Monday, September 28, 2009

The Road to Garm

Sorry there are some technical difficulties; the video didn't upload. I'll try to add it later. Only the first 2 sentences are about the video so continue reading even without it! :-)

This is a video of the road to Garm when I first left from Dushanbe on September 1. I was on this road for about 4 hours. It wasn't all like this because there are some places where the Chinese are paving the roads and it's nice, smooth asphalt. However, MOST of the way is narrow, windy, steep, and scary. Luckily I was in an embassy vehicle and it's an SUV and the driver was driving carefully. When I just returned to Dushanbe a few days ago I DIDN'T have an embassy vehicle and was in a small hatchback car with a colleague and some random woman also going to Dushanbe. On the way back to Dushanbe we got pulled over at a security checkpoint to check documents. They checked mine of course and all I had was a copy of my passport and my visa that expired that day. The security officers wanted to know why my documents were in Tajik or in Russian. Ummmm because passports aren't translated into other langauges dummy! I'm lucky they didn't ask for a bribe and said that they trusted that we were going to Dushanbe to resolve this issue...and we were.

As you can see it's difficult enough just to get to Dushanbe so I won't be leaving without my passport AND my proper documents showing that I'm here legally. The director of my program wanted me to return to Garm yesterday but I refused. I don't want to be in Tajikistan, where corruption is rampid, without my proper documents.

On another note, Tajik man came with me to Dushanbe because he had business to do here and had a wedding to attend. A few weeks ago he told me "You will go to my relatives' wedding with me in Dushanbe and we will stay in my flat." Ummmm We will? I didn't say anything about NOT going with him until we were in the car on the way to Dushanbe. I told him I wouldn't be going to the wedding because I had plans with my friend. He just ignored me. When I arrived to Dushanbe, Bethany, my ELF colleague, met me down the street from her apartment (she had been out shopping). The Tajik man insisted on helping take my luggage to her place. When we arrived at Bethany's we were both trying to get rid of this man and didn't invite him in. He dropped off my stuff and we were like "Okay, bye, thanks for bringing my stuff. We'll see you later." He just stood in the doorway. Then he said "I'll call you and tell you what restaurant the wedding will be in. Maybe it will start at 4 p.m." I said, "I don't think we're gonna go. We have plans with some other people." The man wasn't paying attention and said insisted he would call. So he left. About 40 minutes later he called and said the wedding was at 2 p.m. and they were at the restaurant. He was calling to give me directions. I told him we couldn't go because we were on our way out to meet some people, which was true. He wasn't happy and hung up. Then about 5 hours later he called me and was SHOUTING at me on the phone and said, "I thought about you and your girlfriend while I was at the wedding and wondered WHY? WHY? isn't Miss Sharon here? The music was LOUD, you see, and there was dancing, you see? Why you didn't come to the wedding?" I told him I had had plans. What more could I say. He was so obnoxious and had obviously had a few too many drinks at the wedding. He wasn't happy with me but accepted my answer.

I didn't go to the wedding with him because it's not appropriate for a man to ask a woman to wedding who isn't his wife or his daughter or a girlfriend. I am NONE of those to this man. In Garm and the villages it would be different because the men and women are separated and never see each other anyway so I would be with all women but in Dushanbe the weddings are in a restaurant and you sit with whomever you go with. I talked to so many women and they advised me it wasn't appropriate for me to go and I listened. He keeps calling me wanting me to visit his relatives' house in Dushanbe to see how the Tajiks live in Dushanbe and I just told him that I would be in Tajikistan for a long time and would get to see a wedding and how people live some other time. I'm sure his intentions aren't good so I just avoid him. He will go back to Garm today but I'm staying so I'm glad that I won't have to ride back in a car with him and listen to him. I don't feel like he would do anything to put me into danger, but I feel like he would be an ass and try to make me feel bad about not going to the wedding.

So that is the update for now. I'm waiting for this video to upload...hopefully it will work.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bonding moment

Yesterday the students brought food so that we could celebrate Eid as a class together. It turns out that the time of fasting is not over for everyone though. The Muslims fast for one month, then have Eid, which is supposedly a three day holiday where they eat to their content. However, there are some Muslims who fast for one month, feast on the first day of Eid, and then fast again for 6 days. I found out from one of my students that he is fasting again for 6 days because he cheated during Ramadan and didn't fast for 10 days. Only 4 of the 15 students could join me and the other teacher for a feast because they were all fasting again. It was difficult enough looking at them in class all tired and hungry for the first 20 days I was here. Apparently they weren't so hungry after all! LOL That's alright, they've always been great students, whether they've eaten recently or not!

After the feast where only me, their teacher, and a few students ate there was a TON of food left over. All the students had brought food and they brought enough for 20 people to eat. Well, when only 6 people ate there was so much left. The students went home and left all the food. The teacher kept insisting that I eat some of the food right then and there and then take the rest home. I told him my little refrigerator in the hotel was completely full from Eid on Monday and I didn't have room. Then he kept insisting that I choose what I wanted to take. I took a few things here and there and then he kept insisting that I take the bread. I DON'T WANT ANYMORE BREAD! I can't eat it all and I already gave a bag full of bread to the lady at the hotel because I can only eat it so fast and eat so much. It's literally going to waste giving it to me. I did take home my favorite, mantoo, which looks like a dumpling stuffed with beef and onions. It's delectable! I have to learn how to make's the best!

By the time I left the school it was almost time for cooker lady, who's name is Zebo niso, to bring me dinner. I hadn't eaten for several hours since lunch and Z always brings me soup or something light for dinner. Since it was almost time for dinner, me and the teacher, Sharbot, went to Z's house to ask her to heat up the mantoo for me for dinner. When I was at Z's house she invited me to stay and have dinner with her and her family since it was close to the time anyway. Sharbot, who is a VERY Tajik man (I'll explain that comment some other time), had to leave but asked me who would be the translator. I told him I didn't need one. Soimehow Z and I always manage to communicate somehow, somehow. In fact, I communicate better with her in Tajik than I do with the director of this program and the English teachers in English.

I stayed Z and she invited me into her home for dinner. The homes of the poor in Tajikistan that I've seen are not mud with a thatch roof, not in the town of Garm anyway. The homes I've seen have been smooth concrete and are decorated inside with rugs hanging on the wall and pillows on the floor to lean on while they eat. Z's house is right next to the bozor (bazar) which is the main marketplace. She has a small dirt yard and I believe shares the area with some other families. Her apartment only has 3 rooms. Her living room and eating area is very small and there is another room where Z and her 2 children sleep together. She also has a kitchen for cooking. I haven't looked in there yet because I don't think I want to see where she cooks my food. It's always good, hot, and fresh. That's all I need to know.

I sat with Z and somehow, with my sketchy Tajik, I pieced together that she has 3 children. A daughter who is 21, another daughter who was at dinner with us who is 18, and a son who is 12. He sometimes comes with Z to the hotel to deliver my dinner. I also found out that she is 52 and she definitely looks like she's had a hard life. Her husband is a shithead (my words) who divorced her and left the country. He left her to support herself and her 3 children. Men divorcing their wives and leaving is as common as the sun shining here (and that's all the time). I asked her if she had satellite TV and she said no because she doesn't have enough money. She has to support two children who are still at home and herself. Her 21 year daugther MIGHT be married (I wasn't sure about that) and living with her husband but she doesn't live in the house with Z.

After dinner Z got up and started to do a Tajik dance. She wanted me to get up and dance with her so I did. I was surprised at how well she danced! We were laughing and she was so happy that I danced with her that she gave me a hug that nearly took the breath out of me. I'm 5'8" and she is about 5'2" and I outweigh her by a good 50 pounds, but she is so strong. When she hugged me it was a genuine, heartfelt, squeeze the breath out a person, hug.

So far the dinner with Zebo niso and her family has been the best time I've had in Tajikistan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This is how much food was at every house I visited on Monday. The Muslims are breaking the month long fast and celebrate with lots of sweets and meat salads on this day. All the food was excellent!

This is the cornfield of the student on the far right. These are all of my female students from one group. I visited every one of their houses and they were so excited to have their teacher in their home for the holiday. Each one made a special dish for me that is specifically Tajik. I was able to meet their mothers and talk with them through the students. I thanked their mothers for allowing them to study English in the Micro Access Scholarship program. Their mothers are very proud of their daughters and, even though I don't speak Tajik, their mothers seemed very cool and open minded and wanting their daughters to have a better future.

All of my students baked a cake and when I went to each of their houses they cut the cake for me. I ate so many sweets on Monday I thought I would go into diabetic shock! I ate other foods, too, such as galoobsee (stuffed peppers with meat inside), montoo (steamed dumplings with meat), and of course lots of bread.

This is the food that the families sent home with me. I can't imagine being able to eat ALL of it. The chickens will be well fed this Eid! The lady who cleans my hotel room saw all the bread in a bag and told me to eat it. I would literally have to eat bread morning, noon, and night, and for snacks for about 2 weeks to eat all of this food. I told the woman that I didn't want to get fat. She said that I wouldn't get fat. hmmmmm yeaaaaah okay. Anyway so I took some bread out and gave her the rest of it. She needs it a lot more than I do.

These are the wonderful Tajik women that I spent a lot of time with at the director's house. This was the fifth house I visited and I was so stuffed but I had to eat or they would be offended. Firdavs, the director, was the translator and these women wanted to know why I wasn't married. I told them that American women are interested more in a career first and then a family after that. These women were so impressed and happy that American women think about their future. They said that the future for a Tajik women in the Rasht Valley where they live is only to take care of the family and their husband. They said that the men beat them and demand that they bring them food and it was particularly difficult during Ramadan when their husbands were hungry and angry all the time. They were so thankful that I sat with them and I'll be returning soon so they can teach me how to cook Kolcha and other foods. I'm an American woman who is highly educated but I can't cook! Nevertheless I think a great exchange will happen between us. They will teach me how to cook and I'll teach them how to teach their children to think about the future of Tajikistan.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Yesterday I helped four students from the Micro Access Scholarship program fill out applications for the FLEX program. FLEX stands for Future Leaders Exchange and it gives underprivileged high school kids a chance to compete to study in a high school in the U.S. for one year. There were 30 students who tried out at a local school here in Garm. I went there and there was an American who was testing the students and he filled me in on the process. The students take a short English test, like 16 questions, and then if they do well then they make it to the second round. I'm proud to say that out of the 20 students in the Micro Access Scholarship program that I'm working with who are eligible to take the test (they must be 16 years old or younger) they all showed up...even three girls. That was huge! Any students who are between 14-16 years old can compete, but their English skills must be up to snuff. So out of the students who took the test, 9 made it to the second round of the competition which was an essay. Ray, the representative from FLEX passed four students to round 3. Two were students who graduated from the Micro Access program this year and the other two are current students. The two current students in the English Access program are STRONG and I'm so excited that they might have a chance to go to the U.S. They third round is filling out an application and then submitting it to American Councils. Then it goes to to Washington, D.C. to be reviewed. They won't know until April if they've been chosen or not. That's harsh! Forty-five students from all over Tajikistan are chosen and they try to make it gender equivalent and take students from all over the country. It's an great exchange program and the students will come back with more open minds and different views of the world and also ideas on how to make Tajikistan better. That's the idea anyway.

Let me explain the English Access Micro Scholarship Program here. It's a program to help under privileged children in remote areas of Tajikistan to learn English. They must compete to be in the program. They must register, write an essay in Tajik, and if their essay in Tajik is strong enough, then they are interviewed. The students come from their villages into the town of Garm three days a week after regular public school. They are in public school in the morning and come to the center to learn English in the afternoons. It's completely voluntary. This program is the reason why four students in the Rasht district (Garm and the surrounding villages) are competing to go study in the U.S. It's brilliant!

I learned a lot about the students, too, while helping them fill out the application. It's a 12 page application and they don't understand all the information. I spent 6 hours with them yesterday and will spend more time with them after Eid filling it out. I learned that one (my favorite...I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but he is), whose English name is Fox Mulder, doesn't have a father in his house. His father left Tajikistan and went to Belarus for work twelve years ago and never returned. I wanted to ask if his father sends his family money, but it wasn't the time yesterday. I will certainly find out though. Apparently that's a common thing. Another student said his 19 year old brother went to Russia to work because he can make more money there. Men going to work in Russia is a help and a hindrance here. It's a help because the men Western Union the money here for the families. It's a hindrance because, more often then not, the men go to Russia and stop sending money after awhile and stop calling. They find a new wife there and have a family and leave their families here to fend for themselves. It's a really harsh life here. It leaves a lot of single mothers to care for families or the father's brother who is still in Tajikistan is responsible for taking care of the family. There are so many men leaving and it means that there's more women in the country than men. That means that if men have the funds available to support more than one wife in Tajikistan he can take more...many more. It usually turns out that he will take a mistress (usually several) and the men here like to brag about their mistresses. Women aren't allowed to get divorced here so if her husband has mistresses or if he's beating her, there's no way out for her. I asked my students why they thought that the English Access program is really pushing to have more girls in the program. One male student said "Because when they divorce their husband and live in America then they can make it on their own." That's not the answer I was looking for but I couldn't have imagined a better answer from a young Tajik man.

Monday, September 14, 2009

This is a Chinese road block which is very common in the mountains here. The Chinese are building roads through Tajikistan and I've heard various reasons as to why the Chinese are building the roads. I've heard that they want to open a route to Europe and build roads all the way to Australia (ha...good luck with that one!). I've also heard that they are building these roads from Dushanbe to Garm to Gorno Badakhshan because they are hotspots for the start of a revolution and the government has no way to get tanks to these areas if it's needed. The Tajiks can't afford to build the roads themselves so they took a loan from the Chinese government on the condition that they must use a Chinese company AND repay the loan. The Tajiks are getting a road for the movement of goods and tanks and the Chinese are getting their money twice. It seems to be working for everyone involved.

This is what we do when there is a Chinese op! Look at that view! It looks like it's flat behind me but there is actually a SHEER cliff that drops all the way down to the river. If I took a step back it would be all over.

This is how the Tajiks wait while the Chinese build the road.

This is how the Chinese wait...ummm wait? Shouldn't they be working? Is that why I had to wait 2 hours?

This is a Tajik road block which takes a lot less time to clear.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rasht Valley and Garm, Tajikistan

This is a photo of the Rasht Valley that surrounds Garm. I can't believe how blue the sky was and how clean and cool the air felt. It was definitely a good day or hiking and seeing the place that I'll be calling home for the next few months.

Many families have cows and sheep. These cows are owned by a village in the valley and families take turns herding the cattle into the mountains in the morning and bringing them back to the village in the evening. If a family doesn't want to take its turn to herd the cattle then they must pay another family to do it for them.

This was my guide for my first hike. He is the assistant manager at Mercy Corps and also a sometimes teacher in the program I'm consulting for.

This is a man who was cutting grass so it could be dried and made into hay for the cows and donkeys.

I was told by my guide that taking photos of people is a sign of friendship. This family was eager to have their picture taken. I will eventually print it out and take it to them.

This is a photo of girdacha which is a type of national bread. Look at how huge it is and this is only a piece of bread. If I ate all this bread myself I would be a cow! I bet it would make good pizza though! yum!
This is my back yard at the hotel. People just wander around back there and this happens to be a man going to the hose to get some water for tea. The beard on this man and his flowing robe is a common sight here in Garm.
This is a cot and it's the place for eating. The food is placed in the center and then everyone sits around. I had dinner here at Janice's house. She is another American living in Garm and she's the director of Mercy Corps, the American organization that is helping Tajiks build greenhouses for food sustainability and giving workshops on health and midwifing (if that's a word).

This is something that my cooker lady made for me. It's a national dish called plov. It's something like fried rice and is quite oily. It usually comes with some type of meat, too.

On the road to Garm there were herds of cows in the street. I've never seen anything like it before but it's common in Tajikistan. So the dangers on the road to Garm are rock slides, mud slides, and cows.

Road to Garm, Tajikistan from Dushanbe

This is the road on the way to Garm. Some of it is being paved by the Chinese so it's a nice asphalt road but the Chinese are everywhere paving the road. This is part of the road that was the most treacherous. It is narrow and there is no guard rail. The problem with this part of the road is that there is the danger of rock slides and mud slides. Luckily I was in an SUV but I felt really sorry for the people in small sedans.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

My students today told me that I've been in Tajikistan for 10 days now. When they told me that I said "I HAVE?" It sounds like such a long time but it feels like I've been here for only like 3 days. I landed in Dushanbe in the middle of the night and was carted off to an apartment to stay for 4 days. That was a very busy 4 days with meetings at the embassy, a few parties in there, too, and some running around trying to get myself ready to leave for Garm. I was all hyped up about Garm because of the reactions I was getting from people. I've been in Garm for 5 days but it's strange that it doesn't feel like that long and, I'll say it's definitely a scary looking place on the surface, but I don't feel unsafe. If I didn't have support from the embassy or from an organization then I certainly wouldn't be here on my own.

The students I'm working with make it worth it for me to come to Garm. One group that I worked with today are so enthusiastic and eager to learn anything and everything. There aren't any motivational problems there at all. The students in this program are very special. They go to regular public school in their village in the morning and then voluntarily come to Garm 3 afternoons a week and spend 3 hours each time just to learn English. They aren't required to come. They applied for this scholarship program, were chosen to participate, and they come to class. Today all the boys were in class but only 1 of the 4 girls came to class. The girls come villages the farthest away and also have to help their mothers with housework, cooking, and caring for younger siblings. That is why they will miss more school than the boys. The one girl who came to class today lives in Garm so it's more convenient for her.

I'm really impressed with these students who started with ZERO English and in just 8 months are able to talk with me and aren't shy. Their writing and reading skills aren't bad either. I just can't believe their level after 8 months with a Tajik teacher. They were motivated from the beginning and whoever chose these students to be in this program did a good job of recruiting them. When I ask them to do an activity where I ask who wants to go first I had to change the way I asked because EVERYONE raises their hand to answer questions. I have to ask questions to particular students and I also put their names in hat and choose names instead of asking who wants to go first for speeches and such. It's GREAT!!!!!!

We went around in class a few days ago and gave everyone English names. One wanted to be called Mulder, like Fox Mulder. I don't know where he heard that but he liked it. Another student wants to be called John Rambo, but we just call him John. It's funny how they start to look like their English names after awhile. I told them that needed a Tajik name so they call me Shadoza, which means queen. They have such a good sense of humor. Two of the students are the best of friends and they have dressed alike every day since I've been with them except today. They wear the same striped shirt, pants, socks with dollar signs, and pointy shoes. Today they were dressed differently and I teased them that they forgot to dress alike today.

We talked a lot about families today and I found out whose fathers were killed in the civil war. One student is an only child and his father was a police man in Garm and he was killed in the war. I can tell he doesn't have a father because of his behavior. He is the sweetest kid, about 14 years old, but things he does shows he doesn't have a father at home. The other day he threw a book across the room to his classmate. I gave it back to him and made him stand up and walk the book over to his classmate. He did it with no complaints. He's a good kid (and smart, too) but just needs a little polishing.

I have a second group of students who started at the same time as the first group and they are radically different. The second group that I have are very quiet and not quite so eager to participate. They are much better at reading and writing than they are at speaking. They are good kids and motivated, but not quite so eager. I think they are still trying to figure me out. There are 4 girls in the class and a few of them are quite good at English and not shy about speaking in front of the class, but their writing needs some work.

The teachers here have really done a good job with these students who started from zero. The teachers have only learned English from books and have had little to no contact with native speakers. One teacher who is my shadow, Mr. Sharbot (Peter), is always talking WAY off in the distant past. He'll tell me 10 years ago he did this and in 1985 he did that. Everything he talks about is 10 years ago or more! Yesterday I found a grammar book that he uses as a reference. I opened it up and it smelled like a musty old library book and the pages were yellowed. It was a grammar book copyright 1965 and published in Moscow. He told me that is his reference book. I was like "I'm gonna hook you up with Betty Azar, 2004 and you can shelf that musty old book." He is a very very good teacher, though, and has a the best Enlish level of any of them that I work with and the students like him because he's old and wise. He's my chaperone when I leave class and my shadow when I'm in class. He is so sweet and there isn't a mean bone in his body. In fact, that's what I've found about most of the Tajiks that I've met so far. I don't feel like there are alterior motives when they want to talk to me. They seem genuinely interested and that's something that I haven't felt in other places I've been to. There is one man that I think has alterior motives. I get creepy vibes from him but luckily I only work with him once a week and other people are around. Anyway back to my shadow. Some days I go the center he's in charge of and he's there at like 10 a.m. just sitting around even though he doesn't have to teach until 1 p.m. It's so cute! I think he's bored, especially during Ramadan when he can't eat or really exercise too much, so he just hangs out at the center. I also found out today that he doesn't have a wife and he has 5 children who are in their 20's. I don't know what happened to his wife; I'm guessing she died but I didn't want to ask. I suppose he's in his early 50's but I'm terrible at guessing ages, especially in developing countries like this. He could look 50 and really be like 35! But seriously though he's definitely an older man.

Now that I've been here for almost a week I'm feeling more comfortable. I have lunch and dinner brought to me every day so I don't have to worry about food. I've met with the director and gave a workshop to teachers already, and taught some classes. I have ideas on how I can improve the place and it's going to be great. Now I just need to get to work! :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

No harm in Garm

I left from Dushanbe at 6 a.m. Monday morning to head to Garm. No one could say exactly how much time it would take to get there; the range was anywhere from 4 - 10 hours. That's quite a range! Once I got on the road I understood why it would take some people 10 hours to get there. Most of the way was over bumpy, rocky, sandy, unpaved road and there were lots of twists and turns and in some places it was quite narrow and only wide enough for one car. Luckily I was in an SUV but I saw many small cars trying to traverse these roads; it would have been faster for them to ride a donkey, but much more dangerous of course.

The road to Garm and the scenery through the mountains and valleys was quite beautiful. We were driving past rushing rapids and could see herds of cattle grazing on plateaus. The scenery changed dramatically in a short time as we drove farther into the mountains. The Chinese are building a road for the Tajiks so some parts of the road were really smooth and freshly paved, but that for about 10 minutes of the nearly 4 hours it took me to get to Garm.

I'm staying in the only hotel in town and the views I have the snowy mountains refreshing. Most mornings there are dark clouds covering the mountains all around and it's dropping snow and some rain, too. The surrounding mountains are about 15,000 feet high (or higher).

Garm is a small town of about 50,000 people, but not all those people are in the center of Garm; there are surrounding districts included in this number. It's pretty much town with one main street that's paved and most of the streets that branch out from that are dirt and rocks. There aren't houses like we know in the U.S. but they're not huts either. They are made of rock and wood with tin roofs. Imagine a shed or a barn and that's what the poorer people's houses look like. The director of the program, Firdavs, took us to his house for lunch and his house is not a hut nor a shed. He is fairly wealthy and has a fruit and vegetable garden and many cows.

Firdavs has not let me out of his sight too much since I've arrived. I am either with him, or Mr. Sharbot, another teacher. I am rarely alone in the street, although I could be if I wanted to. Firdavs has brought me fresh pears from his trees and fresh milk from the cows every day. It is Ramadan now so there are no restaurants open at all in this place and the canteen at the hotel is closed also until September 22, when Ramadan ends. Firdavs arranged for a cooker lady (as they say) to bring me lunch and dinner every day. We arranged a menu (it's a surprise what I'll be getting every day) and I pay something ridiculously cheap like $3.00 a day for authentic, traditional meals. Yesterday was my first day of meals and damn were they good! I had peppers stuffed with beef and rice for lunch and a vegetable soup for dinner. Today I will have a traditional dish called plov which is rice and chicken. Now don't get me wrong...I'm only getting a private chef right now because it's Ramadan and I basically don't have any access to food. Thank GOD my JAG dads gave me water and food because I've been snacking on those things often.

I'm glad I had a chance to come to Garm to see this place for myself. There was so much hype about this place and it was all negative. Yes, it is the seat of opposition for the government, but I don't feel unsafe and I have been introduced to enough people here and the town is small enough that word would get around quickly if something happened to me. Really, I'm not worried at all. I also feel safer coming in as a teacher because that's a profession that's non-intimidating and quite harmless. If I were associated with the military then I would probably feel differently.

I have lots of photos but they are really slow to upload. I had to wait 90 seconds just for Facebook to upload. There are also only 4 computers in this town that have internet access and we're really far away from any kind of it's slow. I'll upload photos when I have some time to kill or when I get somewhere with a faster connection.

I already had to be rescued by a Marine

On Sunday, the day before I was leaving for Garm, I went to the ATM to get money out for rent for my hotel in Garm and for living for two months. There is no ATM in Garm so I knew that I would need to take enough cash with me. I also needed to get money out to pay for the rent at the hotel in Dushanbe. I had about $150 in USD and like 100 Tajik Somoni and that wouldn't be enough to pay for much of anything.

My plan was to go to the ATM at the embassy, but the person who was supposed to go with me suggested that I try the Hyatt ATM first. I needed to go to the Hyatt anyway to charge the battery in my laptop. I already burnt my external speakers with a 220 volt charge and when I went to plug in my laptop to the outlet a huge spark flew out of the socket. I figured the Hyatt wouldn't let foreigners burn up their electronics.

I digress. So the ATMs at the Hyatt dispense U.S. dollars and Tajik somoni. I went back and forth between the two ATMs taking out the max allowable for those machines. I managed to get out $500 USD but I needed $1000 and I needed MORE money to pay for the hotel in Dushanbe. The machines all of a sudden said something about insufficient funds and wouldn't dispense any more money in USD or Tajik somoni. I KNEW that the insufficient funds weren't on my end so I thought I had emptied the cash machine. I was about to get frustrated because I had a cell phone but it wouldn't be working for like 3 days (don't ask) and I couldn't make a call. Just then, Robert, one my JAG dads walked into the lobby where I was. I explained to him what I was trying to do and at that point another guy walked up, someone I hadn't met before. He was a young man named Christian and was with my JAG dads. He suggested I call my bank in the U.S. because they might have a limit on the amount of money I can take out every day. I never thought about that. I told him my phone didn't work and he offered to let me use his cell phone. I kept getting a busy signal every time I tried to call the 'outside the U.S.' number. Christian also tried and also tried the 'in the U.S.' number and neither one of them were useful. I asked if I could use the internet somewhere because I could probably get another number for international calls from there. Christian offered to let me use his internet and laptop, too, to get some information. I couldn't find anything online so I asked if I could use his cell phone to call my mom in the U.S. and see if she could call the bank and then send me an e-mail. It was about 6 a.m. on Sunday morning in Florida but the number on the card said it was 24 hour service. I called my mom and it was so good to hear her voice! I told her my situation and she said she would call and send me an e-mail. I didn't hear back from her for about 20 minutes so I called her again (using Christian's phone and who knows how much that cost!) My mom said that the number she called was only if my card was lost or stolen and she would have to call back on Monday morning at 9 a.m. *sigh* I was leaving for Garm on Monday morning at 6 a.m. (not to mention that I'm 9 hours ahead of Florida). I called my Tajik contact to see if we could leave later on Monday or on Tuesday. She said she couldn't make that decision and I would have to call my CAO from the embassy. My CAO said that we had to leave at 6 a.m. So I called my local Tajik contact again and asked her to call someone in Garm to see if I could get a cash advance on my credit card at a bank in Garm. It turns out there are about 10 banks in Garm and cash advances are not possible. Then she told me that I could pay $250 at the beginning of the month and $250 at the end, so I don't need all the cash up front. AND she said Firdavs, the director of my program, goes to Dushanbe twice a month so I can ride with him next time and get some more cash.

I was so gratful that Christian was there and offered to let me use his resources. I'm not a diplomat or an official so I don't get very many perks. I have to go somewhere like the Hyatt and just hope that there are any guests there! Christian let me use his cell phone to call my mom, his hotel phone to make local calls, his internet, and he gave me a English-Tajik dictionary for Garm AND he hooked me up with another shape shifter for my electronics. I wasn't expecting to get so much help and I'm thankful for his generosity.

Crazy and frustrating things like this happen to me whenever I leave the U.S. and I wonder how I get by. Then I remember good people like Chrisitian, Robert, and Steve and thank God that there are still good people out there in this world and that somehow I found them in Tajikistan.

JAG dads

I went to the Hyatt hotel one night because there was a going away party there for one of the security people from the embassy. Dushanbe FINALLY has a Hyatt but don't let that fool you into thinking this is like Europe or something. We don't exactly know why there's a Hyatt here because there's like 200 rooms and about 5 people staying there. I'm certainly not complaining though!

Anyway, during the party I was jet lagged, sleep deprived, had an overload of info in my brain, I was meeting tons of new people (good thing), and adjusting to a new schedule...I really didn't want to be there. I was looking for Bethany, my fellow ELF, and noticed she was talking to two older men. I sat down with them and chatted for awhile. They were both JAGs there to train the Tajik military. I told them I was going to Garm and they were both like "Wooooooow! You're going to Garm?" It wasn't an envious 'wow' it was more like an "OMG what the hell are you going there for?" which is what I seem to be getting from everyone I tell. They were so worried about me even though they've never been to Garm. It was to my advantage though because they told me to wait in the lounge while they went upstairs and got some 'supplies' for me to take to Garm. The Marine Corps JAG gave me a Leatherman, an MRE, some water, and some bottles of shampoo and conditioner. The Army JAG gave me fruit cocktail, packs of crackers, and a huge bag of chocolates to take to my students. I was so grateful for everything they gave me and it was completely unexpected. They were very generous and I'm sure I'll be happy I have those crackers when I get Tajik tummy and need some comfort food.