Monthly Archives: June 2016

Eyeopening and Unforgettable

Well, there it was gone. I’m currently sat on the first of two planes on my way home to London, after an amazing 10 days in Uzbekistan. There are not enough words to describe the experiences and beauty of this country but I’m going to give it a go, but first I’m going to quickly reflect on the last day.

So yesterday we spent the morning at the local bazaar, where we bought all sorts from traditional jackets, ceramics and pictures to carpets and instruments! As soon as we arrived at the markets it was clear to see the culture of Uzbekistan spilling over, from stool owners trying to sell you various antiques to learning how to haggle on prices, although as obvious visitors to the country, we didn’t always get it as cheap as some of the WIUT students, so they soon offered their help to us. The afternoon was spent in the University and involved a closing ceremony, where we all received our certificates and had the chance to feedback on our experience of the Summer School. After that we spent the rest of the evening eating more Palov and socialising, before saying our final goodbyes and heading back to the dorms for our final night, ready for a 4am journey to the airport.

When I was asked if I wanted to come on this trip I immediately said yes, it was only a day or two later I realised that I knew nothing about Uzbekistan apart from the fact it was in Central Asia. Even my parents who have always travelled, had no idea about the country and for that reason were 100% behind me going and experiencing something completely new. Fast forward four weeks and there we are, all at Heathrow eagerly awaiting our flight out of Western life and into a completely different culture.

I’m going to start with the City of Tashkent. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect but I don’t think it was that. Driving from the airport to our dormitories, the roads were full of 1950’s style cars, and I mean full! It was like stepping back into history, to a much simpler time and in many ways I liked that. But one thing that I initially didn’t like were the taxi rides, two words; ‘hair raising’, the first one was definitely the worst, with a lack of road markings from our point of view and order, the 15 minute ride to university the first day was definitely an experience, a near death experience some might say! Without travelling far, Tashkent’s modern and historic buildings come shining through as a symbol of their history, but also their development up to this point.

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Like with many places, they are only as good as the people who live there and in this regard Uzbekistan has nothing to worry about. I’ve already said words cannot describe the beauty of the country, but this time words really cannot describe the kindness and generosity of the people. While there we met many incredible WIUT students, all of whom helped us more than we would have ever expected, from those who were with us all day, everyday to those who we saw during classes. Whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, they would do all they could to provide. It was said by many on the last day, but we leave as not just acquaintances but friends. If the rest of this generation are half as ambitious, dedicated and kind as the students I had the pleasure of meeting, Uzbekistan has a very bright future ahead of it. Although we were a group of very few visitors to the country, Uzbekistan needs to be seen by more people than just us and the people who live their, but until that happens, I’m happy to be one of the few that has had the opportunity to experience it.

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So WIUT and UoW, thank you! Thank you for the experience, thank you for the memories and thank you for the new friends. It’s been great!

 

Ambassadors, Day Trips and More Food

With the weekend that had just past taking all our energy from us, today was considerably calmer. With no plans for the morning, some of us slept for aIMG_0802 few hours, while others stayed awake and just relaxed in the dorms. Once we were rested (ish) we made our way to a nearby restaurant for lunch, selling burgers and chips, the first taste of home we’ve had since being here. Although some wanted to make the most of the traditional Uzbek cuisine while we were here, it was a light relief for others, who were more than happy to devour a burger (me being one of them!) just this once. In the afternoon we had a session with the British Ambassador in Uzbekistan, Christopher Allan and Dr Sodyq Safoev, talking about the main threats and opportunities that face Uzbekistan at this time. With the chance to ask and answer questions, this session for me has been by far one of the best. Christopher was knowledgable, and although in Uzbekistan it was interesting to get another Western opinion voiced on the country and his take on the potential Uzbekistan has.
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The evening was soon upon us and although many were feeling tired earlier in the day, we had sparked up again come the evening, so decided we would go out for dinner and have a drink (a reward for dealing with that night train, yes I’m still talking about that, and no ‘ll probably never stop talking about it). We continued late into the night, with he WIUT students, enjoying socialising and getting to know each other in a less formal environment. A number of suspect dance moves later, it was time to sleep, ready to start a new day tomorrow, hopefully with a few less daytime naps!

On Tuesday, we were told that we would be involved in a Model United Nations, with no previous experience taking part in this, and having to represent Uzbekistan in front of a room full of Uzbeks, it made for an interesting hour. With a few people getting very carried away and committed to their representative countries, it ended up being a somewhat amusing session. With Tuesday drawing to an end, all that was left was sporting activities, on the list was badminton, football, chess and table tennis. With the heat putting a few of us off too much physical activity, I, along with a few other opted for table tennis, which turned out to be a lot of fun, even though we didn’t end up playing for long. To finish off the day we ended with dinner, consisting of the traditional Uzbek dish, Palov, topped with lamb and horse meat the rice based dish included onion, carrot, garlic, garbanzo beans and oil.

IMG_0653With only two days to go, Wednesday involved a day trip to the Sun Institute, which meant an hours drive outside of Tashkent and after one of the buses taking us broke down one hour turned into two. Weirdly enough the weather took an unexpected change, with cloud coming over, the rain started to pour down and didn’t stop for most of the day. The purpose of the institute is to gain solar energy, with temperatures of 3000 degrees being reached. Although raining, we were given a tour of the institute, which also included climbing 15 stories high, on an open staircase, located on the outside of the building, this experience was not for those scared of heights and the few people that decided against climbing up, made a good decision. Returning to the bus like we had just had a shower, we headed back to the dorms to change, before heading out for the evening. We decided we wanted to head to the shopping mall to get dinner and take a look around the shops, all of which we did, except when I say dinner, I actually mean a giant Belgium waffle! IMG_0662It seems weird to be writing this with only one day left, our time here has flown by, yet we have managed to do so much and I’m excited to see what the final day has in store for us.

Samarkand, Bukhara and that Night Train

An early start on Saturday morning saw us begin a 308km journey by train from Tashkent to Samarkand, with the sun already beaming down, we were all wishing for air conditioning and much to our relief, there it was. Seated cabins were shared between six of us and for most of us it was the first time being on a train like this one, with TV, private cabins and narrow corridor connecting them all. As we set off each of us started to fall asleep and before we knew it we were arriving in Samarkand, ahead of a day of sight seeing. We were picked up by coach and once again pleased to feel the air conditioning, after a short drive we were at our first stop and were given a brief talk regarding the history of the building. From here it was time for lunch. One thing that is hard to miss in Uzbekistan is the amount of food you are given at each meal time, normally consisting of breads, soups, broths and more meat than I’ve seen in my life!

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When lunch was over, we made our way to the next destination on the tour, Registan Mosques and Moseleums, which for me was one of the most beautiful places we have visited on the trip so far. The symmetry and sizes of the madrasahs were breathtaking and the detail put into each one was an amazing sight to see. After stocking up on cold water we visited a further mosque and observatory and before long we were back on the coach starting a five hour drive to Bukhara. It was 11pm before we reached the comfort of our hotel in Bukhara for the night, as we pulled up in the pitch black, we jumped out, relieved to stand and dropped our bags into our rooms, before going out for dinner at a local rooftop restaurant. Tired but hungry we kept our spirits high and soon found ourselves in our rooms, tucked up in bed ready for a day of more sightseeing. Breakfast was at 8am and by 9.30am we were leaving the hotel, even though a few of us were carrying injuries and illnesses. As the door opened the 44 degree heat hit us and the non existent breeze was not helping. With our tour guide leading the way we had a short walk to the Ark of Bukhara, a massive fortress, initially built and occupied in the 5th century AD, it acted as a military structure, encompassing a town, with royal courts. With the heat starting to affect a number of people in the group, we took a few water stops before continuing the tour.

Prior to coming on this weekend trip to Samarkand and Bukhara, like Tashkent none of us knew what to expect, but it was clear to see the differences between the more southern cities of Uzbekistan, compared to Tashkent. While Tashkent is a much more modern city, with what seems a stronger Russian influence, Samarkand and Bukhara have a much more Middle Eastern and in some cases traditional feel to them. Regardless of any of these factors, all three cities have there own unique trademarks and personally Samarkand consisted of the most unforgettable architecture and atmosphere. With the day drawing to an end and our train back to Tashkent approaching, I think I speak for all of us when I say these cities were worth the long journeys and extreme heat.

Now onto less beautiful things. I could tell you how I found the ten hour night train journey bearable and reasonably comfortable. At least that’s what I could tell you if there had been air conditioning, but since there wasn’t, I can’t say anything like that. Instead all I can say is 44 degree heat, top bunk, small room with four people stuffed into and a shortage of water. I’m not one for the dramatics, so believe me when I tell you it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. While some managed to get some sleep, I managed to not even get an hour, rather I was sat in my bunk, wisIMG_0835hing ten hours of my life away and hanging my arms out of the small slit like window, trying to find some small amount of relief. I don’t think much more needs to be said about this experience, let’s not dwell on the negative. It was ten hours and much to my surprise I lived to tell the tale. Having said all that though, I’m pleased I had the experience, and now I look back I just find myself laughing at it.

With more than half the trip done, the last four days are still to come and the excitement and anticipation is still as strong as ever.

Arrival and Settling Into Tashkent Life

After a long and somewhat exhausting journey we finally made it to Tashkent at 6.30am, excited to arrive but more excited to catch up on some sleep. We were greeted at the airport by Alan France, who welcomed us all to the country, and soon after we were in the coach on our way to the dormitories, which is where we would stay for the majority of the day, resting and socialising with the students from Westminster International University, who’s hospitality, even within those first few hours, shone through as some of the best I have experienced and everyone seemed happy to meet and get to know each other.

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The first day of Summer School consisted mainly of relaxing. After a brief welcome talk, we were given our rooms, which were massive compared to any student accommodation we can get back in London. Consisting of two single beds and a shared bathroom, we were more than happy, but nothing was as pleasing as seeing a fan in the corner of the room! The temperature here is hotter than I have ever experienced in the past and becoming accustomed to it may take a while. Over the next few hours we had all scuttled off to our rooms to shower, sleep and unpack, ready to meet back downstairs at 6.30pm to go for dinner with students and staff members. After getting a hair raising taxi ride to the restaurant, we all arrived and took our seat. Surrounded by a mix of students from both London and Tashkent, conversation started flowing and before we knew it our Russian style dinner had arrived. After getting to know a number of the Uzbek students, it was time to retire to our dorm, for a much needed nights sleep.

Day two of Summer School and we had a full day lined up. Once again we found ourselves in a taxi and on our way to the University for a opening ceremony talk. Greeted by friendly faces and a lot of breakfast, we started our day. The food is different to what I would normally eat, consisting of lots and lots of meat and cheese, but I was giving it a go. After a few hours at the university looking around the campus, we were taken on a City tour of Tashkent, which was very interesting and demonstrated the amazing beauty Uzbekistan has to offer, both architecturally and naturally. We visited Independence Square, Parliment and a number of both old and new mosques scattered throughout the city, accompanied by Uzbek students pointing out points of interest along the way and telling stories of the buildings we passed. With the sun setting we made our way back towards the university and took a short walk to the Irish Pub where we were due to get dinner and relax, by this point the heat had taken a lot of my energy and with another day done, I was once again pleased to get some sleep.IMG_0432

Tomorrow is another day, with my original perceptions of the country challenged and in some cases changed, I am excited to get to know the City and the people who call it home.

Uzbekistan: Perceptions and Expectations

About two weeks ago I was asked if I wanted to take part in a Summer School in Uzbekistan, with no hesitation, I said yes. It was only a few days later I started to do some research on the country, as I realised I knew nothing about it, except that it was in Central Asia. This blog contains some of the information I found.

The Republic of Uzbekistan is a presidential constitutional republic, prior to this the country spent most of the past 200 years as part of Russia and the Soviet Union. One year after President Islam Karimov came into power, Uzbekistan’s independence was declared in 1991. Since Karimov becoming president, Uzbekistan has seen steady economic growth as a result of it’s  key exports including, cotton, gas and gold. The country is the leading cotton grower and natural gas producer in Central Asia, along with this and the countries strategic location, it is becoming attractive for other countries and has seen the West and Russia move towards making closer ties to Uzbekistan, despite some international organisations condemning the nations human rights record. The country is the most densely populated in Central Asia, with diverse ethnic groups and the majority identifying as Uzbek. Along with this, Uzbekistan also has the largest armed forces in Central Asia. The diversity of Uzbekistan is something I look forward to learning more about, along with the countries history and culture, as this is something I have little prior knowledge about. Travelling within Uzbekistan while on this trip, to cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara is also a great way for me to broaden my understanding of the country and experience their traditions.

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One of the main focus’ of this trip to Uzbekistan is to further both the academic and student relationships between the Westminster International University in Tashkent and the University of Westminster, along with gaining a better understanding of globalisation and interconnectedness with specific attention on Uzbekistan and their position in the economic and political global arena. With this trip being focused on globalisation it is not only relevant but important for us to visit Uzbekistan as Asia’s role on the international stage becomes increasingly significant.

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Throughout university so far, much of my work has focused around the Middle East, so I am particularly excited to be visiting a country with close links both geographically and economically to the region. Coming from a Western education system, I am intrigued to meet new people from a different culture and listen to new perspectives that I might have not previously considered, from this I believe that we will all be able to learn something new from each other, to help broaden our continued studies. The workshops and lectures that are being held are likely to teach me more about globalisation, as well as the politics, economy, history and culture in Uzbekistan than I already know, as I have never previously been made aware of Uzbekistan’s position both domestically and globally, something I am looking forward to increasing my knowledge of. Although I have been lucky enough to travel, I have never experienced teaching in another country, other than the UK and therefore am excited to experience new perspectives and topics that I have perhaps not come across, this is why it is important to me that I travel and meet new people who challenge and make me questions my own views and perceptions of the world.