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    12.18.2006 ||>   'Tis the season to be militant and conformist

    One of my friends from the Peace Corps is living in the US now after getting married to an American and obtaining her visa. Yesterday we finally got to talk after playing phone tag for about 100 years. The phone call had so many facets to it that it could be about 5 blog entries, but the first one was about the holiday season.

    It is damn hard to find non-Christian holiday cards. Much more difficult than last year. Bashi is Muslim, so when she goes to find cards to send to her family for New Year's, it's especially difficult. I explained to her about last year and Bill O'Reilly's War on Christmas fakery, and managed to remember it as even more ridiculous in the telling. How did people get sucked into that?

    I made it my mission this year to find the most secular of cards. I believe I have only bought 3 cards that even have the word "Christmas" in them. But I have also been to the third largest mall in America to do so. How many other people have that option?

    I think some of it comes from the idea that non-Christians are somehow "offended" when Christians wish them a Merry Christmas or sing carols around them, or do any of that secular stuff that's dressed up as religion. I don't think any of us are, but I do find it disorienting, like someone is wishing me a Happy Father's Day in February. I'm never going to be a father, and it's not the day of the holiday, so why?

    Something that crystallized it for me was this short clip of Good Morning America that I saw on Friday. Glenn Beck was on (which is why I only watched for a second), extolling his usual idiocies and saying that if someone non-Christian is wished a Merry Christmas, the proper response is "thank you." Well, of course, I always say thank you too, but with the same feeling that a Christian would have being wished a happy Ramadan. Or being wished a happy birthday in August. A bit perplexed, yes, but with the sentiment that the person was only saying it to be nice.

    So, I'm not offended. Can I please have my nice, secular selection back?

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 11:49:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    11.20.2006 ||>   An Unlikely Proposal

    Hi S.! How're you doing? I'm sorry about the mail before the last mail! One American comrade had sent it to me and I decided to send it to you! Do you remember you told me once if I found the way I could help me to move to the USA you would? Well! I tried to find many ways but found the only one which should be the best and unmistaken! Probably it sounds crazy but I'm not insane! This is the only way you are able to help me! The way is about the marriage. What if we get married? I'll be allowed to go to the USA get VISA and work! I know it sounds for you like nonsence but this is what you can do for me! Hope you understand me correctly!
    Good Luck!
    Uh... thanks, but no thanks. Although it is flattering. The last marriage proposal I got was in the 4th grade by a boy named Jason, who offered to give me a Nintendo if I would marry him.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 1:27:00 PM || Site Feed ||

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    1.24.2006 ||>   Uzbeksistan Has More than Torture to Worry About

    From the RFE/RL today:
    Dozens of women recently took to the freezing streets in eastern Uzbekistan in the first public demonstration in Andijon since security forces fired on protesters eight months ago. In May, Andijon's residents and the international community were shocked when authorities used automatic weapons to disperse the crowd. Like in May, desperate residents are facing crushing social and economic hardship. But this time, protesters were seeking nothing more than regular gas and electricity supplies. And fear of official reprisal kept their demonstrations limited -- and exclusively female.
    This story is actually a couple of days old, but goes to illustrate just how bad things are in Central Asia.

    I was part of the group that the Peace Corps sent back to Uzbekistan after the evacuation in October of 2001.  I lived in the capital and for the most part, I lived okay.  I had a loving host family that let me eat some very good food, and I acquired an apartment that had both hot and cold water for about 48 weeks out of the year.

    Most volunteers there weren't as lucky, and the local people there (of all nationalities) had it either much better or much, much worse.  The people that had it the hardest were those living in the far east and far west of the country.  In the east lies the Ferghana Valley, a supposed "hotbed of terrrorism." In the far west is Karalkalpakstan, the scene of one of the most horrible environmental disasters in the world.

    I have been almost everywhere in this country and I have seen the way people live.  Villages without potable water for years, children forcibly conscripted year after year to pick cotton by hand, no gas in the winter and no water in the summer. There are rampant diseases that are simple to fix if the government weren't negligent. Yes, there is torture there too. But which problems should we try to fix first? And how? They are such a hard questions to answer.

    When I saw that people were again trying to make a difference there, it was heartening.  The government of Uzbekistan took out many of the non-governmental oranizations sent to help. They took out the Peace Corps and the American base there.  Everyday, the government tries to take the hope from a people who are known most for their hospitality and generosity.

    But still, they fight for their families. They will take to the streets not a year after a massacre, despite being disregarded.

    They fight to come in from the cold.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 8:27:00 PM || Site Feed ||

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    2.20.2005 ||>   Funny* Uzbekistan Jokes II

    An Uzbek and an American were talking one day when the topic of free speech came up. The American said, "In the US we are so free that we can go right up to the White House and protest George Bush."

    The Uzbek said, "We are just as free here. We also can go right up to the presidental mansion and protest George Bush."

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 10:31:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    2.19.2005 ||>   Funny* Uzbekistan Jokes I

    (I'm actually not sure if these are only funny to me or not)

    Q. When can you get strawberries in Uzbekistan?
    A. In May.

    Q. When can you get strawberries in the USA?
    A. Whenever the supermarket is open.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 1:14:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    12.15.2004 ||>  

    Tomorrow I am doing a presentation about Uzbekistan at my mom's work. After a volunteer ends his or her service, the Peace Corps likes it if that returned volunteer does talks or conferences and generally educates other Americans about the country they lived in. Since, for the most part, my experience was positive, I decided to do a positive talk about what makes Uzbekistan a cool place.

    However, it not always is. For about a year, many of us Peace Corps volunteers followed the story of Ruslan Sharipov, a journalist who was imprisoned on trumped up charges for political reasons. Now he's escaped Uzbekistan and has asylum in the US, and lives in Sacramento. He did a report on Uzbek prisons that made me really reflect on the place I lived. Well, I suppose there's always a dark side to wherever you go, but god, how I want a regime change there.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 5:45:00 PM || Site Feed ||

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    11.27.2004 ||>  

    Everywhere I go, people are talking to me about culture shock. My family took me out to eat and then out shopping and made comments like, "We're giving her low doses of culture shock." In Newsweek I read a couple of articles every once in awhile about pop culture (movies, video games, technology) and how it's a shock. Even better, I hear from some people about how the US has no culture, that we are everyone else's culture and so have none of our own.

    All of this is untrue. What we all see on the surface: technology, fast-paced lifestyles, movies and music, etc has little to do with actual American culture and is not why people go into culture shock.

    Say you and your friend are playing a card game together, but your friend keeps making the wrong moves, assigning points in the wrong way and putting the wrong cards in the wrong stack. You get more and more frustrated and then angry at your friend because it's obvious that he's cheating terribly. At the same time, you notice that he is also getting more and more frustrated and angry at you.
    But what gives him the right to be angry at you? After all, these are the rules you have played by your entire life, and it's obvious that how he is playing is not the right way. Then it dawns on you: he's thinking the exact same thing. Now you have two choices. You can either adapt to his rules, teach him about your own and accept his so that there can be mutual respect, or reject him as crazy or stupid and get the hell out of dodge.

    Americans have millions of invisible rules that govern how they communicate with others, how they judge situations and in general live their lives. These rules are never noticed as rules, but they definitely exist and they are common across the board in the US. Some of them make good sense and some of them are crazy and make no sense. The part that makes foreigners and people like me (who aren't really part of just one culture) go into shock is trying to learn (or remember) the new rules and still maintain a semblance of ourselves. That part sucks.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 1:03:00 PM || Site Feed ||

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    10.18.2004 ||>  

    So I visited my old site this weekend for the last time. It was weird because I remember hating it when I lived there, but I realized that I'm going to miss it too. I gave my old host family my battery recharger and the American batteries that I won't be able to take with me. It was hard for them to believe that I couldn't keep it all. It was harder for me to leave them.

    As I've been trying to divest myself of all my extraneous things, it seems like everyone wants to give me a last present to take back home. One of my older teachers gave me two towels because... what if they don't have towels in America? It's a nice turnaround from when I was coming here and people were giving me stuff because what if there's weren't books/hairdryers/junk food in Uzbekistan?
    I'm keeping one of the towels. It's vintage.

    All the Peace Corps guys were reminded recently to make sure they were registered for Selective Service. That's the agency that handles the draft. Interesting how all the government agencies are saying one thing and the President another.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 7:53:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    10.11.2004 ||>  

    In the 1960s, Tashkent suffered an earthquake so large that it decimated all but a small part of the entire city. For about three years, people lived in green tents while workers from all over the Soviet Union came to help rebuild. They expanded the city, rebuilt all the infrastructure and added a subway system.

    Fast forward to 2004. An American Peace Corps volunteer is living in an apartment built by Moscow architects and works in a school built in the expansion that occurred after the earthquake. As she walks around her region and looks out her window everyday she sees the trees that were planted in the 1960s to make Tashkent look lush and inviting. Then, one not so special day, she looks out her window to see a man in a cherry picker with a chainsaw. She watches, horrified, as this evil man proceeds to chop down almost every one of the beautiful trees surrounding her apartment, until the only thing left to see is the awful Soviet architecture of the building across the way.

    But that's not all! Not only did they kill all the inviting trees, but they left them where they lay like the scattered corpses after a massacre. Then they stacked the scattered parts alongside the apartment building, blocking off the exits. Has it been mentioned that the favorite pastime of children here is to play with matches? Apparently, only the American is aware of the term 'fire hazard'.

    It's not as if there are so many beautiful things about Tashkent. There's the metro, the trees and the mosaics dotting the sides of apartment buildings. Wherever a person can find a scrap of beauty here, they treasure it. Even a clean piece of money can mesmerize. So it's like a kick in the gut when bureaucrats destroy what little we can glean from the landscape. My time left will not be the same.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 4:54:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    9.29.2004 ||>  

    Ok, so after looking at three Internet cafes in the area that I live, I have come to the conclusion that people here don't get that you have to actually have the Internet to call yourself an Internet cafe. If you don't have the Internet, then you are a "game club" or "computer club" but not an "Internet club." So there.

    So I have 33 days left until I quit Uzbekistan and go on the last vacation before returning to America. My students have been handling this in different ways. Some have been giving me the Big Attitude either because they know that I am leaving and won't be able to do too much about it or just because they're teenagers and that's how teenagers handle new situations. Other students are being really sweet and playing on my heart-strings. My 10th grade is surprisingly cool, asking me for my address when I get back to the US so they can write me letters and such. It's one of those moments that makes me all gooey and think, "awww, maybe I'll just give them all As and then they'll always miss me." One of my 11th grade classes on the other hand makes me want to leave and pronto. I teach the equivalent of the honors 11th grade and they definitely think they are the best too. The other 11th grades are cool, but the "smart" class makes me want to bang my head against a wall ala Ally McBeal. It's a good thing kids aren't aware of the power they have to make or break a parent or teacher's day. The exploitation would be terrible.

    After classes, the teachers and I talked about getting ready for Teacher's Day, which is on the first and a huge holiday here. Apparently, it was decided that all the departments have to do some sort of "routine" for the director. One of the teachers offered to do a strip routine. While we all saw the merit, it was voted down as we were all worried about our jobs. So we're doing a poster instead. Another good thing that students aren't aware of: that we're all as crazy as they are, we just hide it better.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 5:03:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    9.02.2004 ||>  

    At the conference I was at a while ago, I was having a little difficulty and just overall cranky. One of the people I came to this country with, a guy that I think is okay, said something kind of jerky to me. I had a feeling he was being jokingly insensitive, so I called him a name that was also insensitive, but along the same vein of lightness. Then he called me the same name back. We knew we were both joking and were smirking at each other, but what I found weird was that no one else knew. People at the table I was sitting at rose to his defense, everyone looked uncomfortable.

    I talked about to a good friend of mine later who was there. She had also half believed it and said that people took it seriously because they think I am serious when I say things. That because they take what I say at face value, some volunteers think I'm a little unbalanced. At the same time, I have been referred to as the Queen of Sarcasm by other volunteers, which is a title that I think fits much better than "unbalanced" as I have never considered myself a particularly serious individual, but definitely a sarcastic one. As it appears, this came as a bit of a shock, but it got me to thinking about the labels we put on people.

    I came to Uzbekistan with the people at that conference. We have all known each other for two years, gone to the same parties, worked on the same projects and talked to each other about everything. We're not all close and some of us really dislike others, but despite all the sniping and annoyance, the lust and sometimes love, we are pretty comfortable with each other as people we can count on. And yet, I think we still fix our own personalities on each other, not seeing the others for who they are. The crazier volunteers think we're all nuts. The serious ones take everything any of us says to heart. Those of us that live in a world where everything is a joke, think the rest are joking. How can we be so blind to not see each other after all this time? How can we ever stop and break free?

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 5:48:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    8.19.2004 ||>  

    Yesterday, I realized that no matter how detached I can be at times, cooly handling a situation (such as police extortion) that would have the average American reaching for a tire iron, I can still flip out on an almost apocalyptic scale.

    After a bout of Insomnia, I fell asleep, waking to find my landlady calling me, telling me she wants to put furniture in my apartment. She told me about this two months ago, and despite not being happy with more furniture in my already fully-furnished, two-room apartment, I had no choice so I just accepted. Her friend went to Russia, leaving it all to her, what else was she supposed to do? Put it in her apartment? No, no, no! Put it into my apartment, of course! Besides, it was only going to be one or two pieces... right?

    She came with a moving van full of furniture. I almost had a stroke from the stress induced by not killing her.

    Obviously, the situation collapsed from there. The cool thing about Russians is that they don't take yelling badly. In fact, two people can have a perfectly civil conversation, even agree with each other, and to the non-Russian speaker appear ready to come to blows. So, I exercised my culturally-approved right to yell at the madwoman. It went something like:

    Landlady (surprised): It'll be alright!
    Me (tearily): No, it'll be a nightmare! There's already too much. I no longer live in an apartment, but a furniture store! How can I live in a furniture store?!
    L (hedging): We'll take some furniture out tomorrow...
    M (who has heard that one a hundred times): I can't live like this! There won't be any space! Good God!
    L (motioning me to relax): Calm down my good girl, Everything will be fine!
    M (refusing to relax): You don't want to live like this, how could I?!

    And so on. It was quite a scene. I finally had a guy from Peace Corps come and translate for me because It was difficult to communicate and I wasn't understanding everything she was trying to say. I, of course, wasn't getting too much across either but my obvious rage. Today we settled everything. She didn't move nearly the amount of furniture she promised to, just dumped what would make me go over the edge at my neighbors. I'm baking a cake for the neighbors later in gratitude. They know how she steamrolls people.

    In a way, it's a good thing. Right now, I'm looking forward to America, where it's actually illegal for a landlord to do this.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 11:01:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    8.12.2004 ||>  

    The quarterly volunteer newspaper came out and in it was a rather interesting article about being back in the western world. The author wrote about visiting Italy and simply noticing all the appalling behavior that it took us months to get in the habit of over here. Here, the manners are different, and if we didn't lose a few that Mom taught us, we wouldn't have gotten very far. Back home, it's going to be an uphill battle to remember them. After reading her article, which shows just a few breaches, I could definitely add more to the list, from what I noticed and what Kelly pointed out to me in Prague.

    I her article, Amie noticed her atrocious table manners, which I share. I also hover over my plate now, shoveling it all in with a spoon like there will never be food again. Not to mention that sharing plates not only does not bother me, but I expect to eat from the same plate as others. I am also not as concerned about washing the dishes with soap as I once was. Given a choice, I'll do it, but I don't feel grossed out if someone just uses hot water. However, I will be highly offended if someone sets a drink in front of me instead of handing it to me or flips the bread upside down. Were they raised in a barn?

    The second biggie was public transportation. In Uzbekistan, if you don't start pushing old ladies out of your way, you might as well walk because otherwise you'll never get anywhere. People are vicious (especially the old ones) and will use anything it takes to get in a bus, shuttle or metro car first. It took me two and a half months to start pushing people out of my way and unfortunately now, I'm a pro. In Prague, where people tend to wait in line, say please and thank you, etc., I was out of control. I didn't have to worry about being the Ugly American, because I was the Ugly Russian.

    There are some manners that I think are better than the ones in America. Taking off your shoes before entering a house seems much more civilized to me. Since 70% of household dirt is tracked in from outside, it's also a cleaner habit. In addition, Uzbekistan could teach Americans a thing or two about being hospitable. I've never felt more welcome in anyone's house than I have here. Of course, the rub is that no one in America would want to invite me over anyway until I clean up my act a bit in other areas.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 5:21:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    8.09.2004 ||>  

    In the two years I've been here, I've read four real-life adventure books about average people who have done amazing, cool things. These books weren't "I was in a car accident and my dog saved me" type stories because that's not an adventure anyone has a choice in. These people chose to do something outrageous for some time. One woman worked in Antarctica for three months, another worked minimum-wage jobs to test the idea of a "living wage" out. The men hitchiked: one across America without money and one around Ireland with a fridge.

    These stories are very inspiring. Before I came into the Peace Corps, and in the first few weeks I lived in Uzbekistan, I used to think I would be on this great adventure. Now it just seems like the same old thing every day. In the past, I have occasionally felt myself drowning in ennui. I wish that I could do something so exciting and unique. But then, could adventure be in the eye of the beholder? In the middle of their travels, didn't these people also think time and time again, "Why am I doing this?!?" I know I do. In that case, what does this say for people in general? If even adventurers don't feel like what they're doing is compelling while they're doing it, could everyone be on an adventure and just not know it?

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 6:05:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    8.05.2004 ||>  

    So after the bombings, a friend and I decided to get on out of Tashkent and so we took a 12 hour drive to the city of Urgench. Along the way, we were casually molested by sketchy Uzbek men until, waking up to find a hand hovering near my breast, my friend slapped his hand, called him an animal and told him that he should be ashamed of himself. The minibus pulled over, everybody sort of looked at us and when the guy was properly embarassed, we continued on.

    Urgench is a very nice-looking city. Everything looks clean, the roads aren't very bad and the taxis are cheap. We even managed to stay at a decent hotel for a good price. The hotel didn't have a third floor, which we found rather odd, but we aren't picky at this point, so it was just an interesting aside. Urgench doesn't have much to offer it in a cultural sense except that it is a convenient 30 minute drive from the city of Khiva, which was the last famous city on my list of Silk Road cities to see. For a dollar, you can climb a minaret, unless of course, you are afraid of heights like me and chicken out. I did sit on a camel though, so my ego was soothed a little bit.

    The other cool thing about Khiva was that it's not as touristy as Samarkand or Bukhara. People were laid back and seemed to like bargaining with us in Uzbek or even Russian. At the other two cities, sellers can be really awful about insisting on speaking in English even when their English is unintelligable. In Tashkent, if someone starts bargaining in English or prices in dollars, I just walk away. Everything was pretty cheap there too. We ran into these cute pre-adolescent girls who were pushy as hell and hilarious. They kept undercutting each other and giving us pendants as "presents" so we would buy the expensive stuff. I think they should found a car dealership together. They're naturals.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 6:00:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    8.01.2004 ||>  

    So, believe it or not, the embassy ruled that the bombings were a one-time thing and they won't happen again. Then, today, they took us off standfast and we are allowed to travel and do what we want within reason. I'm a little surprised actually, at the suddenness with which the embassy has decided we can just troll around. I know they're probably not being flippant, but it's a little disconcerting that they're just yelling an all-clear when I thought they'd be more cautious.

    There are repercussions of course. The first being that three of my friends are leaving the Peace Corps, which is a bit sad. Then there's talk of an evacuation: will it happen? when could it happen? I think if there is one, it will be after I am back in the States. I just don't think it will happen to me. Besides, I still feel safer here than in America. Hell, there are gangs of kids roaming the streets shooting people just so that they can feel like they belong. How is that any safer than here? At least here I'm protected and cared for just because I'm an American. In America, I'm not special enough to be protected like that.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 1:22:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    7.31.2004 ||>  

    So... more bombs in Tashkent and I'm still ok. Peace Corps is protecting us big time.

    Oh, and CNN lied about the last bombings and I see they're still lying now. If the news says these bombings are from al-Qaeda or anything else that seems nefarious, please don't buy it. The last time people said it, rumors were flying and nothing was really true. I'll give out information when I get it. Just on the short: Prosocutor's Office, American Embassy and Israeli Embassy bombed. I'm not in danger. CNN lie.

    Today at 4 my time (and I suppose Pacific time too) the Ambassador is meeting with all the representatives of American organizations in the country to decide what to do. I'm on what's called "standfast" which means I will not be able to leave my apartment until they decide what to do. Which kind of sucks, but I'd rather be stuck and safe.

    I'll give more information when they let me out of my apartment.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 3:56:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    7.28.2004 ||>  

     So I haven't written in a week or so and that's because I have been to two conferences back to back.  But it's the one I'm at now that's interesting, because it's the one about me going home.

    So at month 24 of Peace Corps service, we have a "Close of Service" conference that we all call "COS" because we work for the government and thus would be uncomfortable not using an acronym.  It is absolutely mandatory and to be truthful, I was not expecting much.  However, I forgot the Babysitter Principle.  The Babysitter Principle is that it doesn't matter how bad a babysitter you are or how upset the kid gets as long as he or she is happy for the last 30 minutes or so of the babysitting.  See, in this case, the kid forgets everything and the parent never needs to know if the job went badly.  Sounds awful, I know.  The point is, is that the Peace Corps put us at a nice place for our very last conference. 

    Now, this place is better than nice.  There's satellite TV, air conditioning, and three course meals for three meals a day.  I think I'm going into a diabetic coma because I'm eating everything they put in front of me.  I'm definitely gaining back every kilogram that I have lost in the Peace Corps all in the space of three days.  Honestly, I didn't think I could eat this much, but I was wrong.

    The conference is a little depressing too.  It's all about leaving Peace Corps, so there's all the talk about the culture shock that happens when we get back.  I know already that not very many people are going to be truly interested in my experiences and not prepared for how much I have changed as a person, but it'll still be difficult.  There's also the lack of employment that's difficult and so I feel a bit pressured to get a job while I'm still here for security.  Don't get me wrong,  I am happy to see everyone soon and live in an economically developed country, I just have all these conflicting emotions.  The emotional cost is huge at this point.

    But living in the lap of luxury for three days and four nights... priceless.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 11:44:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    7.21.2004 ||>  

    The other night I was being driven home in a taxi that was an American model car.  Or at least a modern model.  It had shocks, which is what really impressed me to tell the truth.  I got to thinking about what makes a hot car.  Like the kind of car that attracts girls like flies to honey.  Now, I'm not so picky. I hate to drive, so I'm actually wary of cars in general.  But, if a car has shocks, I'd be ecstatic and if it had a seat belt I'd be in heaven .  In the States though, I think there was certain criteria for what made a "chick magnet." 

    The first thing a car must have is a bit of muscle.  No wimpy little v-4 engine for us ladies.  A v-6 is good, but v-8 will get even scaredy-cat Sepra to sit up and urge the driver to go faster.  The other important thing is if it has a manual shift.  There's nothing that makes a driver look and feel more in control than shifting gears.  It's not about the reality of gridlock-inspired leg cramping, it's all about the "all-powerful" image that a stick shift conveys.  Of course a car must have all the amenities too, like shocks, seat belts, and cushions, but really, I think it boils down to how manly a car is. 

    For me, the hottest car is the Pontiac Firebird.  It looks like it could get a speeding ticket parked.  Although I prefer the earlier versions, the 80s series also reminds me of Knight Rider and other kitschy television shows, which is cool.  With all the choices that we have in America, I'm surprised that we don't seem to have cars like that anymore. 


    Sepra was livin' easy on 4:29:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    7.08.2004 ||>  

    My apartment has two rooms, a kitchen, bathroom/toilet, and a veranda. The veranda is nothing special, just a windowed, closed-in balcony. On summer evenings, it's my favorite place to be. At dusk, the temperature is cooler and the sun sends slanting rays through the trees, making the leaves glow. I can hear the kids playing in the street below while the old women look on and occasionally scold a child for being too rowdy.

    My kitchen can only be described as "third world" by most westerners. My oven will not close unless a knife is inserted in the jam. My cooking utensils primarily consist of a soup pot, a boiling pot, a frying pan, a spatula, a bucher knife and a plastic chopping board in the shape of a lemon. I have dishes and flatware and all that too, but when I need to make breakfast or dinner, I have no microwave or cuisinart or blender. I don't even own a can opener. Most of my greatest culinary achievements have occured here. The dishes that I'm most proud of: my hot and cold soups, cereal, spaghetti sauce, etc. were mastered with no more than these tools. I like making packaged foods because they're easy: there is two to ten minutes of waiting and you're done. But no package gives me the earthy satisfaction of having chopped, stirred, tasted and perfected dinner. Of smelling garlic and scallions and tomato on my fingers. Of feeling one with the earth.

    When I am done cooking, I go back to the veranda and feel alive. Now that it is summer, I am innundated with life. That is, life at it's most basic - when it is smelly and dirty. Life when it is peaceful and good.


    Sepra was livin' easy on 8:43:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    7.07.2004 ||>  

    Keeping cool in an Uzbek summer is all about degrees. Certain things raise the body temperature and are thus to be avoided as they make one sweat profusely and feel miserable. Other delights lower the body temperature and make one grateful beyond measure.

    I had an idea the other day about how nice it would be to set up a kiddie pool in the living room, fill it up with cold water and just sit in it all day. Alas, I have things to do, so I instead rely on cold soups, ice cream and cold showers to get me through the long, sweaty days without air conditioning.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 7:43:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    9.08.2002 ||>  

    I keep having these "only in Uzbekistan" moments. They are really funny, at least in my own head. The first happens to me every single morning as I walk to school. As I go along through my apartment complex, I see the public dumping ground, full of burning toilet paper and other niceties. But this isn't the best part. The absolute best part is the cows and sheep grazing on the used, burning toilet paper. Yep, that's where I live. At first I wondered what that burning smell was, but now that I know, I'm wishing I didn't... Okay, maybe it's just me, but it's pretty funny. It doesn't bother me as much as it might because at least I'm a vegetarian.

    The next great funny thing is this big detergent brand in the former Soviet Union is called Barf. That's the expensive Uzbek brand. There are others like Tara and Arta, but Barf is my favorite. If I get a chance (and can afford it), I may get a box just to scan. It's pretty funny. I love going to the bazaar and watching old ladies haggle the price for a box of Barf...

    The last moment comes from the other trainees and volunteers. See, my toilet flushes toilet paper. This is a big thing. Usually, you either throw it into the pit or throw your used t.p. into the trash to be burned later. But mine flushes it, which no one here seems to really believe the first time. Their eyes get all wide and they look at me jealously like what did I deserve to get such a toilet? And it's not even a pit! Then they go throu apapolexy when I tell them that every once in a little while (once a month and better it be when the moon is full...) and it you turn the cold water handle just right I get warm water. Oh yeah, gets them every single time.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 4:48:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    So I had my first day of class the other day, September 4th to be exact. Woah, doggie. The teacher basically threw me to these tenth graders completely unprepared for anything. I thought I was just going to be observing that day, but apparently not. I don't know Russian, they don't know very much english. So here I was talking to these kids who could really care less. Did I mention how unprepared I was? So I was like, "Does, uh, anyone like American music?" Silence. "Britney Spears?"
    Naturally, at the mention of that holiest of pop icons, everyone in the room lightens up and starts saying their favorite American bands, which are like Eminem and Britney pretty much. So that lasted for like 5 mins. Then it was just a question of filling up the rest of the 45 mins I had left. Let's just say it was pretty horrible and leave it at that, ok? :) But honestly, I'm much better when the kids can actually understand what I'm saying. Really. A whole lot better.

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 4:38:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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    8.23.2002 ||>  

    Assalomu Alayukum!

    That's Uzbek for "hello." Thought you'd never hear from me again huh? :) Well, Maybe I won't go away just yet. So my ride into D.C. and then to Germany and then to Turkey was... turbulent. Fun, but turbulent. Did you know that people's feet swell when they are exposed to too much air travel (like 24 hours of it?)? Anyway, the group of volunteers I'm with is pretty fun all around. We've go a couple requisite skanky guys, a few loudmouths (me included!) and assorted others. I am right now in Tashkent, Uzbekistan at a web cafe. The Peace corps sent us here with some instructors and we were supposed to hack it out on the streets of the 4th largest city in central Asia or something. So our teachers were like "let's go to bazaar" and we were like "internet, internet!" and I suppose we won after all. But it's a really nice break because it's been one class or seminar after another since we got here.

    I actually don't know where i'm going to be placed yet, because I'm a secondary teacher and there are lots of places open. Right now I'm learning the Uzbek language, which is Turkic I think and maybe, hopefully I'll learn Russian as well! It was very interesting at the last bazaar I was at (a bazaar is like an open air market where you haggle for stuff like detergent and toilet paper!) because we were the only americans they had seen in a long long time and they seem to really like americans over here. So they kept trying to say "hello" and "what is your name" and touching us and giving us fruit and such.

    Anyway, I should go right now, since my teachers are looking ready to go shop... but I hope everyone in the States is doing good and please comment if you have something to say since I love reading them!

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    Sepra was livin' easy on 7:29:00 AM || Site Feed ||

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