I spent my second weekend hanging out with the Office Manager from the FINCA staff. His name is Mumin, a pretty cool guy who just finished his degree in computer science at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He says that he feels really out of place, here, because he's become Americanized, so he wants to hang out with an American. That's cool for me, but he found out that I'm not quite like the Americans he's used to. First, we went 'clubbing' on Friday night. Now, I'm not much of a clubber, even when I'm hanging out with teetotaling Mormons in Utah, so it was really unique for me to spend the evening with a bunch of sloshed muslims in Tajikistan. It's actually surprisingly difficult to get away with the explanation that "I don't drink" out here, because theoretically, no one else does, either! My buddy Mumin was thouroughly slathered when he started explaining to me that he doesn't really know how to meet girls if he's not drunk. I tried to get him to explain to me the social implications behind this, but I forgot that people don't feel particularly philosophical when they've been boozing. I suppose that's maybe my answer. Who wants to wax philosophical, anyway, when you're meeting girls? That must be MY problem.
Anyway, Mumin is a great person, and I could see that he was actually feeling a little self-conscious of his and everyone else's drinking. The next day, I went with Mumin and his buddies up the canyon to spend a Saturday on the river. These guys are all from the same clan called 'Kosonee' that actually is originally from Tashkent, up in Uzbekistan. They are Tajiks, however. A lot of the cosmopolitan city-dwellers in this part of the world have historically been Tajiks, who are ethnic Persians. These guys claim close kinship with the Iranians. The nomads of central Asia are the Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Kazaks, and Turkmens. Their languages are all Turkish-based, but ethnically they are closest to the ancient Monguls. So they live out in the wilds. Anyway, Mumin and his four buddies and I took off for the hills. They have all known each other their whole lives; I understand that Kosonees always treat each other like intimate family relations. This can become a little bit akward when the family gets large, as I found out later. I was impressed with Mumin, while his pals were getting all good and liquoured, he didn't drink a drop. So we had a barbecue, made some kebabs, swam around in the super-cold water, and did some hiking. Pictures are posted on my other page.
When we were ready to leave, we found out that a bill was due for the space that we used for our little barbecue. Apparently the owner of the little lodge where we were at is also from the Kosonee clan, and all these guys assumed that everything would be free. It was not. He laid a bill down for about $15. Each of the guys looked nervously at each other. Except for Mumin, they are all out of work, and make about $10-20 per month. So I good naturedly dropped some money on the table, and we left. Little did I know that they felt a serious breach in guest-relations had occurred. A couple miles out of the canyon, we pulled in to a little run-down road-side cafe. It turned out that the owner of this cafe is also a good old Kosonee boy, and they were not going to get stiffed twice. They sat down with their good buddy, told him of their shame and my hungry stomach (without consulting me), and began ordering meat. The guy couldn't help but look a little uncomfortable, as he thought of the fact that the only 6 hungry guys were going to consume the only food he had prepared the entire day. They were speaking rapidly in Tajik, and although I have easily mastered the 'official' Tajik language during my 10-day stay here, the oddities of the Kosonee dialect continue to ellude me. So I was staring at them stupidly as the conversation got heated. Little did I know that it was all on my account. They finally settled the problem, the host went into the kitchen, came out with a large plate of meat, and set it in front of me. I was expected to eat every last scrap of this freshly roasted beef, along with several large, flat pieces of bread, before we could leave.
Of course, I protested. "I'm not a big meat-eater," I informed them. This, apprently was rather too obvious, and the main reason they didn't bring me a large plate of carrot sticks. "But I just ate 3 kebabs, not half an hour ago." This also wasn't sufficient, because I had paid for them. "How about we all share?" Nope, that wasn't going to fly, either. So I ate the meat, and everyone was happy, except for me and the cafe owner. I suppose we all have to make sacrifices for our friends.
So enough of that. I spent most of the day today working on processing my data. Tomorrow I'm going to present it to the office staff. I'm trying to make it as interesting as possible, because I really want some good feedback. Things are looking up that I'll be able to work more with Tajikistan in the future, on this project. The country director is very supportive of the project, and I think we'll be able to work something out if we can just get a little funding from FINCA for it. Well, I'm about done, for the day. It's getting late, and the security guard here is looking at me kind of funny, wondering why I'm here until 7pm every night. I'm not really sure why. Maybe if I got drunk once in a while, I could get some girls....