October 22, 2003
UZ GENERAL ADVICE
Following on her packing advice in the post below, the Uz RPCV also has this to say about what to expect as a volunteer in Uzbekistan.
What to expect:
Be prepared to live in a fishbowl, unless you are in the capital, which will take some pressure off of you.
Don’t ever go out at night alone. Go out in groups…and make sure, especially in the winter, that you are not working/teaching past the time when it gets dark.
Get used to long lines (if you’re lucky enough to find a line) and buses, trains, etc. that don’t leave on time. Also, get used to giving and receiving a broad range of times to meet up with friends in different cities. Since buses are not as reliable, anything can happen and delays of a few hours are very common. We were late for a Christmas party by 5 hours and had to push the bus at three different points in the freezing cold and very dense fog. By the way, if you are in the Ferghana Valley, the fog there can be pretty nasty, so keep this in mind when traveling to and from there (ESPECIALLY by air).
Corruption is getting better for the volunteers. I was lucky enough to never have to bribe a conductor (to keep my coupe, seat, etc.), police officer, or checkpoint guard, but it still happens.
Be prepared to feel a LOT of pressure to drink. There are several ways to approach this: never drink in the presence of non-Americans (or people who are not your closest friends). Once you start drinking, you WILL be expected to finish the bottle or keep doing shots well beyond what you are comfortable with. And you can’t stop once you start (trust me!). Unfortunately, there is no middle ground. You may also say that you are allergic (“Men da allergy bor”, in Uzbek, or “U menya allergy yest”, in Russian). You may also play the woman or religious “card” and say that it is not acceptable in your community/church. Some people respect this, but many will keep pressuring you anyway. Be prepared to defend yourself and hold your ground! If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely do not want to drink, but don’t want to be offensive, work on being able to throw the shot behind your back, while pretending that you drank it. This sounds very silly, but I had to do it a few times…eventually they stop noticing, the more vodka that is being drunk. By the way, if anyone offers you “samogan”, this is homemade beer or vodka. DO NOT DRINK it! You can get very very sick….my husband was incredibly sick for two days after doing this. Homemade wine, however, is perfectly fine to drink. You guys will discover your own stuff that you like, but highly recommended is “Baltika”, which is an excellent Russian beer, found almost anywhere.
Don’t even pay a social call without a gift. Candy, a bottle of champagne (if you are prepared to drink a lot, including vodka, which is ALL you will be drinking), flowers, or nan. If you are bringing flowers or nan (bread), make SURE it is an odd number, since even numbers are for sad occasions, such as funerals.
For weddings, birthdays, it is more appropriate to wear colorful clothes. My host families where always disappointed when they saw me in mostly black, even if they were nice clothes.
UZ PACKING ADVICE
A very, VERY nice RPCV who was in Uzbekistan in the mid-1990's, has been giving me a lot of great advice, even in the middle of her graduate school mid-terms. Here's what she has to say about packing:
1. Dark clothes: they show the dirt less…most of us washed our clothes by hand, so dark clothes also help hide the wear and tear on your clothes.
2. Bring two nice outfits—you won’t have to wear them all of the time, but there will be some occasions for which you may want to wear them.
3. Take WARM clothes—even in the capital, it will be normal to have unheated buildings in the winter. If you are going to be teaching, bring gloves with the fingers cut out so that you can write on the chalkboard. In my school, not only did we not have heat, but many of the windows had broken glass (no money to repair them), so the wind came through the classroom as well. Most of the time in the winter, I taught in my long coat and gloves. Also, bring a full length warm coat.
4. DON’T SKIMP ON SHOES!!!! If you make a major investment for your trip, this is the one to make. Bring several pairs of comfortable shoes for winter and summer (and sneakers!). If you are having shoes shipped to you from the States, have ONE of the shoes shipped at a time. Things are getting MUCH better in terms of officials not going through your packages and taking items, BUT it still happens and shoes are a hot commodity due to the quality and expense of shoes there.
5. Bring one or two pairs of shorts for traveling or working out in a gym in the capital (if you have the opportunity). Even though I lived with conservative host families, females wore shorts around the house in the summer. This is completely, if you don’t have a host brother.
6. Swiss Army knife
7. A supply of U.S. stamps. There will be a box in the Peace Corps office for letters to be hand carried by anyone going back to the States. There is someone (either volunteer or staff member) going to the States at least twice a month, and they are usually good about taking the mail with them to mail.
8. Bring lots of pictures (that you don’t mind giving away or getting bent) to show your host families and friends. It’s a GREAT ice breaker, when you first get there and may be dealing with language barriers. Also, they love to see what your life is like in the U.S. This may sound strange, but take/bring pictures of things that you may think are mundane, such as a picture or your car, your house, the grocery store, your high school, college, etc. People love to see all aspects of your life in the U.S. And take pictures from various stages/events in your life, as well. American magazines are also a nice ice breaker (and “gift”) for host siblings who are younger.
9. If you will be teaching (either at camps or training sessions), bring some American chalk. The chalk there is very difficult to use and of poor quality. Perhaps in the capital you will be able to find better chalk, but it’s easier to bring your own (white and colored).
10. If you think it will be relevant to your job, start doing research now on companies/organization that have book donation programs. It is very likely that your school or organization will be interested in receiving English textbooks. If you are working at an English resource center in your spare time, which is quite likely, this will help out greatly with their collections. One that I can think of off the top of my head was Darien Books. I THINK ACTR-ACCELS does this as well.
11. Since you will most likely be organizing a camp of some kind (sports, girls’ leadership, teaching methodology, NGO organizational training, etc.), start thinking now about possible donors (of either material or money) for them. Bring a database of addresses and contact information (snail AND e-mail) with you, so that you can write to them when you start your planning.
12. Other supplies that are available, but of poor quality and may be difficult to find are Scotch tape, packaging tape, DUCT tape—very very impt for repairing just about anything!, tons of film, batteries—best to bring rechargeable if possible, you feel less guilty and there is no proper way to throw them out there, so you either bring back used batteries or use the rechargeable kind, and general office supplies.
13. Of course, bring a camera. If you have a digital, bring it, but also bring a less expensive one so that when you are in more public places, you don’t draw even more attention to yourself.
14. The Lonely Planet guidebook—this was invaluable when I was traveling around the country to visit friends.
15. Peace corps will provide you with dictionaries, but if you are looking for a very good Russian dictionary (should you choose to learn both languages), I suggest the Kenneth Katzner one. It’s a large red dictionary in paperback and is the best source I have found for Russian. It’s about $30 and is available commercially.
16. Bring plenty of little gifts—lotions, perfumes, nice gloves/scarves make great gifts for women. For men (host fathers, brothers, etc.), aftershave, razors (sounds strange, I know), blank tape cassettes (the quality of tapes there is not so good), and nice, thick dress socks are good. For children, balloons, pencils, stickers, markers, coloring books, picture books are great as small gifts. Also, a GREAT gift for when you arrive would be a nice coffee table book from the U.S. Either a book on the city in which you live/were born in or the (I think it’s either TIME or National Geographic) “Day in the Life of the United States” coffee table book, which is GREAT to show them the range and diversity of the U.S. and the family dynamics here. Host mothers LOVED to receive cookware or tools for the kitchen (like vegetable peelers, nice bowls). Of course, they have cookware there, but for smaller things, they enjoy using the higher quality stuff.
17. Bring a cookbook for yourself. Peace Corps also has a great one that the Uzbekistan PCVs put together for recipes specifically designed seasonally (i.e. what is in the bazaars). Also, bring vegetable peelers for yourself, if and when you move out to be on your own. They are MUCH safer and easier than what is there. Then again, I learned (after many cuts) to just use a knife for peeling, which you may prefer. Oh! Also bring your favorite spices—cinnamon, basil, oregano are particularly difficult to find. Also, bring a salt/pepper and vegetable spices mix…the salt they have there usually comes in a lump and you have to dissolve, which creates large chunks. It’s a bit frustrating at first. If you plan to do any baking, corn syrup or vanilla extract are essential!
18. Bring a small and larger flashlight, such as a maglite. This absolutely necessary when you live with a host family in a village or visit friends/participate in camps. You will need it for using the pit toilet outside in the evenings, in case the power goes off, which is quite often, etc. Also, there is poor lighting (except in the capital) in general at night, so if you are out at night with friends, it can be very useful.
19. Bring the world almanac as a reference book or as a gift to English-speaking friends. It is particular useful, if you end up teaching, for random facts.
20. Bring your favorite music—don’t skimp on this either, if you enjoy music. You will most certainly get into the music there and enjoy it, but it’s nice to bring some stuff from home.
21. Bring an overnight backpack/bag, since you’ll be visiting friends a lot and taking many many small trips during your time there.
22. Bring plenty of pads/tampons…they are expensive there and may not be of the same brand/style that you are used to Peace Corps supplies some, but they are usually the very bulky kind, so bring what you are used to.
23. Bring a head scarf. You will be able to find plenty there, but just in case you need one when you first arrive, it’s good to have one. In general, you will not have to wear one, but when you visit friends in villages, or go to the old part of Tashkent (to the bazaar, to visit friends), you should wear one.
24. Bring mostly long skirts and pants and very few (if any) sleeveless shirts. Even in the summer, I ran in jogging pants. Even though you may be in the capital or a larger city, you will be in enough of a fishbowl, so it’s better to dress as modestly as possible.
25. Bring plenty of toiletries. They are of course available in Tashkent and elsewhere, but will be expensive on your PC salary.
26. If you wear contacts, it’s best to go with glasses for the two years. It’s annoying, but contact solution is difficult to find there. Also, it’s quite dry and dusty, so they will get irritated. Bring two pairs of back ups just in case your original pair breaks.
27. Bring some of your favorite food for when you first get there or ship it to yourself before you leave.