Monday, September 29, 2014

Malik in Bishkek: Apartment Hunting

Apartment hunting in Bishkek was an experience that I will not forget. Never have I felt more like a human pylon. Every apartment, the language barrier was such that the owner would explain something about the apartment in Russian, and one of my colleagues who was helping me would translate what was said. Most of the time I just stood there and tried to look like I knew what was happening. Throughout the week, we viewed seven apartments and I'm really happy with the last apartment, which is where I am now living. It is spacious, clean, and in a great location. The walk to the UCA office is less than 10 minutes, which will be fantastic once winter arrives.

Living room

On the first day in my new home, I heard a knock and opened the fortified door to see an elderly lady holding some groceries. I said "Hello" in Russian, and she responded in kind. Although we spoke for roughly five more minutes, that introduction was basically all I understood from our conversation. At one point, she put down her groceries and walked past me into my apartment. Dumbfounded and utterly confused, I followed her as she went into my bathroom and took off an air vent and reached behind it to fiddle with some of the pipes. After a few seconds she threw up her hands in frustration, put the air vent back in its place, picked up her groceries, said my landlord's name and gestured for him to call her. I said "Okay, thank you, very much, good morning" and closed the door. It was only after a few minutes did I remember that my landlord also only spoke Russian and I would have no idea how to explain to him what just happened! Learning Russian will make life so much easier, and I'm doing as much as I can to get better. I meet with a Russian tutor twice a week, listen to a daily audio Russian language course, and read as much as possible.

Fareen and I trying a local dish
Construction galore

This week at work was even better than the first. I had the opportunity to sit in on lots of meetings and legitimately work and think through strategy and planning for Academic Affairs. This is in addition to the already interesting research and writing I have been assigned. The University of Central Asia releases a quarterly magazine called Q-News that provides updates on the University, and the most recent issue had a great section on the Institute of Public Policy and Administration (IPPA), available here. The first initiative of UCA's Graduate School of Development, IPPA was founded in 2011 and "aims to foster a stimulating, innovative and rigorous inquiry into issues relating to the socio-economic development of Central Asia, particularly its vast mountain regions."

View from the office balcony!
In front of UCA office
On the weekend, I went to a nearby grocery store to get some supplies for my new place. The second floor of the grocery store had small kiosks selling phone cases, electronics, and other miscellaneous goods. I walked past a barber shop and realized it was the same one Nadim, a colleague at UCA and good friend went to, so I decided to give it a shot. I asked for a light trim, and 300kgs ($6) later I walked out completely bald... Sorry Mom!

Nadim, Fareen and I in Issyk-Kul

Random thoughts of the week:

  • I asked my landlord for Wifi in the apartment, and he said "Okay." He then brought a massive ethernet cable that reaches every nook and corner of my apartment, and called it Wifi.
  • We tried a spinach pizza one day for lunch, and hidden underneath the cheese we found hard boiled eggs. Surprise!
  • Some cars have the driver's seat on the left side of the car, and others on the right. Never seen that before!
  • Confession: I walked head first into a money exchange sign while trying to Skype with my sisters on the way to work. Definitely not going to try that one again lol

-Malik Ladhani

PS. I'm totally kidding about being bald. The haircut was actually fantastic, and I'm definitely going there again next month.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Malik in Bishkek: Is this really happening?

Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic is my new home... It's a strange sentiment to think about, and I haven't quite wrapped my mind around it fully. Is this really happening? Even after doing research, I know next to nothing about the region or culture. But that's one of the reasons I'm so thrilled to be here. It's so different!

If asked to sum up my first week in Central Asia in one word, I would say: overwhelming. I arrived at the UCA office where I will be living in temporary accommodations on Monday morning at 4:30am after a roughly two day transit, and was asked to be at the office by 9am. At the time I could barely function, but looking back, powering through the jet lag was definitely beneficial. The work is challenging and so far, involves lots of late nights and long hours. Although it's difficult, one is empowered by the impact of the work we're doing. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Late night at the office
Over the next nine months, I will be working as a Research Associate with the Academic Affairs division at the University of Central Asia (UCA). UCA is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and its goal is to provide world class, internationally recognized higher education in Central Asia. The University will have three campuses: 1. Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic, 2. Khorog, Tajikistan, and 3. Tekeli, Kazakhstan. In September 2016, the UCA campus in Naryn is scheduled to open for the University's first class of undergraduate students. Below is a good introduction from the UCA website:

"UCA’s mission is to promote the social and economic development of Central Asia, particularly its mountain societies, while at the same time helping the different peoples of the region to preserve and draw upon their rich cultural traditions and heritages as assets for the future."

My new Russian business card
So far, the language barrier has been the biggest shock for me. This is my first exposure to Russian and I understand legitimately none of it. Over the initial few days, I learned how to read the cyrillic alphabet and have been practising some useful phrases, but familiarity is going to take time. I've made it a personal goal to become conversational, but right now I'm 100% clueless. My go to response is "Yes, okay, thank you, very much, good morning" whenever anyone says anything (no matter what they're saying or what time of day it is) or, "I don't understand" in Russian.
Attempting to learn Russian
Although I haven't seen much of the city outside the office, Bishkek is nice! There's a pleasant charm, even if there's an obscene amount of dust and consistent strange smell. The city itself isn't the most picturesque, but the surrounding area outside of Bishkek is gorgeous. The Academic Affairs team at UCA spent the weekend working in Issyk Kul, a beautiful lake and resort area. This was also my first taste of the mountain ranges in Kyrgyzstan, which are sprawling and immense.

I miss my family and friends, and the fact that this move seems permanent is daunting. But it's going to be an experience of a lifetime and I'm excited to share it with you.

Random thoughts of the week:
  • Driving is pure chaos. LOL at me thinking I would need an International Drivers License here
  • Went to an Indian restaurant near the office and saw a giant framed picture of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as decor... Strange
  • A nine minute taxi ride cost a grand total of 100 KGS, roughly equivalent to $2
  • There was a teenage in flip-flops operating and pouring concrete outside the office. FLIP FLOPS!
  • I can watch Sunday Night Football on Monday morning. Pretty neat to eat my instant oatmeal and yogurt for breakfast while watching live sports
-Malik Ladhani

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Malik in Bishkek: What?

From September 2014 to June 2015, I will be working at the University of Central Asia (UCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. Although typically I keep a private journal of my travels, in order to keep family and friends in the loop on my adventure I've decided to give this a shot. Hope you enjoy!

If you're interested in learning about the University of Central Asia and the development of its three campuses in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Kazakstan, take a look at their website. On it, there's an option to subscribe to the UCA mailing list, which is a great way to keep in the loop and learn more about this amazing institution.

-Malik Ladhani