Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

Can it really be called reverse culture shock if I'm in a foriegn country and shocked by the western civilized world? I think so.

Since I've been in Tajikistan I've learned to do a lot and do without a lot. I learned to cook, albeit not very well, and not gourmet dishes, but I have to cook for myself since there aren't exactly restaurants I can comfortably sit in alone and there probably is take out here but I'd probably have to bring my own bowl. Anyway, during the winter things weren't so easy. I learned what rutabagas are and have cooked some and what beets look like before they're jarred and sent to my favorite Publix supermarket. I've learned how to make cowboy coffee, too, and, honestly, it's BETTER than brewed coffee or french pressed coffee. I've learned how to bake without brown sugar and have things turn out just as well as if I'd used brown sugar. I haven't used measuring cups and I can't say that I've looked for any, but I certainly haven't seen any either. The supermarkets here don't exactly have housewares in them. A few do, but most don't. I mean, the cash register of a supermarket is a man or woman with a calculator and the money is stored in a drawer that isn't organized by bills and the coins are in a tupperware-ish container on the counter. After living in these conditions for 6 months (and worse in Gharm, there weren't even calculators!!) I've become adjusted to the simple life and doing without.

Last weekend another ELF from Dushanbe visited me and brought measuring cups for me. I had written something on FB about making making peanut butter cookies without measuring the ingredients and they turned out realy well. Another American friend of ours saw that, felt sorry for me, and sent measuring cups with the ELF. When I got them I was like "Wow! I forgot these existed!!" I had been measuring by just looking in the bowl and judging whether to add more sugar, another egg, more flour, etc. I wasn't complaining about not using measuring cups but when I received them I was in shock. My ELF friend and I baked cookies over the weekend and it was time to put the measuring cups to use. I actually found myself not being able to use them. I've been using random other items in my kitchen to measure everything and I wasn't sure if it would be the same. I'll have to learn to use measuring cups again and that's a SHOCK to me! And it doesn't stop there.

Today my landlady brought me a washing machine. I've been in Tajikistan since August 27, 2009 and have been hand washing my clothes this entire time. I've been doing it for so long that I actually don't always mind it. I was excited and disappointed at the same time that I had a washing machine. Sometimes it's a pain to hand wash my clothes, but it's a chance for me to zone out, listen to music, and feel productive. Then again, I'm tired all the time and already have to cook more than I've ever had to cook in my life, even if I want a snack I need to cook, and I work a lot, and do a lot of work outside of work, so taking the washing off my hands will make my life easier. It's not exactly a fully automatic washing machine though. I still have to put buckets of hot water in if I want hot water, then I put the clothes into the spinner, then I have put them back into the other bin to rinse and then back into the other bin to spin again, and them for some reason my landlady said I have to rinse AGAIN and then put them back into the spinner. It makes me tired just thinking about all the moving and transferring and watching and waiting. For the amount of attention I have to give the washing machine I might as well be burning some calories hand washing the clothes! One downside is that now I can see my landlady wanting to come over and wash her clothes! She already comes over to wash her hair when she doesn't have water in her apartment and today she told me that she ate some of my bread and butter. What am I going to do when I go back to America and have everything done for me by machines and I don't have to worry about a Russian lady coming and washing her hair in my bathroom and eating my food? The answer is: RELAX!!!! and re-find my Americanness. :-)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jack Frost go away!!!

So this blog concept is an interesting one. It seems that some people only want to hear good, happy, adventurous, fun things about a place. As you can see, I haven't blogged for awhile because I've been struggling with this concept. I don't have happy, fun, adventurous stories to tell...I live in Tajikistan. It's not that my life is so terrible here and the Tajik people in general are quite nice and hospitable. This particular blog post might sound as if I'm complaining about the place but I'm not complaining, I'm merely blogging about the reality of the place where I happen to be working. I'm not complaining about the people I'm complaining about the COLD!!!!! It's so bloomin' bloody freaking cold in Khujand (-3 C, about 22 F for a high) that I honestly don't know how the Tajiks survive without heating.

This morning I was wrapped up in my comforter sleeping next to the heater like a cat next to a fire and was warm and cozy. I got a text from a friend who wanted to go check out the Yakshanbe market and the Chinese market. Those are just outdoor markets in which one can buy clothes, shoes, housewares, food, and other bits a bobs. I call it the shopping mall because it's the closest thing they have to a mall although it's not a shopping mall because it's all outdoors. Today I agreed to go with my friend because I wanted to find a belt, but I forget that these markets are outdoors. It's not as if I'm going inside a nice shopping mall that's heated and protected from the wind. I stepped into the Chinese market which is like a circus tent with stalls and within 5 minutes I couldn't feel my hands or feet. I happened to buy a pair of shoes from a vendor and when I was trying to take my money out of my change purse and my hands were bright red and I could almost hear them cracking like they were frozen. (I'm actually laughing at that now). Pam and I crossed the street to go to a different market and we wanted tea badly to get something warm in our stomachs. We found a tea house and do you think it was indoors? Of course not. Pam commented that she felt like we were at an agricultural fair. No, we were at my so-called mall. We sat under a tent at a table and ordered tea. Pam ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I brought her and I ate a spinach filled samboosa I had gotten earlier in the day. Pam and I had a conversation about the amount of fat the Tajiks eat and now we know why they eat so much fat; It's the only way to stay warm. They don't seem to get fatter in the winter and I've found myself eating more food than usual, too, but gaining any weight. They must burn it all off keeping warm. They eat a lot of bread and cook with copious amounts of oil in their dishes and eat the butt fat off the sheep. My stomach turns when I think about eating those things but it's all beginning to make sense to me now. I stay away from the fat and exercise regularly and want to lose fat and gain muscle but I see that muscle won't keep me warm when it's literally 22 degrees (F) outside and I'm trying to function. I honestly don't know how the vendors do it. I suppose if it's their only source of income and working means standing in the freezing cold then it has to be done.

Pretty much there are no warm places to go outside my apartment besides a hotel that has a restaurant attached to it. It's a pricey hotel (by Tajik standards) and the people who stay there are Russians or wealthy Tajiks. The hotel and the restaurant are heated so Pam and I usually opt to go there to eat because then we take off our "cold weather gear" and sit comfortably.

Even my university isn't heated and in the middle of my lesson I'll find my hands hurting from the cold and then I can't feel my toes. I'm standing and moving around and I can only imagine just how cold my students are. I try to get them up and moving with activities but that's not always enough. They've had to deal with this all their lives but that doesn't mean they like it.

Spring will hopefully be here in another few weeks. It can't come fast enough!!!

"The ideas, opinions, and complaints expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the views or ideas of the United States Department of State nor the English Language Fellow Program."