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Where in the world is Sheryl?

Area - comparative:
slightly larger than California


Uzbekistan is a dry, landlocked country of which 11% consists of intensely cultivated, irrigated river valleys. More than 60% of its population lives in densely populated rural communities. Uzbekistan is now the world's second-largest cotton exporter, a large producer of gold and oil, and a regionally significant producer of chemicals and machinery. Following independence in December 1991, the government sought to prop up its Soviet-style command economy with subsidies and tight controls on production and prices. Uzbekistan responded to the negative external conditions generated by the Asian and Russian financial crises by emphasizing import substitute industrialization and by tightening export and currency controls within its already largely closed economy. The government, while aware of the need to improve the investment climate, sponsors measures that often increase, not decrease, the government's control over business decisions. A sharp increase in the inequality of income distribution has hurt the lower ranks of society since independence. In 2003, the government accepted the obligations of Article VIII under the International Monetary Fund (IMF), providing for full currency convertibility. However, strict currency controls and tightening of borders have lessened the effects of convertibility and have also led to some shortages that have further stifled economic activity.

Greetings from Ferghana, Uzbekistan.

After the last email I realized I had omitted some very important information, mainly about the people.

First of all, everyone has been extremely kind. They pay us no unwanted attention and it's as if they see foreigners every day, which is hardly the case. I think because they are used to seeing "white Russians" we don't make much of an impression. Though they know we are foreigners and always ask where we are from. I have not been hassled at all, whether walking through the markets or in the street at night. It is very safe and comfortable.

The Turkmen people were very polite and quiet, whereas the Uzbeks are a bit more boisterous and seemingly fun-loving. There are discos and "night clubs" here in Uzbekistan (no, I haven't been) but there was little entertainment in Turkmenistan.

Each country has its own language, though most anyone over 10 speaks Russian, which is how i am making a lame effort at communicating. People are very nationalistic and proud of their countries.

Speaking of "white Russians," they are the minority here. After the breakup of the Soviet Union around 1992, many Russians fled to Moscow or the larger cities. Those remaining often appear to be down on their luck or having past their last hurrah. There is definite social separation between the natives (Uzbeks, Turkmen, etc.) and the Russians and they don't speak well of eachother.

The weather has been perfect, 60s and 70s, sunshine, and cool at night.

To reach Ferghana, we took a local bus 5.5 hours from Samarkand to Tashkent, where we shared a taxi with two businesswomen from Ferghana. Shared taxis are a normal way of getting around. You find one going to your destination and wait until they fill up. That ride took about 4.5 hours and we arrived around 9 pm.

We are staying at an old Soviet Hotel, the Ziyorat, which is typical of its kind. Multi storied, a bit oldy-moldy, but the room has hot water and comfortable beds. It is questionable whether the tiny elevator will make it up to our floor but we hold our breaths and hope.

We've also been staying at some bed & breakfast type places (which are preferable). Family-owned, they are generally centered around a courtyard with several rooms for guests. Those we've stayed at are in good shape, with fairly modern bathrooms (well, running water). A delicious breakfast is usually included.

To get to Ferghana, we drove over a 7,000-foot mountain pass and through a tunnel. There was snow on the mountains and it reminded me of springtime in the Rockies. Down in one valley, set against the spectacular mountain backdrop, was a large powerplant with huge cooling towers and billowing smokestacks.

I spent the morning wandering around the weekly market in Margilan, a town about 20 km from here. Most towns have daily markets but each week there is one day when the market is bigger and better. Part of the markets or bazaars are covered and open air. People also set up shop outside on the sidewalks.

One of my favorite things here is the bread. Baked in flat, round loaves, they sell it in the streets still warm. It is beautiful, decorated w/designs, and delicious. Also at the markets are spices, eggs, radishes, and whatever produce is available this time of year, as well as various meat displays, mainly sheep and beef. Also, lots of cookies, nuts, tea (seems i always notice the food most), fabrics, household items.

Most people wear the local clothing. For women, long velvety shift dresses with flower designs and sometimes sparkles, mainly in dark colors - brown, burgundy, blue. The men often wear skullcaps and the older men sometimes were long quilted coats.

Well, enough for now. I am well, happy, and having a wonderful time.

sheryl

Russia conquered Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after World War I was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic set up in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land poisoned and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country seeks to gradually lessen its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves. Current concerns include terrorism by Islamic militants, economic stagnation, and the curtailment of human rights and democratization.


Sheryl Shapiro is a freelance writer and photographer based in Boulder, CO.