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

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