpy roads it did not sit well! After taking a few Gravol and some fresh air when we stopped next I managed to keep it down though :)

We arrived at our first project to see what the farmers had harvested, they had just recently brought all the potatoes in from the fields. They were conducting tests on fertilizers: they would use certified fertilizer and test to soil to calculate how much to apply for one crop, for the other crop they used the cheaper, black market fertilizer and applied it as they normally would. The difference was HUGE, it was evident that the certified fertilizer worked, as the potatoes were roughly 4x the size! The quality was so much better that it doubled the price per kilo! The farmers were very excited to show us the results, and were very thankful to learn how to grow high quality potatoes.

We toured a few more projects, and the results were just as astonishing at everyone of them. We also visited a few projects where they were improving the quality and quantity of seed potatoes. I wasn't sure what the difference was between a seed potato and a cooking potato -the difference is seed potatoes are very small, they actually plant them to grow more potatoes. The details of this project are still a little fuzzy for me as we were asking questions through a translator and the answers weren't very direct... that is a major challenge when you don't speak the language and have to rely on a translator.

I forgot to mention that at every stop they would ask us to have tea or coffee before we left, and you have to agree or else it wouldn't be polite. After you agree to a quick drink they reveal a whole buffet in which you must take off your shoes, sit down and eat constantly until it is not possible to eat another bite. Then you realize you are late for the next project, and you ate waaay too much for the bumpy car ride, and you must leave to repeat the same process at the next project. This made for an interesting day, the last thing I wanted to do was get in the car for a several hour bumpy drive home :(

As we took off back to Khujand I was taking in the country scenery, there where beautiful mountains in the distance, and rolling hills of farmland. We drove through villages where there were more donkeys on the roads then cars, and kids were out playing everywhere. On one country road we stopped so I could get a picture of a donkey, we don't see them in Khujand and when I have travelled out side of the city it never seemed like an appropriate time to stop. But this time the car pulled over and Brad asked them if I could get a picture of ME on the donkey!! I was very happy, and I hopped on and rode around -an experience I will never forget! And the local people came from all over to watch the foreigner and have a good laugh, I don't blame them!

Then it was time to get back in the car... still feeling waaay too over-stuffed and not looking forward to it. I tried to convince myself I could make it home, but there was no chance... pull over please!!! I felt much better when I had an empty stomach, just a little embarrassing at the time!

After the long day we made it home safe and sound and with a truck full of potato samples, if anyone wants to be a taste-tester come on by and I'll cook up some fries :)

Check out google photos for some pics of country-side in Tajikistan!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Learning about a new culture is fascinating, and integrating into it can be a challenge. The term "culture shock" generally refers to having a difficult time adjusting to the new culture, and missing the way things were back home. I'm happy to say that I don't feel like I'm being effected this way... however I am more "shocked" by the type of cultural practices that are still accepted here. There are some parts of the culture that I love, like the traditional Tajik bread (non) and the beautiful outfits you see new brides wearing (see above). There is also a great obligation to spend time with your family and to care for one another. However as I have spent many hours talking with anyone that speaks English (I promise I'm learning Russian and Tajik!) and I have learned a lot about what the Tajik life is like.

When I am introduced to new people, most conversations start with "how old are you?" followed by "are you married? how many kids do you have?" And when I reply that I am 26, single and am not interested in a husband OR kids at the moment THEY are shocked! They think what is wrong with me!? You see in the Tajik life, it is not acceptable to chose the path I have chosen, that is to be an independent women with a career.

Many women here do have careers, and they are very well educated with university degrees, but the difference is huge. When a woman reaches her late teens/early twenties her parents arrange a marriage to a man she has probably never met. She cries and is sad, but they plan a wedding and she sits at the front... this day is not a happy day. In Canada your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, here, I think it is probably the saddest. And after the wedding, the young, scared, sad virgin must let this stranger do things to her that in Canada would be considered rape. I'm sorry this is graphic, but meeting several young women who are currently fighting this arranged marriage really breaks my heart as I try to put myself in their shoes. And after the wedding the bride moves into the husbands house with his parents, and it is her role to care for EVERYONE. She must cook, clean, wash all clothes by hand... AND works full time during the day just like her husband. Then she must have babies, and raise them with little or no help from anyone.

I mentioned that I have met some women who are fighting this tradition, however many older women who I talked to say that it is not that bad, after you marry you learn to love each other; the cycle then continues as they arrange a marriage for their children. I have explained what it is like in Canada, that women and men "date" someone that they have met by CHOICE. And of course I had to explain what "dating" is, I said that it consists of going out for dinner, watching movies, anything where you get to spend time together to learn about each other and see if it turns into love. Then, after your in love, the man proposes to the woman and asks her to marry him. Well the Tajik people think this idea is unacceptable here, it would never happen like that. And the idea that the man and woman might live by themselves in their own house and share chores, absolutely not! They are women's chores, not a mans! Hmmm... I have a problem with this when the women is putting in 40 hours a week at the office just like the men! Isn't women working supposed to be a step towards gender equality?

Of course I cannot stereotype every Tajik and say that everybody accepts these ways and agrees with them, I have a few Tajik co-workers at MEDA who believe in the true meaning of gender equality. One even has a husband who helps share the chores because be recognizes she works full time too. And there are a few women who have made it past their early twenties and have managed to remain single and are looking for true love. I really respect these people who stand up for themselves and aim for a life in which they deserve, where they are happy and look forward to life going the way they choose it to go.

So that's my story about "culture shock", it really emphasizes to me that gender equality doesn't end with a working woman... it's how she is treated at home too, not just at the workplace.

(p.s. I updated google pics with pictures of several recent celebrations with co-workers and friends)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I have finally moved into the apartment that I plan on staying in for a while - if there is fairly consistent water and electricity I will most likely live here until April... if not, I may keep looking as it is difficult to go without such basics for a long cold winter!

The apartment is very nice, has large windows and is very spacious and clean. The best part for me is that the water didn't smell bad and there are no bugs sharing the place with me :) It's the apartment Susan was staying in, but I have now taken over as she flew out at 4am today (I miss you already Susan!). Tonight when I get home from work I will unpack and make it "my space". I'm excited to set out my new Tajik tea set on a beautiful embroidered felt that I bought recently, things like really make it feel like "home" to me. I forgot to mention one little issue - there is no kitchen - yet! They are planning on building one for me, but I said a hot plate and toaster oven will do (electricity is on more than gas) so I hope to have something to cook with asap!

I have posted pictures on google photo's of my old apartment, new apartment, and the MEDA office (it is quite beautiful too!).

So in the meantime of being kitchenless the Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up... so to get around this slight obstacle my co-worker Brad has invited me to use his kitchen and we plan on making a feast. We also have 2 Canadians visiting from the MEDA Waterloo office, so we are hoping they will join us to help us eat all of the food! It will be a challenge to cook the meal, first of all to find the ingredients always turns into a multi-market scavenger hunt... then we have to cross our fingers and hope that we will have electricity and gas, and if we're REALLY lucky, WATER!! (but that's pushing it...)

Anyways, Happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians, wish us luck with our cooking :)