Sunday, March 30, 2008

I can’t believe I am leaving Tajikistan today. I feel as though I am going on a 1 week vacation and will be back. I am packed, moved out of my apartment, and just came to work for the morning. I will leave after lunch to head to the Tashkent airport in Uzbekistan.

My time in Tajikistan was a great experience. I met many wonderful people and had a lot of good times. I also met some not so nice people (mainly Tajik men thinking I was a Russian prostitute because of my fair complexion and no other reason…) and had some challenging times as well (such as the coldest winter in 40 years coupled with an energy crisis).

Working at MEDA was also a wonderful time, I was very happy to have the opportunity to apply my food science knowledge to help fruit and vegetable processors over here. I also visited many projects in the field, and had the chance to see much of northern Tajikistan and the meet people from several different regions. I will miss the beautiful drives through the mountains and meeting very friendly, hospitable clients.

All in all I have learned a lot about living and working overseas, mixing into a different culture and the most difficult part was learning not to compare the new culture with the values I had as a Canadian. I tried not to make judgments, and understand why some traditions are acceptable when back home they would not be. It was challenging, but in the end when my best friend here said “Kelly, you really understand our culture, most foreigners don’t” it really made me happy.

Well, I think it’s too soon to know how this experience will really affect me, but I know for sure it has changed me. I am looking forward to spending time in Nepal so I can reflect on my experience here, and digest it a little before going back to Canada. I know it will be overwhelming when I get back, being exposed to everyone and everything that I have gone so long without now. But I know I will adjust again, and hopefully before I know it I will be on another adventure shortly!

Thank you for reading and following my experiences. I don’t know if I will post at all when I am in Nepal, but surely I will when I arrive back in Canada in May.

Goodbye for now!
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

whirlwind tour of uzbekistan: 5 cities, 10 days

Well I have now made it to 3/5 Central Asian stans… Uzbekistan being the latest conquest. There was so much to see, and so little time, but I managed to fit a lot in. I started by driving from Khujand (Tajikistan) to Tashkent (Uzbekistan), then flew to Nukus, then traveled by land to Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand. I really wanted to see Nukus for the art museum that captured banned art from Soviet times. I was also excited to be visiting places that were on the Silk Road route (all of the cities except Nukus), this was a trade route that went from China to Europe, caravan’s of camel’s and men would bring silk, gold, and many other luxurious things from Asia. Khujand is one of the cities on the Silk Road, but there is little evidence or memories left from that time, so I was looking forward to see these cities where the history was captured and turned into tourist sites. I also wanted to see Bukhara and Samarkand because these cities were formally Tajik, and much of Tajikistan’s history is found here.

Tashkent is a very up-and-coming city that offered many of the luxuries I have done without for quite some time now. It had everything that was craving, such as sunshine and hot temperatures, a great diversity of multi-cultural vegetarian food, outdoor patios serving cold, imported (not from Russia only) beer, and life after dark (theatre, opera, ballet). So I enjoyed every minute of my weekend there, spending two nights before flying to the other end of the country to Nukus.

In Nukus I stayed at a very old house turned into a B&B. They had a traditional yurt in the courtyard, as well as a very old donkey cart. The reason I wanted to go there was to see the Savitsky Museum. During Soviet times all art had to represent Soviet Realism, any other art was forbidden. This museum now show cases thousands of pieces of art that were illegal to posses or produce, many of the artists were caught and sent to Siberia to serve in the labour camps. The artwork was amazing, it was worth the trip.

The next day I took a taxi to Khiva, where an ancient walled city is the draw for many tourists. The whole city is now a show piece, many of the buildings have turned into museums, some you just tour as-is, and many are filled with souvenir shops. The bright turquoise tile that accented the sand-coloured buildings really made them quite beautiful. I tool a million pictures because in real life everywhere you turned was another “perfect picture”, however the weather was very overcast and the bright white clouds made for lousy photos unfortunately. I was also lucky and when I checked into a guesthouse the first night I met a friendly couple from England who were planning to visit all the same cities. So the three of us toured Khiva together then hopped in a taxi to make our way to Bukhara.

The taxi drive turned out to be a life-threatening experience where are driver enjoyed going 170 km/hr and passing everyone in sight, usually when there was a challenge of oncoming traffic. He pretended not to understand us when we yelled at him and told him to slow down and drive properly. However it all caught up to him when he was caught at a police checkpoint and didn’t have the papers to be a “taxi” and was fined for acting as one. Just our luck! This took over an hour to wait around for them to solve this issue… during this time we were hoping a proper bus or REAL taxi would drive through and we would jump ship, but no luck, we were stuck with him. I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now, but we made it the rest of the way alive at least!

We arrived in Bukhara and were famished, the driver had stopped for lunch, but we were not daring enough to eat anything that this “Food Poisoning R’us Café” served. So we found the guest house I had picked out and headed out for dinner. It was great to find a little Italian restaurant that was upscale, clean, cheap, and even had an English menu! The other cities were so small it was like eating in a café in Khujand, ordering the only vegetarian salad available (diced tomatoes and cucumber) and a side of buckwheat as a meal. So it was nice to eat an actual entrée. The next day we hit the city up touring around to find these ginormous architectural masterpieces among a sprawling Soviet city. There was so much history it’s hard to describe it in a paragraph, and the people were so friendly it was a very pleasant city to visit. I should also expand upon our guest house, “Mubinjon’s Bukhara House”; the owner is a former Tajik Olympic sprinter! After he retired from racing and coaching he opened the guesthouse for something to do, and graciously only charges $5 a night! The house was amazing; it was built in 1766 and had a lot of character. You basically walk into a courtyard where there is patio furniture for relaxing (great for breakfast and star-gazing at night), and it’s surrounded by rooms opening into the courtyard. All of the doors were hand-carved wooden doors, and the rooms had so much personality, I never wanted to leave! It did seem too good to be true, and when we went to the kitchen and saw some cock roaches among the dirty dishes it kind of burst our bubble (along with the food poisoning a couple of us got from eating some bread and cheese that was served before we witnessed this).

I said goodbye to my friends and left for Samarkand after only 2 nights because I had less time. Of course the journey never goes as planned… there were no life-threatening taxi drivers, but there was a whole lot of confusion about how to get from one city to another. They told me that I would have to go part way and transfer in another town, then that taxi would take me the rest of the way. Well, every driver told me this, so 4 taxi drivers later I arrived in Samarkand… good thing I’m used to Central Asia and don’t stress about these things or else I’d have white hair by the time I got there!

I made my way to another guest house I had picked out, Antica, but this time I was more concerned about the cleanliness then the character. But I was lucky and this place was both clean and had lots of character! It was more expensive then my Lonely Planet said… by a lot. But I decided to suck it up and pay $25/night for a single room because it was so nice. However the next day when my friends joined up with me, they were offered a back-packers room that I was told wasn’t available! And also as I was leaving they were showing my room to another couple, but I heard them double the price for them! So I learned to always bargain and don’t settle for the first price, whether it’s at a market or a hotel, the prices are never fixed and their goal is to get as much money as they can get for what they are offering.

Samarkand was similar to Bukhara, but was more spread out and there wasn’t quite as much to see. I was still very busy trying to fit everything in that I possibly could, including visiting the Samarkand-Bukhara Silk Carpet Factory. This factory makes carpets from scratch all by hand. They actually get the silk cocoons, spin it into thread, dye it with natural dyes (such as dried pomegranate rind = red, onion skin leaves = yellow, indigo = blue) before hand tying every tiny knot to make a carpet that they design from the heart. There is no child labour, they follow Western labour standards, and the products are unbelievably beautiful. If I had $700 to spare I would have picked up a little 3’x2’ carpet, but that definitely wasn’t in my budget! Another destination I would like to highlight is the Tomb of the Old Testament Prophet Daniel; legend has it that his body grows ½” a year, so the sarcophagus is 18m long!

After visiting Samarkand I headed back to Khujand. It was another eventful, unpredictable journey but I made it through customs and back to my house before dark without running out of money, which were my main goals. It was a great trip and I hope to visit these cities again in the future when I have more time to fit in things I did not see, such as a visit to the disappearing Areal Sea, one of human kind’s worst environmental catastrophes.

I have updated my Google photo’s… my blog is too brief to capture it all, and a photo is worth a thousand words! Check them out!
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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

i heart kyrgyzstan

I couldn’t think of a better way to bring in spring then in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan!
The first official day of spring is March 1st, here is how I celebrated:

I decided to take a little trip to see more of Central Asia because time is quickly flying by and I want to get as much out of my time here as possible. I was in possession of a multi-entry visa to Kyrgyzstan (as my evacuation plan) so I decided to finally use it!

In my trusty “Lonely Planet” it recommended catching a very historical city, Osh, which is over 3000 years old (similar to Khujand). The best part is that Osh is only a day’s drive from Khujand and for us Canadians that’s nothing… so I decided to give it a try. Luckily I had great timing when planning my trip and a car from MEDA was going to Osh to attend an Agro-Expo, and there just happened to be a seat in the truck for me.

The drive was long, but armed with my faithful “sea-bands” to prevent motion sickness it was quite enjoyable. The country was beautiful, and I enjoyed driving through little villages to see what life was like outside of a city. We met up with a truck load of Agro-Expo participants from CESI, and made a few pit stops to stretch our legs and do a little tailgating. We made it to Osh before dark (they are an hour ahead… I did not know this!) and I managed to find a nice guest house after many unsuccessful attempts (either too grungy or too nice $$). Finally goldilocks found one that was just right. I was also pleasantly surprised when I went to a nearby café for dinner and found LETTUCE on the menu! First of all they had English on the menu, which you don’t find in Khujand; second of all they had VEGETABLES!!! My love affair with Kyrgyzstan had begun.

The next day when I woke up I heard this unfamiliar sound… it was raining! In all of my 6 months in Khujand I have never seen it rain, I know it has rained because I have seen puddles but I think it only happens when I’m sleeping, and it’s very light as I never hear it. Needless to say I was unprepared, so my first mission was to buy an umbrella. Looking up how to say “umbrella” in my little Russian phrasebook I took to the streets. This mission was quite unsuccessful; I had found many little shops, but no umbrellas. I decided it wasn’t raining THAT bad, and I could probably due without. However the snow was melting and turning into thick slush, so I was afraid my feet would be the most wet and an umbrella wouldn’t help that. My next mission was to find the gang at the Agro Expo to say goodbye and tell them I would be off to Bishkek later that day. I thought it might be a problem finding them in this huge building, but thanks to Akbar being unusually tall for a Tajik I found them no problem. Next I went to buy my plane tickets… I sat there with my phrase book studying what I wanted to say so I wouldn’t feel silly, and next thing I know the man behind the counter says in perfect English “Excuse me mam, can I help you?” It turned out that most people who worked at restaurants/hotels/stores all spoke a fair bit of English, so much for getting lots of practice!

After I had my tickets I only had a couple of hours to explore… which turned out to be plenty. I walked by the famous mountain, “Salomon’s Throne”, saw a bunch of statues, and attempted to go to the market but gave up after it being so crowded and pushy. My feet were soaked and I was deciding Osh wasn’t really what I expected, it may as well have been Khujand, I didn’t see anything that resembled their culture or heritage… guess I would have to go to a museum in Bishkek for that. So off I went, hopefully leaving the rain behind!

I arrived in Bishkek mid-afternoon and managed to be called “cheap” by a taxi driver as I took the bus to the city. When I arrived I just wanted to check in to my B&B and take off my wet shoes, but this turned out to be quite the process! The B&B I had circled in my book was under renovations, so I was off to check out other options. I decided to stay in an old soviet hotel, not because it was nice or cheap (it was neither) but it was getting dark, I was hungry, and it was located by a restaurant that my book said offered “excellent” vegetarian meals. Well my book was right! And the best part was they took MasterCard… so I ate almost everything on the menu, including a SPINACH salad!

The next morning my first mission was to find a new place to stay; other then the great view and a shower with great water pressure I wasn’t too impressed with what I got for my money at this place. Finding another option was nearly impossible it seemed, but after and hour and a half of walking around I finally found a place I was happy to call home for the next couple of days. I checked in, had some breakfast, ditched my backpack and finally was ready to see Bishkek.

I spent the day walking around the streets, looking at fancy buildings, statues, exploring INDOOR SHOPPING MALLS!! Honestly, there was a little culture shock; I couldn’t believe this was part of Central Asia. I wasn’t tempted to spend much time in these places, I kind of felt like they were alienating the Central Asia I had grown to love. I did love the wide, cobble stone streets though, there was no pushing and shoving like is so common in Khujand. But unfortunetly men still had the disgusting habit of spitting all over the streets just like in Khujand, I would be happy if I never heard that sound again or had to watch where I step to avoid it… I will never understand how people find spitting an acceptable behaviour in Central Asia. To end the day of aimlessly wandering I ate at another western style place, this time it was a sports bar. I loved it, it felt like back home with all of the wood, big screen TV’s showing sports (in English!) and beer on tap. This was also the home of an excellent veggie burger with mushrooms and Swiss cheese… a little slice of heaven!

The next day I wanted to explore the Ala-Archa Canyon; Kyrgyzstan is known for its beautiful scenery and I wanted to see it! I hired a driver from the hotel and off we went, I finally got to see some country side that I was expecting to see. We passed by fields, hills, and mountains with sheep, goats, cows, and horses grazing. Horses were everywhere, and if I would have come in another couple of months I could have gone trail riding through the mountains, riding horses, sleeping in yurts, cooking on an open fire… I have to come back!

When we got to the park, we started up one of the mountains for a view of the canyon and a waterfall if it wasn’t frozen. Unfortunately it was frozen, but the view was still so spectacular I couldn’t imagine it being any better. All of the mountains were snow covered, but it was warm enough we had to take off our jackets when we rested. The sun was shining, the air was warm and fresh, and the view was breath-taking. I never wanted to leave! I could hear rushing water, but did not see any water flowing… my driver who ended up coming along for the hike said that it was water from a melting glacier on the other side of the mountain, if I had a couple of days I could have hiked there and slept at the base camp. Yup, I definetly knew I had to come back! After we enjoyed the view for a while, we hiked back down and went into the canyon where the river was flowing. This was quite a refreshing day, after breathing in coal-burning fumes all winter my lungs didn’t know what to do with the fresh air!

After I made it back to town I set my shoes by the heater to dry and took a quick nap… then it was time to hit the museum and grab some souvenirs. I had attempted to go to the museum the day before but it closed early because the police blocked the area in front of it to have some kind of very official looking announcement, but I’m still not sure what it was about. The museum was interesting, finally glimpses of culture that I was expecting such as a yurt (a portable circular room made of felt, like a fancy tent), a loom, and even a mummy! (which I wasn’t expecting!) Then I found a bunch of souvenirs, in Tajikistan this is a chore because they really lack in typical souvenir type apparel, but in Kyrgyzstan there was soo much to chose from but so little money (no MasterCard’s accepted…yet!). I also really enjoy the paintings, so many of them depict their love for horses, I really wish I could have bought one, they were so beautiful. To end the day I found a great pizza place (also lacking in Khujand) and enjoyed a nice veggie pizza and mango milkshake! What a great way to end my time in Bishkek.

The next morning I set off for my journey home, I flew from Bishkek to Batken (near the Tajikistan border). The flight was spectacular; as we came below the clouds the view of the mountains was amazing. And as we approached Batken the scenery changed drastically from the usual snow-capped mountains to mountains made of the red/purple rocks that are unique to the Isfara area in Tajikistan. Then I took a taxi to Tajikistan (Isfara, across the border) with a group of friendly men I met on the plane. We then switched taxis in Isfara and took another one to Khujand. I was back in no time, ready to unpack and check my email to see if my Uzbekistan visa came through… which it did!!! I will be leaving Friday for another journey, but this time desserts and camels instead of mountains and horses!

*check out google photo's for new pics!

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

A lil' reminiscing...

Today the sun is trying to shine through the fog and it’s a rather comfortable 5C. I really hope this is the beginning of spring, the 10 day forecast is between high of +8C and low of only -4C. With the sun shining in my window my apartment has for the first time in many months reached 20C! Therefore I am in a very cheerful mood and would like to talk about some good experiences I’ve been having in Tajikistan instead of another post on the energy crisis. However, for those of you who were looking forward to an update on that, here is a link to a recent article from BBC News:

I have been looking at the calendar in disbelief lately, do I really only have 6 weeks left here? Where has the time gone? When I first took the internship I thought 7 months would seem like an eternity, but it has flown by with the blink of an eye. As I think about how soon I will have to leave, it makes me think about all the things I will miss. It took me a while to really get used to life here and stop comparing it to back home, but now as I think about leaving I am comparing it to back home again… and the same things that took me a while to get used to I think I will miss the most.

Open air markets: they are loud, busy, dirty, impossible to find anything, no prices are fixed so they can conveniently charge foreigners double… at least that’s how I first saw them. Now I am sad to think of entering a large, sterile, lonely grocery store where I cannot meet the person who grew the food. And where is the excitement of finally finding something that resembles lettuce when you have 10 different ones right in front of you to choose from. I will miss the conversations I have with the sellers, some get so excited to meet a foreigner and welcome me as a guest in their country and throw in an extra onion. I will miss walking down the aisles that have 40 different sellers all selling the same variety of vegetables and choosing a friendly old lady sitting on an upside-down turned bucket just patiently waiting for a customer. When I approach her she smiles and is so very friendly as I practice my Russian to ask how much, she answers holding up the corresponding number of fingers along with a verbal answer because she’s not exactly sure if I’ll understand her or not… and you know this money will help feed her grandchildren.

Visiting clients in the field… is it really necessary to sit down EVERY time to dozens of plates of food and pots of tea after? I mean we’re here to work and we have more clients to see after you, we really don’t have the time! Well… if you just learn to throw the Western idea of schedules and packing it all in a work day out the window and just relax and enjoy each others company after a successful meeting it is quite enjoyable. And if you’re smart, you won’t plan clients back to back without a comfy window of time for socializing. You can also learn more about the peoples’ lives and their culture, often times the clients are far from the city and live a different lifestyle then what I see in the city.

There are some things that I won’t miss though… such as walking by the meat market on my way to work where they just hang dozens of carcasses in the front of buildings. I also won’t miss the pressure to eat so much just to be polite; they seriously get offended if you don’t eat twice as much as your stomach can possibly hold (couple this with a looong bumpy car ride and motion sickness… it’s not pretty!) I won’t miss the marshuka’s (public transportation) which I am often crammed on; I swear they try to break world records every day… I think maybe they have a competition between each marshruka and brag about how many people they managed to cram in at once… and it baffles me when it seems 110% full, not a single extra body can fit in, yet they stop and pick up another 3, how does the door close? Honestly, its magic, this continues to baffle me.

Another thing I will miss is visiting all of the ancient villages and driving through breath-taking mountains. A week ago I went to Istaravshan and watched them make these beautiful intricate knives (I never thought I would describe knives as beautiful). Istaravshan is known for producing these knives, and there is a row of at least a dozen blacksmiths across from the market where they make them right in front of you, very neat! Then as we were driving away I asked about this beautiful monument on the top of the hill –it was of Alexander the Great!! He lived here when he married a Tajik woman! He built it on top of the hill so he could see for miles and miles to ensure no one was coming to attack. We went up the hill and it was another breath-taking view, and the ruins of the original settlement were still there, crumbled and half buried in the dirt. It’s a very unique feeling when you are around something so old, its from 329 BC…it’s hard to believe that something so old and that is such a famous part of history is just crumbled on the ground in front of you. I will miss this feeling of complete “awe” as Northern Tajikistan has so much ancient history like I have never experienced before. Istaravshan just celbrated its 2500th anniversary… that’s old!

The list goes on… but I will stop here and just say that I definetly have mixed feelings about leaving in only 6 weeks. I miss my friends and family, (and fruits & vegetables… electricity… running water… heat, etc) but there is so much more I want to see and do here before I leave. I hope to have many more interesting posts as I experience all that I can!
Check out my Google photo’s for some recent pics including my trip to Istaravshan.
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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Feeling Helpless in Tajikistan...

Well we are approaching the middle of February which is when the country is expected to be in the height of the energy crisis. I myself haven’t felt the effects like most citizens; I often have electricity and water, sometimes even HOT water! I wish I could understand people that are talking wherever I go, you can tell everyone is discussing the crisis and how they are being affected by it, and how they are dealing with it. When I am with someone who can translate what they are saying –it is often about methods of trying to heat their homes, and the associated cost, as well as the cost of everything else sky rocketing, such as food. Once again I don’t really feel these effects, as I don’t have a coal/wood burning stove and because of my expat salary and the fact that I’m used to paying western prices for food make it hardly noticeable that prices have doubled or triple for staples.

As I read these news stories and when I here the stories co-workers bring to work about how the local population is suffering it makes me feel as helpless as you will feel when you read these stories. I wish MEDA did relief work so I could get involved, but they don’t, and I have my own work to finish. So I will just be thankful that many organizations are responding, such as UNICEF, WFP, Care, and Save the Children which are bringing in large amounts of supplies mostly targeting vulnerable groups such as young children and elderly. I even read today that Japan has donated a large sum of money to bring in supplies.

Join me in praying for the people of Tajikistan. I hope spring comes early!

Crisis Looms as Bitter Cold, Blackouts Hit Tajikistan -by Ivan Watson

All Things Considered, February 8, 2008 · The lights have gone out in most of Tajikistan, the poorest republic in the former Soviet Union.

The country is facing an energy crisis in the midst of the coldest winter in more than 25 years.
With millions of people left without electricity, heat or running water, aid organizations are warning of a growing humanitarian crisis.

For the past 15 days, there has been no heat, electricity or running water in the freezing maternity ward of a small country hospital in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
In that time, Adolat Shoreva and her small team of nurses have helped deliver 13 babies — by candlelight.

"In my 40 years as a nurse, I've never seen it this bad," Shoreva says. "I sit in the dark at night and cry."

The unusually cold winter has overwhelmed the country's aging Soviet-era infrastructure, leaving millions of people cold, in the dark, without access to clean water.
Aid workers say that even before this crisis, more than 60 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.

With many Tajiks spending what little money they have on fuel to heat their homes, the country is about to face widespread food shortages, says the United Nation's Zlatan Milisic.
"Increased food prices, previous reduced harvests, very, very cold weather, and the energy crisis have all contributed to the fact that the people are not able to cope anymore on their own," he says.

Reports of Children Dying
As the pale winter sun sets over the Tajik capital, Timur Fatholaev chops wood outside his crumbling, five-story apartment building.
He says those who can afford it have installed woodstoves to heat their apartments.
"I don't sleep at night because I'm worried about my 1-year-old daughter. I'm afraid she'll freeze ... like my neighbors' child did," he says.
Fatholaev's neighbor, a 27-year-old mother, put her 10-month-old daughter, Dilnoza, to sleep in a wooden cradle one night in January. Dilnoza was dead when her mother went to retrieve her in the morning.

There have been widespread reports in the Tajik media of children dying in the maternity wards of hospitals during prolonged power cuts. But the Tajik government insists that no one has died due to the blackouts.
International aid workers and foreign diplomats have been meeting with Tajik officials, urging them to declare a state of emergency and to make a public appeal for help.
20 Days in the Dark

Rosa Nabieva, a housewife, says she and her three children sleep on the floor of their 3-by-8-foot kitchen under the warmth of a single blanket by the feeble glow of a small flashlight.
She says the family moved into this small room to stay warm because they haven't had electricity in 20 days. Nabieva worries about her 2-year-old daughter, Shakzhoda, who recently developed sores the size of quarters on both cheeks.

Outside, it's pitch black at 7 p.m., and a crowd of villagers has gathered in the darkness. They're angry at the government.

The World Bank warns that the energy crisis could get much worse. Water levels have dropped dangerously low at the country's main hydro-electric power plant.

In central Dushanbe, however, where there are pockets of prosperity, some lucky Tajiks still enjoy 24-hour electricity.

To conserve power, the government has ordered bars and cafes to operate by candlelight.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Energy Crisis in Tajikistan Situation Report No.1

Well, looks like my optimism hasn’t paid off. It has started to get colder, and the Nurek hasn’t melted enough to make a difference. The UN has stepped in to provide some aid and Embassy’s are suggesting people to “consider” leaving the country if it’s not necessary for them to be here. However the worse the situation gets, the more I want to stay. There’s a term for people who are interested in relief work, “adrenaline junky” and I’m starting to feel the adrenaline over the hovering crisis… however I’m working in development here, not relief, and as an intern I’m sure they would evacuate me before the situation got too bad. But it has confirmed in me that I definitely want to explore relief work in the future, but for now I will just stay safe and do as I’m told.

To anyone reading this, your thoughts and prayers for the people of Tajikistan are greatly needed as they go through this very difficult time!

Energy crisis in Tajikistan Situation Report No. 1
Source: United Nations Development Programme
Date: 31 Jan 2008

Situation overview

Tajikistan is experiencing its harshest winter in three decades with temperatures that have averaged -15 degree Celsius during the day and have dropped as low as -25 degrees at night in capital Dushanbe. Many antiquated water lines have either broken or become frozen/clogged, with a major impact on the availability of water for the past seven days. Sub-zero temperatures and water shortages may be expected to continue.

Tajikistan's potential to produce electricity is estimated at over 300 billion kilowattohours per year - the greatest hydroelectric capacity in the region. But due to lack of installed hydro-electric power stations, the country is dependent on its neighbors for electricity during the winter. The country imports electricity from Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but these supplies are limited due to power shortages in these countries, a situation that emerges every year.

In rural areas population receive one or two hours of electricity a day. Even in Dushanbe, electric power is limited and many residential areas have no electricity overnight. The only exceptions to these periodic blackouts for now are residential areas, some of the hospitals, critically important industries in the country. Supply of electricity to the aluminum plant has been limited, even though this industry makes up 40% of the national GDP.

Tajikistan is consuming approximately 41.6 GWh of electricity per 24 hrs, of which 39 GWh comes from sources in the country. Of the electricity produced in the country, approximately 66% comes from the Nurek hydroelectric power station. Unfortunately, it is expected that the level of the reservoir supplying the Nurek turbines will reach a critical point where no more than 6 GWh per 24 hrs can be produced. When this situation occurs (anywhere from 10 to 14 days from now), Tajikistan will loose approximately 45% of its electrical supply. It is not expected that this gap will not be covered by other sources, leading to increase electrical shortages and longer blackouts. The humanitarian impact of these increased blackouts is not clear. However, the impact may be most significant for urban populations who depend on electricity for heating, cooking and the supply of water, and for the more vulnerable of these urban dweller, as well as clinics, hospitals and other mass-care facilities.

As a result of heavy snowfalls roads between several districts are blocked such as Khovaling, Shurobod, Muminobod, Temurmalik and Baljuvon in Khatlon region; Ishkashim, Darvoz and Murgob in GBAO and Rayons of Republican Subordination (Rasht Valley). These closed roads have als- had an impact on local supplies of food and other basic commodities.
The cold weather has overloaded the national electricity system. In Dushanbe alone, 58 transformers have been damaged, electrical supply lines damaged and services which depend on electricity (e.g., water supply) have been affected. to date, qualitative reports indicate the combination of unusually cold weather and electrical shortages has had an impact on human life and welfare beyond what is normally the case during winter in Tajikistan.

Response information
Two REACT meetings were held on January 29th to ensure information exchange and coordination of possible response. As an immediate action, UNICEF Tajikistan allocated $100,000 from its regular resources and from its emergency stockpile assisted Ministry of Health with the following items:
- 300 Jerry cans (200pcs - 10ltr and 100pcs - 20ltr);
- Bed linen - 200 sets;
- Baby blankets - 2230 pcs;
- Soap - 2000 pcs;
- Five emergency health kits for hospitals in Dishanbe;
- Toilet soap - 490pcs;
- Blankets wool-blend - 260pcs.

High protein biscuits have also been provided to orphan homes, boarding schools, maternity and children hospitals. An assessment of the local markets for procurement of generators for maternity hospitals and boarding schools has been started.
IFRC/ RCST are conducting an assessment and report will be ready by 6th of February.
WHO is planning to conduct a Rapid Health Assessment and is considering other assistance.
REACT, through its secretariat, is conducting an initial rapid assessment of the impact of power shortages in urban areas. This assessment may be later expanded to rural areas. A second assessment, focusing on the impact of electrical shortages at the Jamoat and District levels, to be coordinated through Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defence, is also in preparation.

Needs Information
The government of Tajikistan has mobilised available capacity to provide electricity and heating for population and to clean the blocked roads. However, according to information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a need for the following items to address the current situation:
- Transformers - 400, 630 and 1000 KVa capacity - 60 pcs;
- Under ground high-voltage cable - 6 km;
- Diesel generators - number and size not indicated;
- Food (flour) - quantity is not indicated;
- Fuel (mazut - fuel for central heating systems, petrol, kerosene) - quantity is not indicated.
Separately, UNICEF received a request from Ministry of Health for the following assistance for maternity and children hospitals:
- Generators - 70 pcs;
- Baby bed linen - 2800 sets;
- Soap - 2000 pcs.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's starting to look up...I think!?

Good news! The extremely cold weather is finally starting to let up! Starting Tuesday the sun began to fight its way through the clouds, and I’m happy to announce that today was the first sunny day in a looong time! I could actually see the mountains again… I was starting to think they were only a figment of my imagination in the past. Along with the sunshine, temperatures have started to rise; the daily forecast for the near future is between 0C and -8C. This brings many a huge sigh of relief as things have been getting quite tense here.

The extreme rationing of electricity has caused many people to live in their winter layers day and night, and has also been the cause of hundreds of deaths, from newborns to the elderly and homeless. Predictions that were made public earlier this week was that the country may very soon be declaring a state of emergency as the electricity supply is only expected to last until February 8th.

With this news some organizations have evacuated their staff to other countries for the next couple months; other organizations are shortening their business hours to conserve energy. At work we are stocking up on water, coal, and fuel for the generator just to be prepared (and expats have an evacuation plan, so don’t worry about us!). Many restaurants have closed, including the café that is part of the complex that I live in.

The government has tried to talk with surrounding countries to lend us some electricity; however talks have not been very successful as they have also experienced a higher then normal rate of consumption with this unusually cold weather. The deadline of a country wide blackout is quickly approaching, and predictions were that there would be no relief until March when the waters that feed the dam that generates electricity is back up and running to a normal capacity as the water melts.

If the country was to face a national black out, that would mean there would be no water as well because the pumps would not be working to keep the water flowing. With no power, no water, and only limited access to gas, people are scared of how they will survive. They are also scared that such conditions may cause uprisings; I even heard some discussing that this could possibly cause another civil war; even though the scars of the last civil war are still not completely healed.

As tensions rose with thoughts of the near future, the weather finally started to turn. I hope that the March thaw they were waiting for came early, and February will bring enough warm temperatures to keep the electricity flowing. Here is the latest news-

Water Inflow Increases in Nukek –

In the Nurek (Narak) Dam the inflow of water has increased almost twice-fold, but as Asia Plus agency quotes Barq-i Tajik energy holding officials, the danger of plunging into a total darkness is still hovering over Tajikistan. The volume of the inflow has marked a rapid gain since 18 to 90 cubic meters per second recorded before Wednesday (30 January). Yesterday it was around 160 cm/s. Though the usual inflow in past Januaries used to be 200 cm/s, credit must be given to the current milder weather in the country for facilitating the water inflow process.

However, Tajik energy officials do not rush to gladden the population, but rather reiterate the possibility of facing a more serious energy crisis in the near future. Since according to them, even the present generous water inflow will not result in any substantial changes in the station’s activity and will not increase energy production.

The Asia-Plus source in the company believes that the water in the reservoir has almost completely sunk down and further 6-meter drop of the current level will mark the critical stage of the station. At that stage the station will be able to produce not more than 25 m kw/h a day, while now it is capable of providing the country with around 40 m kw/h a day.

So far Tajikistan’s request for assistance has yielded 11 m kw/h of power from Kyrgyzstan - that reportedly is being transmitted to northern districts of Tajikistan – and a phone promise by the Turkmen president to increase the volume of his country’s energy export to Tajikistan.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Another Dismal Update

(pic taken on my way to work @ 8am...brrrr)
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The weather seems to be getting colder still… I think the humidity is increasing so the cold goes right through you; at least that’s what it feels like. It makes it harder to warm up too, seeing as indoors is little relief from the cold temperatures. My small heaters can’t seem to keep up with the constant cold, my apartment hovers around 10C. The only real relief is to take a hot bath, and I am lucky to have that priveledge! Most people have not had water for weeks becuase the pipes are frozen solid; it is also because I have electricity that I have hot water... a luxury VERY few of us currently have! I have also adapted by moving my stove into my living room... now I don't have to battle the cold to make a hot drink to warm up (kind of worked against itself).

When will the bitter winter end? Apparently no time soon -


The harshest winter in decades is plunging Tajikistan into a socio-economic crisis, as officials find themselves squeezed in a tightening vice of tough choices. The country currently is grappling with an energy emergency, with some areas now left totally without electricity. Efforts to solve the crisis, however, could cause a disastrous spike in inflation in a country where over 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Temperatures in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, have hovered around minus-20 degrees Celsius over the past few weeks. The minus-22 reading recorded in Dushanbe on January 19 was the lowest recorded temperature in the city since 1982. The country’s antiquated infrastructure has not been able to cope with the cold, prompting drastic cuts in electricity.

In Dushanbe, residents still receive a couple of hours of power every day, but many report having no heating. The situation is far worse outside the capital. For example, electricity has been completely cut off to several districts of southern Khatlon Province, according to the Asia-Plus news agency. Schools have shut down and many businesses and light industrial enterprises have ceased operations. The deaths of several newborns in hospitals have been attributed to the combination of the cold and the lack of power. The crisis is such that officials decided on January 15 to divert a limited amount of electricity from the Tajik Aluminum Plant – one of the country’s main economic assets, and its largest single consumer of power – for civilian needs.

Compounding the crisis is the fact that the Nurek reservoir and dam complex, which is currently responsible for generating most of the country’s domestically produced electricity, is experiencing a low water level. As a result, according to the state power company Barq-i Tajik, several of the dam’s turbines are unable to function. Meanwhile, much needed supplies from neighboring states have dwindled. Despite a contractual obligation to supply 10 million kilowatt hours per day (kw/h), Uzbekistan in early January cut off electricity exports. At the same time, Turkmenistan is exporting just 3 million kw/h per day.

For many Tajiks, the power cuts have highlighted the lack of progress made by President Imomali Rahmon’s administration in implementing infrastructure development projects. Several power-generating dams are in various stages of construction. One, dubbed Sangtuda-1, actually began operating on January 20. But the facility’s expected generating capacity of 2.7 million kw/h per day won’t have much of an impact on alleviating the crisis. Dushanbe alone consumes an estimated 12 million kw/h per day.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

the situation keeps getting worse...

If anyone needs a reason to be thankful, be thankful that you are not living in (or being born in) Tajikistan through one of the coldest winters on record. Even though this is the time when utilities are needed the most, the government has continued to keep people at it's mercy by limiting electricity and gas which people rely on to stay warm. The President recently made a speech telling everyone to "save your money and buy coal", however this just goes to show how ignorant the government is of the lives of its people. When the average person only makes $20/month, how are they supposed to spend the thousands of dollars it costs to heat a house for a single winter on coal? (we buy it for the office, it is VERY expensive). The average yearly income isn't enough to survive a winter if every cent (durum) was spent on coal.

I have heard through friends and co-workers of babies dying, freezing to death in the middle of the night, as well as elderly who already have poor circulation. Homeless people die, frozen to the ground along the streets. Here is an article that will make you shake your head... in a time when we can send people to the moon, map their DNA, and clone living creatures, this country still can't manage to provide the basic essentials for the survival of it's citizens-

Children die because of electricity cut-offs
Posted by Vadim on January 18th, 2008

The energy crisis is Tajikistan is so severe that newly born children die in maternity hospitals because of electricity cut-offs. It is unbelievable but even hospitals are put on schedule of electricity cut-offs. It will be hard to find out who is responsible for the recent deaths of children in the hospitals - doctors or power engineers - but the story of a girl who died because of electricity cut-off in a maternity hospital shocked everyone. This story was excerpted and translated from an article of Asia Plus about the recent deaths of newly born babies in our hospitals.

My wife was taken to a maternity hospital on 8th of January in the evening. Unfortunately her blood pressure went down and doctors decided to make a cesarean operation. The operation went well. The baby (girl) was in a good condition but she needed artificial lung ventilation. However at 9 p.m. electricity was cut off and the ventilation equipment went off as well.
Doctors launched an electricity generator. It took about ten minutes. Again the hospital had electricity. But after about 7 minutes the generator went off. Doctors could not start the generator. Something went wrong with it and obviously the doctors had no skills to fix it.
We called to the local electricity supply department, but a woman who answered, said that electricity was cut off in the area of the hospital according to the schedule. And in addition to that she complained that they are [in the department] tired of answering to everyday phone-calls from this hospital about the same issue.

It was the first time in my life that I felt so helpless. My long-awaited baby was dieing and I couldn’t help him. I felt as if the whole world does not care about the death of my baby.
After that I immediately decided to go home and bring my own generator. At that time, doctors were strained to the utmost trying to help the baby breath. It took me about an hour to bring the generator to the hospital and start it.

At that night two babies needed the artificial lung ventilation because both of them were born with the help of cesarean operation. My daughter was born on 34th week and weighed about 2 kilos. And before the electricity cut off doctors said that she was in a stable condition and she had a chance to live…

But she couldn’t survive.

At about 11 p.m. we had electricity. By that time it was hard for my baby to breath. By midnight her condition went even worse, but her organism was desperately struggling for life. She died at 4 a.m. and at around 11 a.m. she was laid to rest.

We waited for her for so long and we lost her so absurdly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(this is me, writing my blog... I blame any spelling mistakes on my frozen fingers!)
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Tajikistan: Energy Shortages, Extreme Cold Create Crisis Situation by Farangis Najibullah

I came across this article that describes the current situation here better then I can. However I'd like to say I'm attached to the electricity of "important" buildings, so at home my heaters keep my apartment around 13C. My kitchen is not attached, so water freezes, olive oil becomes solid, and snow blows in under the door. But I am very lucky, here is a snapshot of the current situation outside of my apartment-

A crippling shortage of energy, combined with severe weather conditions, have left many people living in cold, dark homes in Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia. Coupled with increasing prices for food and gasoline, it's creating a miserable winter for many.

Official meetings and press conferences in Tajikistan these days reveal the extent of the problem. Freezing temperatures have forced people to wrap themselves in coats and scarves inside their offices and homes.

Temperatures in Tajikistan and elsewhere in Central Asia have dropped below -20 Celsius in some areas. Heavy snowfalls and avalanches have disrupted public transport in many cities and villages. Some bus drivers who are brave enough to go on the icy roads have been charging passengers twice the price for tickets.

At least 80 people have been stranded on a mountainous road in Tajikistan for nearly three weeks after an avalanche wiped out a section of highway linking the capital, Dushanbe, to the country's north. At least three people died in the incident, while the others -- children and women among them -- have been waiting weeks to be rescued, and help has not yet arrived.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Tajik Service via mobile phone, a woman who identifies herself as Mrs. Muhammadieva from the Panjakent district says the stranded passengers have been keeping themselves "barely alive in the middle of nowhere." Muhammadieva says they have been living in a small weather-observation station, where the lone station worker "has given all his food supplies to the trapped passengers."

"No one from the relevant authorities has offered us any help," Muhammadieva says. "[There are now] some 200 people stuck here. There are pregnant women among us. We can't go anywhere. We are grateful to this man who gave us food and shelter. No one from the government or elsewhere is providing us any assistance."

Tajik officials say "the rescue works continue and that helicopters have dropped food and other necessities" to those who are trapped in the mountains.

Households Hit Worst

The situation is difficult for other Tajiks, as well. Amid the bitter cold, the country once again faces a severe shortage of electricity and gas.

Tajikistan's potential to produce electricity is estimated at over 300 billion kilowatt-hours per year -- the greatest hydroelectric capacity in the region -- but it is dependent on its neighbors to provide electricity during the winter. The country imports electricity from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, but it has been reduced to almost nothing due to power shortages in those two countries, a situation that emerges every year.

In many villages, people receive one or two hours of electricity a day. Even in the capital, Dushanbe, electric power is limited and residential areas have no electricity overnight. The only exceptions to the power limits are government offices, hospitals, and industries in some other "strategically important" cites, such as Tursunzoda, which has a large aluminum plant.

"You can't imagine how cold our homes are. We have small children. My youngest daughter is 8 months old, and for the past two days I haven't wanted to take her out of her cradle because our home is so very cold." -- Sabohat, Dushanbe resident The centralized heating systems in Dushanbe and other cities have been almost entirely paralyzed since the early 1990s, and residents in apartment blocks have no alternative means to heat their homes in the absence of energy from the city.

Sabohat, a Dushanbe resident, says people wear several jackets and even overcoats when they go to bed. She says that when the temperature drops too low, all family members gather under one blanket to keep warm.

"You can't imagine how cold our homes are. We have small children," Sabohat says. "My youngest daughter is 8 months old, and for the past two days I haven't wanted to take her out of her cradle because our home is so very cold."

Tougher Times Ahead

The bitter cold confronts already beleaguered Tajiks with another on a long list of problems, as they are also faced with widespread unemployment and miserable wages amid increasing prices for food and gasoline.

A group of women and children in the southern town of Kurgon-teppa gathered at the office of the local government on January 9 to demand that the authorities help them solve the energy problem. The government in Dushanbe has offered no explanation for the electricity shortage, while the state-run media largely ignores the problem.

Tajik officials, however, have announced an electricity price hike of 20 percent that kicked in this month to allow the "government [to] repay its debt to the World Bank."

And there's no relief in sight.

Rashid Gulov is an official at Barqi Tojik, a national company that oversees the production and consumption of electricity. Gulov says that limits on electricity are going to be even more "strict." According to Gulov, the prices for electricity will continue to rise until 2010.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Holiday's in Tajikistan

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*I actually updated my google photos, the albums are new starting with “A Tajik Wedding”

I knew coming to Tajikistan that the holidays would be quite different, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I assumed that because it’s mainly a Muslim country that no one would celebrate Christmas, and I didn’t know if there any celebrations at all for New Years. Well I was pleasantly surprised when I found out they celebrate New Years much like we celebrate Christmas! They decorate trees, put up colourful lights outside, and hang garlands all around. They may have been decorating for New Years, but it sure helped it feel like Christmas to me! And the best part was that the children recieve a visit from Father Frost much like our Santa, so the excitment is all the same!

The first holiday of the month was a holiday I was not prepared for, on Thursday, Dec 20th was Qurban. This is NOT a holiday for vegetarians! It is based on the Bible story of Abraham and his son; when God asked Abraham to kill his son to prove his loyalty to God he tried, but had a very difficult time. God then stopped him and said that he can sacrifice an animal instead, that he proved through trying that he was truly dedicated. So now every year, the Muslims sacrifice animals and bring some meat to family members, friends, and they even give some to the homeless. As a vegetarian I don’t see the need to slaughter all of these animals, how about they bake cookies and give them out instead? I mean, after all I don’t think the animal was agreeing to ‘sacrifice’ its life… it’s just one holiday I will never get! But none the less, it was an official holiday which meant no work. So I invited Umeda over to my place to celebrate a peaceful way – by baking cookies to share with others!

Christmas was the following week, but no one celebrates it here. Even the Russian’s who are Christian celebrate their version of Christmas in January. But that was ok; I made plans to spend it with Philip (American) and Peruiza (Uzbek) at their house. I went over Christmas Eve and we baked a pumpkin pie. Then Christmas day we made an excellent dinner with pureed carrot soup, fresh dill bread, salad, non-stuffed stuffing, mashed potatoes, belenchi, and they roasted a chicken for them. It was a great day; we had an excellent meal, had some wine, and watched Christmas movies! Well, this is Tajikistan so it didn’t go THAT smoothly, there was a 3 hour break between eating and movies because of a power outage… and we lost the gas and had to only use electric appliances to cook half way through. But how often is Christmas relaxing back home? It was kind of nice to have a 3 hour candle light chat to really enjoy each others company.

So New Years quickly approached, we had the MEDA parties on the 28th. They were a huge success! There was a children’s party that we held at the MEDA office, where the children came in costumes to sing, dance, play games, meet Father Frost and get presents. They really enjoyed it, and it was so nice to see so many little ones so happy! They were adorable in their costumes too, and they all held hands and walked around the New Years tree while singing to the music. Some of them even knew the words to a few English Christmas songs, like “Jingle Bells”, when they sang it for Father Frost they won a prize. It was a great experience for me to see how other cultures celebrate their holidays.

The staff party followed later that night; we had it at one of my favorite restaurants “The Rose”. It was a very warm and cozy atmosphere, and we had the place to ourselves so we could celebrate freely. We played some games, there was limbo, and a blindfolded snowman drawing contest, and a dancing contest involving a sheet of newspaper, dancing in couples, and folding it in half when the music stops, they were all tones of fun! In-between games people were dancing, it was nearly impossible to get them off the dance floor. The party started at 5, yet we didn’t sit down and eat until 9! Tajiks know how to have fun J

So on the 31st for the real New Years Eve, I had tried to get a group together for bowling. However Brad had just arrived back from America, and Philip and Peruiza had a little bit of a disaster at their house (due to electricity and water shortages) so the group dwindled down enough to scrap that idea and reschedule that for another day. Instead I stopped by Brad’s in the afternoon and brought cake, and Umeda stopped by with some traditional foods she made for her family (and made extra for us, how nice!). So we had a quick visit, then we went our separate ways for the evening. I went to Philip and Peruiza’s and we once again ate some junk food, watched some movies, and brought in the New Year watching the Tajik President give a speech (to make it even less exciting, we had no idea what he was saying, lol). But we toasted with champaign to bring in the New Year, and hoped the President was promising electricity, gas, and water for the year to come!