Saturday, November 17, 2007

Oh The Things You’ll See:

It is Saturday morning. I’m waiting for the instructor to arrive to open the classroom door so that we can start the morning class. After this class, I’ll meet with about 18-20 university students.

This trip has been hectic; the schedule busy but productive. I’ve not quite gotten into the swing of the time change—12 hours. The good thing is that I’ve adopted a strategy my friend Bojan recommended in Serbia: when you get back to you’re hotel, lie down and rest—sleep if you can. Then start your evening activities.

Last night I had a rare social experience. I met up with two AUCA faculty members and some of their friends for an evening of food, beer and conversation. There were seven of us—one Kyrgyz, a German and five Americans. Originally, we were going to a rock club a short distance from town but when were arrived—Sam, Aiday and me—we found out the band playing that night, a group of Russian Rockers, commanded the high price of 500 Som to stand and 1,500 Som to sit and listen. That’s about $15 to stand in a crowded, smoke-filled room and have your eardrums melt. I was glad we picked another option.

We went to a restaurant-club called “Sweet Sixties” that featured a cover band that knew about 10 songs. Smoke on the Water, Blue Suede Shoes and Cocaine were three of the songs that I remember. There were some other ballads that I vaguely knew. Even though the songs—Blue Suede for example—are almost 50 years old the crowd of young and old Kyrgyz danced and sang along as though they were current hits.

The restaurant's menu was glued to old LPs. The flip side of one record didn't have amenu page so you could see the Russian LP title which roughly translated, "We're proud to be Communists." Oh the irony of this record now being used to present the menu of this capitalist restaurant featuring Western cuisine and rock music.


Ultimate Frisbee
I tagged along with Sam to the AUCA Ultimate Frisbee Team practice session after class. (A few months back, the team played another school for the Central Asia Championship and won both matches. Of course, there are only two CA teams so I suppose the defeated team hold second place.) Sam tells me the game is especially popular in Central Asia. When he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan, people played the game and thought of it as American. Like football, there are end zones for scoring. There’s a throw-off (kick-off). The Frisbee possession continues down the field if your team successfully throws the Frisbee from person-to-person without a drop. If dropped, the other team gets possession and reverses course down the field. It was fun though the guys I played with (and against) were less than half my age. They were great to meet and really impressive not just in Frisbee but they were smart, articulate and well traveled. One journalism grad of AUCA had completed a semester at Syracuse and a Scripps-Howard internship in D.C. (Trust me, that’s a highly competitive internship.)

I met the son of an American missionary couple—they’re in South Africa--he's here and part of the Frisbee team. Todd was born in Zimbabwe and is working on some youth recreation projects in Kyrgyzstan. We compared thoughts about Robert Mugabwe. I can’t imagine finding someone in my usual circle to have this kind of talk with.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The People You Meet:

I enjoy meeting people when I travel. The opportunity for conversation with an extended meeting. Finding out how they've lived and what they think. My extended meetings will take place once I'm in Bishkek.

There are also the chance meetings. I met Mike, a retired military person who's from Texas but now lives near Atlanta and is going to Tashkent to see an Uzbek women he met through the Internet. He was there about a year ago. The paperwork to enable her to travel to the U.S. has taken longer than he expected.

I met the odd business traveler--with some sort of investment firm who is traveling to Delhi, India; Korea, Hong Kong, back to Korea, Minneapolis and finally back to Atlanta. This entire trip is a quick one...11 days for all of those cities...and his only luggage was a pretty big carry-on bag.

I met the guy from Canada, who in a Political Science Ph.D. program at U of Florida, also going to India but to gather dissertation data.

There's Alex and Alex--husband and wife with variations of the same first name. She's from Moldova and he's from Uzbekistan--where they're in transit to visit his family. They both live in the U.S., in Springfield, MO, after immigrating to the states 8 years ago for her and 11 years ago for him. Alex speaks Russian so she was helpful in getting a person to move us through the transit-with-no-visa line.

Lastly, I met of the millions of American citizens working on our behalf to ensure we can live safely. Steve's a "nuke hunter". He's made over 30 trips to Russia on behalf of the U.S. government in an effort to locate and secure nuclear materials. Some of the material is from dismantled nuclear weapons. Other materials comes from medical or other research facilities. There's always a risk that someone with money and the desire to hurt someone will steal or buy this sort of material, whether to make a nuclear weapon or create a dirty bomb. We had a great conversation about national and world politics--including Pakistan....a scary place now that the country may be imploding. Sunday was Veteran's Day and I'm proud of the sacrifices veterans have made but I also think about the millions of others who put themselves in odd circumstances in an effort to keep us safe.

Not to sound too much like Forest Gump but when you travel, you never know who you'll meet.
I'm in Moscow but just in transit...meaning, I'm waiting on my connecting flight.
You need a visa to enter Russia from the U.S. and apparently anywhere else. While it might have been possible to try for one, I didn't worry about it. It's a long day of hanging out at the airport but I can handle it--I think.

The last time I had a layover like this i was a lot first trip to Zambia and the layover was in London. I caught the Tube and spent the day at a couple of museums. Even if I could have gotten in, it was about 27 degrees outside when I arrived and it just looked cold.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm off again. of course some people say I'm "off" because I travel where I do and enjoy it. I last blogged about a trip to Romania. It proved to be an especially worthwhile trip.

I consulted with Radio Bucharest and Radio Constanta about programming, sales, personnel, branding/station marketing. Lots of good conversations and with two stations that seemed interested in learning new things.

Today, I am traveling to Bishkek, Kyrgystan. Kyrgyzstan is in Central Asia. I fly to Moscow, directly on a Delta flight then connect with Aeroflot for my flight to Bishkek. I'm sitting in the Peoria Airport awaiting departure.

In Bishkek, I'll be working with American University Central Asia, a Soros Foundation supported university. It's awazing to read about the number of Soros funded projects around the world. They range from universities to community development projects.

They've given us the call to board. I'll try to add more comments along the way.