Monday, August 31, 2009

My New Home

This is me outside my apartment building. It took about 15 min to upload this photo, so it's the only one for now.

Friday, August 28, 2009

First Impressions

I'm finally in Dushanbe! I'm not able to post pictures at the moment, but I plan to post some in the next day. I arrived Thursday morning at 3:30, went to an apartment, and slept for a few hours before going to a brief orientation at the Embassy.

First things first, the food: Last evening my fellow EL Fellow and I went to dinner with some other visitors to Tajikistan. We ate at a traditional Tajik restaurant, and the food was delicious. We ate lamb and beef kebabs (called shashlyk here) served on gigantic skewers. I was really tempted to challenge someone to a duel, but resisted. We also had a soup called lahman, which had beef, noodles and vegetables, topped with cilantro. We also sampled a dumpling filled with meat and had non, the traditional round loaf bread. Notice a trend here? Meat and carbs. There are lots of vegetables and fruits too, but veggies tend to be a little safer if prepared at home. Fortunately, another expat expressed an interest in running together, which will help with all the bread consumption. :)

Local dress: the majority of the women I see walking around wear the traditional Tajik clothing: a long dress with matching pants underneath. See the Flickr link for pictures. It's beautiful. Many of those women wear a scarf. Here in the capital lots of women wear Western clothing (pants, varied length skirts). Men wear Western-style clothing, for the most part--dress pants and polo or button up shirts. Some wear a more traditional round hat or long tunic with flowing pants.

People interactions: I haven't interacted much with locals other than those who work at the Embassy yet, but the people seem very friendly, and Tajiks are known for their great hospitality. They are very patient with my lack of Russian or Tajik when I've exchanged money or bought things at the store. Yesterday I need to use the phone and since I don't have one yet, I decided to go upstairs and knock on a neighbor's apartment door. Just as I was locking my apartment, a young father entered the building with his two daughters. I greeted him in Russian and there my Russian ended. He spoke English, though, so I explained that I need to use the phone, and he dialed the number on his cell. He introduced himself and his daughters and said they could help me if I need anything. I explained that I'm the "new Bruce" since the previous American in my position lived in the same apartment. I may switch apartments to one across the street, but either way I hope to stay in touch with this family. I was so thankful they came along just then!

The setting: I haven't seen the mountains yet because it's been dusty since I arrived. I guess this is unusual; normally the sun is incredibly bright, I've been told. I can't wait to see the mountains! Another American told me they went camping outside the city in a gorgeous area with a river that was bluer than any they had ever seen. I'm hoping I'll get to go camping! The main street in Dushanbe is tree-lined, and there is occasional grass but everything looks pretty dry and lawns don't exist here (I think it's a pretty American thing).

Well, that's all for now. More later.

The opinions and ideas expressed in this blog are not the opinions of the US Department of State or the English Language Fellowship program.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Istanbul and the Black Sea

Since I arrived in Istanbul on Saturday I've been walking around, seeing sites like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (former church, then mosque, now museum), sampling Turkish cuisine, and trying to avoid the people who want me to buy their entire shop when I haven't so much as looked at one carpet. Usually I just walk by without even acknowledging them, and a couple times I tried to pretend I only speak Spanish. Unfortunately for me, some of the shopkeepers speak Spanish too! I haven't bought anything but food yet--my suitcases are too full for anything else! The first picture is the beach near Agva (see below) and the second is me at the top of Galata Tower with Istanbul in the background.

Today I took a day trip with a tour company to the Black Sea, and it was absolutely lovely. We were a small group of 5: 2 Austrialian women and a couple from Spain besides myself. We went to a Sile (pronounced Shilay) and Agva (silent g), small tourist towns about an hour and a half outside Istanbul. We took a boat trip on a small river in Agva and then ate lunch at a riverside restaurant. Our guide, Umut, was excellent, and since we were such a small group we could decide among ourselves if we wanted to stay in one place longer or move on. I enjoyed getting to know the others in the group, and the Spanish couple was amused by my Mexican-accented Spanish. The Austrialian women and I were amused by watching our guide fall asleep repeatedly on the boat trip. (He didn't need to provide commentary for the boat ride).

I noticed a number of unfinished houses along the river and the road. They were concrete structures with several floors but no windows, doors, or other finishing touches, and it looked like noone had been working on them for a while. I asked the guide if the unfinished houses were related to the economic crisis and he said yes. He said that the prices of homes have dropped 40-50%, and that in the past rent prices went up every year to adjust for inflation, but this year he told his landlord he couldn't pay the increased price and the landlord agreed. In the past, a landlord would have found a new tenant in a week, but now they are holding on to tenants if they can. It's interesting and sad to hear about how other countries have been affected by the greed of the mortage fiasco.

In the afternoon, the 5 of us climbed down a steep hill to a small beach in a little cove. We swam, climbed on the rocks, and sat in the sun. I sat and marved at the awesome beauty of God's creation. It was gorgeous and totally relaxing. I want to upload more pictures, but the internet connection is really slow. Tomorrow I'm off on another day trip to see the ruins of Troy. As a literature person, I couldn't pass that one up.

Thanks for reading! I've never been known for my brevity. And the State Department wants English Language Fellow bloggers to note that all ideas and opinions expressed in my blog are my own, and are not the opinions of the State Department. :)

~Love from Istanbul~

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Journey Begins

Here I am in Washington DC, staying blocks from the Capitol for the English Language Fellow Pre-Departure Orientation. I arrived yesterday after packing all my belongings for storage (minus 3 very heavy bags and 2 carry ons), several goodbye parties, and many tears and prayers of blessing. I feel extremely blessed to have friends, family and co-workers like you all. I feel so loved and encouraged--THANK YOU!!

This evening I walked to the Capitol with Sharon, another Fellow headed to Tajikistan. When I arrived yesterday, I found out there are 3 of us going there instead of just 2! Suzanne was just hired last week and she will also be working in Dushanbe, but with a slightly different program. I'm excited to already know another person who will be in the same city! She will be going to Tajikistan in September, giving her only a month to get everything ready. I'm the only one here I've met so far who is leaving directly from orientation (since I opted to spend a few days vacationing in Turkey). Leaving right from orientation is mixed: on the one hand, I'm done with all the preparations others are still in the middle of; on the other, there may be information that could have been helpful in packing, like the teaching materials that should be already available at the Embassy.

The days are full of sessions with lots of information and more acronyms that I can keep track of. It's been helpful to talk with people who are going to the same regions and share information. At times I feel like my brain is going to explode! It's been very interesting to meet this group of people who are going to almost any country you can think of outside Western Europe: the Central Asian "stans," East Timor, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Brazil, South Africa... an amazing group of people--different ages and levels of experience in teaching English. If you want to hang out in a place where people love geography, languages, cultures and teaching, this is it! OK, I'd better get some sleep before another big day tomorrow. If I'm ambitious in the morning, I may get up and go running on the National Mall.