I have sat down on numerous occasions over the past few weeks to write, but have been thwarted by power cuts, painfully slow dialup connections, and internet cafes full of fourteen-year-old boys who would quite like the scary foreign girl to leave now please, so they can get back to blowing things up. However, I do now appear to have located a connection that moves at a speed slightly in excess of that of the average garden snail, which in combination with a keyboard that does not spontaneously switch from roman to Cyrillic characters at random intervals gives me great hope of finally achieving communication with the outside world.
In summary: I am alive, I am in Tashkent, and everything is pretty good. I am installed in a flat which contains a chandelier and a piano but no working oven or shower curtain, I have figured out the public transport system (more or less – I’m still getting my head round the part where you can hail any old car as a taxi, since this notion is warring with twenty years of being told not to get into cars with strange men), and I spend an agreeably adrenalin-fuelled week frantically trying to find out what modal verbs of obligation are ten minutes before I’m due to teach them. I’m finding adjusting a good deal less difficult than I had expected (give or take my almost total failure to grasp any Russian), but then I suppose moving from one large, modern city to another large, modern city isn’t so different (albeit this one does have suspiciously warm weather for March. If it’s 25 C, what’s it going to be in July?). Although Uzbekistan is I suppose technically a developing country, you wouldn’t really know it in Tashkent.
Tashkent is – well, it’s not really a city you send postcards of, let’s put it like that. It is large and modern, with wide (unnecessarily wide – I will maintain until my dying breath (which will incidentally not be far away if I have to cross many more of them) that eight-lane highways in the middle of city centres are a Bad idea) streets and lots of parks. It is quite extraordinarily clean (you are liable to pass armies of old ladies brandishing brooms and mops at any time and in any location – I hadn’t quite realised quite how lethal wet marble is until nearly breaking my ankle umpteen times on the freshly-mopped stairs of the Tashkent metro), but sadly lacking in the turquoise-domed Timurid monument department, which is a little disappointing. Its defining feature is the 200m tall TV tower. This is largely a consequence of the 1966 earthquake which apparently levelled the city with ruthless efficiency, leaving only bits and pieces to remind you that Tashkent has in fact been around for well over two thousand years. It does have a certain charm, though, (it is possible that this is wishful thinking, but still) and so far almost everyone I have encountered, from little old ladies who grab my arm and steer me firmly across a road I am dithering on the edge of and English-speaking graduates who translate things for me in the supermarket, to groups of young women each brandishing a giant orange teddy bear (I wish I had known enough Russian to ask why, but it’s possible that I wouldn’t have wanted to know the answer) who direct me towards bus stops and the guys who try to pick me up on the metro (OK, maybe not them, but, at least they’re polite about it, I guess?) has been terribly kind and helpful. I haven’t seen a huge number of tourists around, which did surprise me as it’s supposed to be the high season right now, but they’re probably all looking at Timurid domes in Samarkand and Bukhara, rather than TV towers in Tashkent.
The teaching is proceeding pretty well, if somewhat frenetically. Slightly to my consternation, the (only) other teacher in our school promptly buggered off to get his visa renewed a week after I arrived, leaving me to ponder such philosophical quandaries as “If a language school is left in the solitary charge of a teacher who has no idea what she’s doing, does it still actually exist?” and similar. Still, my students are for the most part patient, enthusiastic and lovely, with their only obvious failings being an inability to let a lesson go past without asking if I’m married, and a creative attitude towards the idea of “compulsory attendance”. I teach three hour-and-a-half-long classes three times a week, and the students range in age between about 16 and 25. Most are studying at high school or university, and many of them hope to enter the English language university here in Tashkent (it’s an international branch of Westminster university). For some reason, all of them without exception are studying/want to study economics and then become international lawyers. This is going to be a very specialised country in a few years.
OK, I think I’m pushing my luck with this connection, but more soon, including an epic tribute to the awesomeness of the Tashkent metro and an enthusiastic thumbs up to the largely carnivorous cuisine. Tomorrow I’m venturing out of Tashkent for the first time to go hiking in the mountains – this is something I’ve been looking forward to for ages, so for once I’m prepared to overlook the 7 am start….