Empower women…or not. Whatever.

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To spotlight the much needed empowerment of women that The International Women’s Day has triggered,I would like to share an article with you. Those of you who are familiar with the hell the experience I have gone through in my recent trip back to Uzbekistan, will not be shocked by the article below. However if you have not read my “I swear off prostitution” plea, please feel free to read it here. Although  I have signed the below mentioned documents, at the point my feelings were those of urgency and I wanted nothing more than to get out of Uzbekistan and come back home to Oman. I was ready to sign any paper they put in front of me out of sheer desperation. Did I feel offended that I was forced to even commit to such claims on paper? I definetly did.  Now that I read the fine print, I am furious and embarrased over these measures- surely there must be laws and ethics that are being violated here? Lo and behold the brillant measures Uzbekistan is currently taking to minimize prostitution. Apprarently “pinky promise” pretty much convinces the authorities!
Exports of prostitution from Uzbekistan, apparently got such momentum that the local authorities began to require all women aged 18-35 years intending to travel to countries with which the republic has set a visa regime, to give a written undertaking not to engage in prostitution abroad, and do not sell yourself into slavery. Told Fergana became known discouraged attendees from Tashkent OVIRov (service entry and exit, and registration of citizenship – VViOG, former visa department – a department of origin and registration. – Comm. Aut.).

Wanting to find out exactly how the document by the representative of authority, requiring such commitments, the conditions under which Uzbek women are now allowed to leave the sunny republic and that it is necessary to provide for permission to travel abroad, I appealed to the OVIR Yakkasaray district of Tashkent city, and visited the same regional division, where to go citizens of Uzbekistan who have permanent residence in the regions.
I was told that for women was the main is a special letter from her attorney, Kojima may be made by her husband or parents, who said that commit themselves to take and bring the citizen at home, and are also responsible for the appropriateness of its behavior for abroad.
“If a woman has no special invitation from relatives and friends of the country where it is going, and generally there are no invitations – for example, from a place of work, study, and so on – then it must be accompanied by a person. But all this is done formally, she did not have anybody pay for travel and forced to carry with them, they just take responsibility for it “, – explained the employee of the regional OVIR. – “Men and boys are not concerned, this measure only applies to women and girls and is associated with the fight against human trafficking and prostitution” – she added.
In the Local Police Department on a bulletin board where various pieces of legislation are posted, the corresponding decision or order is not, however, all preparing to exit the citizens were aware of this additional measure, introduced in early 2011. On my request to show the demanding obligations of the guarantors document service employee entry and exit have reacted very nervously, saying the order had been lowered from above, its author is unknown to them, and brought to their attention only verbal instructions manual. Perhaps, they suggest, the author is head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, since the document refers to the fight against prostitution.
Sneak employees OVIR understandable: such legislation if it really exists, violates the 28 th article of the Constitution of Uzbekistan, which provides citizens the right to freely enter and exit from the country, that is – does not depend on instructions and orders of any state official.
Meanwhile, it emerged that such a rigid requirement applies, for the most part, women who are not registered in the capital, and in the region. Apparently, the capital of girls and women trust more – are not required to give bail, it is enough to write the most commitment to the following lines: “I, Name, Citizen of Uzbekistan, 19 .. year of birth, apprised of the situation by selling people into slavery and prostitution. Leaving the limits of their state, I undertake not to engage in prostitution, not to sell people and themselves into slavery. ”
“Cloudy decree! Did he somehow stop these people? That prostitutes come to its senses and stop selling your body? Such measures need to be addressed differently: to publish articles in the media, conduct interviews in schools, after all, employ women. What do you think they are of a good life to work as prostitutes go? “- Commented on the situation one of the visitors OVIR.
Among the pending passport with stickers permissive entry, allowing for two years to go abroad, I met a few athletes, fighters. They said that faced with a similar ban for several years: “A couple of years ago our female coaches to fight in Thailand in the competition went to work as Visa and Registration Department did not issue them visas. The reason is not officially explained, but hinted that Thailand – the country with the development of sex tourism, and, supposedly, no one is sure whether they go there with good intentions or plan to make money with your body “.
One of our interviewees – a student of the Tashkent University – said in January this year, tried to leave for Dubai on a tourist visa, but could not get permission to travel. “Too faced with these problems. Filed an application, but a refusal. It was necessary to an invitation from relatives or friends. I had to do so. They say that in Muslim countries is off limits: go out of our country, they say, go only to the young prostitutes, and canoes, filling your luggage TVs, computers and other technology “- shared the girl.
With regard to the penalties that will apply to these imaginary or “guide” in the case of foreign Fall women – they are still not reported. Probably, “guarantors, the accompanying” better just to pretend that they know nothing, though, because otherwise they themselves could be accused of pimping or involvement in the sale of sexual slavery.
Number of people going abroad of citizens of Uzbekistan as guest workers is growing every year. It has already become a tradition in which young people who have reached the legal age, go to work in the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and other countries where heavy physical labor demand and, by Uzbek standards, well paid. Hopelessness break morale, and the women in the absence of social protection often go to great lengths to feed themselves and their families, some deliberately go to work in the country with a developed sex industry. Those of young women who decide alone or with a girlfriend to go there to relax and see the beauty from thence, upon returning home at risk of being maintainability oblique views and gossip.
The fact that prostitution among people in Uzbekistan in recent years has received an unprecedented scale, suggests carefully skryvaemayakriminalnaya statistics according to which the article for “pimping and brothel organization” (Article 131 of the Penal Code) in 2007 there were 1.202 cases of convictions, and in 2008 -m – 1.316, an increase of 9.5 percent. Is convicted under this heading is many times greater than, for example, for: “Forcing a woman to marry or obstruction of marriage” (Article 136) – 37 cases in 2007, 41 in 2008, ” Rape (st.118) – 321 and 365, “sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years” (Article 128) – 197 and 214, respectively.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Staff members of airports in Uzbekistan regularly catch the young women who are serving alone or in little groups in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. This is confirmed by our interviewee from Yakasarayskogo OVIR: “We have a police department on the first floor, often whole colonies of girls are brought straight from the airport. Track there somehow, catch, but whether this method of struggle – it is difficult to judge. ”
I should add that, according to Central Bank of Russia, in 2010 in Uzbekistan only from the Russian Federation was transferred 993 million dollars, in 2009 it amounted to 669 million. Obviously, the country’s economy largely rests on the money sent by Uzbek migrant workers. What part of them earn decently, but some – no, we can only guess

I would just like to add:
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Corruption, demolition and prostitution (or how I spent the winter holidays).

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I tried to write this post a few days back, but the words kept on appearing melancholy and somewhat disturbing. So I gave myself a little more time to attain a sense of cheerfulness in order to look back at what’s happened with a sense of humor.

I recently spent 16 long, cold days in Uzbekistan. This unplanned visit was largely to fault on my expiring exit visa which is compulsory for the passport to be a valid travelling document. Us, citizens of this wonderful country have the honor of coming back home-regardless of where on the planet we are, once every two years to obtain this document.
Although I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to see my family and friends, I cannot help feeling cheated and abused by “the system”.  To cut a long story short, the paranoia that has spread deep into the roots of “the system” has caused them to take longer to process the documents and interrogate me extensively. To make matters worse, I was forced to write an explanatory letter along the lines of “I promise not to engage in acts of prostitution outside of Uzbekistan…” at which I had to giggle right into the fierce face of the highly authoritative gentleman who at that moment was deciding my fate. I mean, seriously- so as long as I do it in my native land- everyone is happy?

To bring some justice to the matter, I must say that the girls of the nation have immensely screwed up by actively practicing the oldest profession on earth in the UAE. The rest of us common folk, especially females between 16-40 years, now have to be reduced to ridicule by the officials when acquiring an exit visa. Kudos to “the system” for trying to save what little untainted reputation the country but measures taken appear a little extreme and frankly terrifying.

Never before had I felt so trapped and claustrophobic in Tashkent. Knowing that you do not have your documents and cannot travel at your own free will is a nerve wrecking experience. We must have grown accustomed to the freedom and security that living in the Sultanate provides- hey how about going to Qatar this weekend? I know a fantastic Sheesha place in Doha that we could check out.

Three days before I flew back it snowed. Waking up in the morning blinded by the immense white cover of everything in the streets is certainly reviving. I watched carefree children squealing with delight as they drag sledges behind into the blizzard. I put on two jumpers and a hooded winter jacket and went outside to snap away shots of fluffy snowflakes dancing in the air. Amidst the winter wonderland and the warmth of a house I grew up in- for the first time ever Uzbekistan didn’t feel like home.

I realized that I am no longer attached to anything materialistic in Uzbekistan- not the food that I used to love, not the city or the places I longed to visit. If I could I would tear away a handful of people and move them closer to me- ultimately they are the only reason I would ever come back there.

The entire vacation felt like a much needed visit to the dentist. You come in knowing what painful endeavors lay ahead. Occupying the most comfortable seat in the waiting room, you begin flipping through dentistry magazines and occasionally glance at Teletubbies on the TV. You check your watch a few dozen times, make frequent trips to the bathroom and come back to the magazine. Fully aware of the cold sweat breaking out on your forehead you bravely venture towards the excruciating torture once your name is called out, eager to get it over and done with.

-Yup, that’s exactly what my winter holidays felt like.

This time…everything in moderation

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In exactly 6 days time, I will be lying belly up on my grandmother’s sofa, indulging in pleasant nonsense of yet another novel and humming “ I am wicked and I am lazy”. That’s right folks. I am headed home.  This isn’t however a vacation that has been carefully planned and budgeted for. (That doesn’t sound like me, does it?). About three weeks ago, it dawned on me that my external visa is expiring in January, and I urgently need to head back to Uzbekistan to have it renewed. Lo and behold, the irrational, inconvenient to say the least, bureaucratically bound laws of Uzbekistan. We, citizens of this humorous land must acquire permission to LEAVE the country. It’s a little nuisance of a sticker that is valid for two years and must get renewed consequently after. Otherwise as it says in big fat bold English (!!!) letters “the passport is not valid for visiting any country of the word”.  I might also run into trouble when trying to enter the country with an expired external visa- hence it is just less hassle to go and sort it out immediately.
At first I did not love the thought of leaving for 10 days- it felt like I was being snatched from normality and thrown headfirst into a pile of icy cold surrealism. The idea has however grown on me and I am welcoming the opportunity to go back home and see the family yet again, this time under calmer circumstances. When we last visited in August 2010, the mere 16 days have turned into a remake of Lemony Snicket’s : A Series of Unfortunate Events.  It was the vacation that will forever be remembered as “ A family reunion, a wedding and a funeral” . This time around I would be most grateful for a dull, uninspiring, conservative visit back home. Nothing has to happen for all I care- I just want to be there. I look forward to going for long walks, visiting my university, having heartwarming conversations with my grandmother, seeing my closest friends and godson and indulging in national cuisine. As they say a traveler seeks adventures and welcomes thrills, a tourist merely goes sightseeing. Well, this time I am the tourist.
As long as I survive the flight back all else is expected to go smoothly. I tend to lose my patience with the local Uzbek airlines and I insist that if any of you ever travel to Uzbekistan- fly via Turkish airlines. That way you will not gain a negative impression of the country- before you even land. However, if arrogant stewardesses, questionable food and rattling planes are your piece of pie you are welcome onboard of Uzbekistan Airlines! (They should hire me as Marketing Director, don’t you reckon?)
Air stewardess: “Lunch?”

Husband: “Yes please, what are my choices?”

Air stewardess: “Well, we have chicken…and…chicken”


Here I must however mention that if it wasn’t for the convenience and the helpful lady working in the representative office in Dubai- I would be walking to Uzbekistan next week! An atrocious travel expectation aside all else looks promising in Cotton Land.

I have recruited an army of thermal clothing, purchased kick ass boots and a majestic amount of Omani dates to take back home. I plan to sleep, read, eat and do absolutely nothing else. At least, that is the initial plan…watch this space…

A tale of two cities…

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Al Mar’a women’s magazine in Oman, asked me to write a story for their feature “My City”. I was greatly honored to participate in this project, and spend a few evening in solitude organizing my thoughts for this piece. My biggest challenge was fitting everything I was eager to express into merely 600 words. Well, it will be published at the end of the month- for now enjoy the “raw” cut…

“So where are you from?” is the second question I get asked, right after the new acquaintance finds out my name. “I am from Uzbekistan” I sheepishly reply, making a mental note to carefully pronounce every syllable so that it is not confused with Kazakhstan or Pakistan.  A mixture of exclamations and “Oh, The Silk Route, Tashkent, Bukhara, Amir Timur” usually follows this revelation.
Uzbekistan is indeed a country with rich heritage, its ancient urban cultural centers of Bukhara, Chiwa and Samarkand. Although my roots extend deep into Russia and Ukraine, I proudly sport a sincere smile when I hear heartwarming comments about the people of Tashkent and the flourishing development of the country- which I consider home.

A country that is by some associated with the former USSR, the Aral Sea and continuous socio-economic setbacks- I remember with the fondest memories sewed together with gentle smiles, helping hands and delicious meals. Colorful flashbacks of a carefree childhood in the capital-Tashkent, float by in the shape of my grandmother’s house, Uzbek bread, cotton and icy snowflakes.
As a child, I acquired unconditional love for my hometown. I grew patriotic and appreciative of the busy city life in the capital of Uzbekistan; the crowded market places, the seasonal vegetables and fruits; the hotmess of it all. When I was 10 years old my family moved to Oman  where I completed my education and remain to this day, eagerly returning to my home town every chance I get and hungrily savoring every moment of my presence there.
Although many parallels can be drawn between Oman and Uzbekistan- climate and nature are not amongst these. Perfectly balanced seasons, from chilly spring showers to snowy winters, and all the goodness in between can be found in Tashkent. Nature’s best is at your fingertips just outside the capital- majestic Tyan Shan Mountain ranges are an attractive base for campers, hikers, skiers and snow boarders from all around the globe.  However one does not need to venture far for a glimpse of greenery as the capital is bursting with vibrant plantations, ancient oak trees and carefully land shafted lawns. Fountains and monuments are also found on every corner, designated areas are available for leisure, and parks are well maintained and equipped with rides and attractions for all ages. An evening in the capital never passes uneventfully; a simple walk through the city center will leave an everlasting impression of a modern city with history breathing through every brick and stone.
The sense of “life” in the capital is almost overwhelming and majestic in comparison to Muscat. Ever so modern, yet green and peaceful- Tashkent changes by the minute, eager to catch up with the world; supermarkets, business centers and malls are springing up like mushrooms after rain. During my most recent trip I had trouble recognizing streets and whole areas at a time due to drastic changes in infrastructure.
What has not changed is the atmosphere of utmost hospitability and sincerity.  The citizens of Tashkent are still busily buzzing round around crowded streets, jamming sardine-like into busses and metro trains and joyously attending parades and festivals. The aromas of the profound national dish- Palov (similar to the beloved Biryani) continue to surround street cafes and the delicious barbeques of every variety are used to lure pedestrians.
The gentle simplicity of life in Uzbekistan is the key reason for my nostalgia. It remains pure, frugal and unchallenged by the hype of modernizations. Whether it is the lady selling homemade pastries just outside her house or the a group of 5th graders building a tree house from scratch- life in Tashkent is perfect as it is; scaled down, random and simple in the most wonderful way.

Oh! The similaries

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Day 61/Project 365. Disclaimer-I am not stalking…this is research!
                                  Oman                              Uzbekistan



Population                   2,845,000                      27,606,007
Area                           309,550 km                      447,400 km                  
Religion                       Muslim                             Muslim
Language                  Arabic, English             Uzbek, Russian

The similarities may not just jump at you in the most obvious way possible, but I would like to argue that Oman and Uzbekistan are more alike than different. I am not going to compare histories, battles, rulers or statistics (who am I kidding?). I am simply going to say that the local people of both countries are made of the same mould. Take for example the house below:
This is a view from outside my sitting room window. Every morning as I am having my coffee, I hear their rattling engines and noisy footsteps. An Omani family of about 10-15 people lives there, most of them are children. Small, active, noisy children  Every Friday a bus (and I am not exaggerating) drives them off to visit relatives, or brings their extended family to their doorsteps. There is a grandfather who sits on the steps every afternoon with his cane an yells at the youngsters to be cautious with their football. There are women who scatter around the grounds with bundles of laundry, carpets and containers frequently leaving them outside to wash or to dry. There are proud mothers with their toddlers who come out every morning before the weather gets too hot, and rest the in the comforting shade gossiping away. During festivities the house is lit with lights, alive with crowds of men and filled with delicious aromas that sip into the street.
The given scenario is a déjà vous of a typical day in the life of an Uzbek family that lives in a big house with their extended family. It is also common for children to continue living with parents after they are married, which often results in 3-4 families living together. Women are also always busy with housework; they are friendly and closely knitted. Whole neighborhoods known as “mahallas” are supportive of one another both in festivities and in mourning. The cultures overlap not only due to a shared religion, but because of a general kindness that links these nations. I have time and time again heard that Oman has the most hospitable locals; funny how every expat would say the same thing about Uzbekistan…

Day 52

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I love this quote from “The Big Bang Theory” series:
Penny: I’m a Sagittarius, which probably tells you way more than you need to know.
Sheldon: Yes, it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the Sun’s apparent position relevant to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.
Penny: Participate in the what?
Much like Penny I too participate in the mass cultural delusion…what I am trying to say is…I read horoscopes and see the strong link between personality traits that certain star signs share. I am vaguely familiar with the colorful personalities of Leo’s, I know how to get along with Cancers, I can tip-toe around the difficult relationships with Scorpio’s and I am married to a Sagittarius- so that’s a piece of cake.
I personally think it’s a good idea to find out star signs when you make new acquaintances; it paints a very accurate picture from an early stage. Of course everyone is different and will not be subject to the astrological stereotype- but the key traits are right at the surface.
Much like psychology, astrology allows you to predict behavior and in turn avoid unpleasant situations or even fall-outs. I am hence completely justifying the “ants in the pants” or the immaculate oblivion to “sitting still”. As a typical Sagittarius man, I know that Alex loves to travel. He needs a house with a view, an open field with mountain ranges in the background. He would agree that “half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” This star is obsessed with learning and exploring, living an active lifestyle and contagiously spreading the travelling bug. Zodiac and considers every day an opportunity for another adventure. This is a cheerful, spontaneous, and idealistic individual with an exceptional sense of humor.
This restless Sagittarius spirit in Alex is the exact reason he has been recently complaining about the lack of scenery in Oman so much. Muscat can give anyone Groundhog Day Anxiety, its days of sunlight back to back. Rain and snow would definitely spice things up around here a little. That’s how I know that while we are here, we will be doing a lot of travelling. I have gotten used to the backpack-life-routine since we were first met. The continuous trips to the mountains, hiking, camping…ah, that was the beautiful life 
Travelling is a great way to become a more flexible, open minded and generally-interesting person. Patriotism works for many, but I cannot comprehend how a person can be satisfied with just being tied down to one country his entire life. My half Uzbek-half Omani geographical upbringing also meant I got to travel around a lot during the holidays with my parents; Lebanon and Paris were the highlights of these vacations. I am looking forward to doing some extensive travelling with my own family in the future; I know I will not be disappointed.
In three weeks time I will be heading back home to Tashkent, for just two weeks. I am already having the heebie-jeebies…

Expect the unexpected…

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The wedding reception was scheduled to start at 6 p.m, in the Hotel Markazi (ex-Sheraton).
Exhausted from the photoshoots and the hot autumn sun, we arrived at our hotel expecting to be pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of the settings…we were very surprised…

I was not allowed to see for myself, but rumour has it that at 5:30 the tables and decorations were still not set. Worse yet, when the reception was approached for the key to our rooom, they denied ever promising to give us a room as a complimentary package to our wedding reception! The “organizor” of the event, was no where to be found and we had no written proof of the agreement. Fortunately, pale, fainty and tantrum throwing brides have a way of convincing third parties and getting ultimately exactly what they want (my mom yelling at them helped a lot too). Ten minutes later my husband and I were on our way to the room, to relax before the frenzy began. When arriving to the room, we realised that we had received a non-functioning hotel key. While Alex paced the reception halls, my girls and I sat on the floor in front of our room, simply staring at the door and waiting for a miracle. It is in those few minutes of peace and quiet (and desperation) did I realize that I tore my dress. Luckily, room service was unbelievebly helpfull bringing me threads and needles in under two minutes and muttering “poor dear” to me while I made an attempt to hold 15 pieces of net fabric in place. Soon enough, Alex was back with the key. We had over an hour to get ourselves together as our friends and parents were getting “the party” together downstairs. There was a lot of chaos, and confusion and bad management from Sheraton’s side. I vowed to never recomment the hotel to anyone, unless they were particularly asking where could they find 15 waiters who didn’t speak any comprehensible language and an event manager who didn’t keep his promises. All our closest friends, parents and even grandparents were helplessly trying to organize the event in under half an hour, fetching vases, applying candles and helping guests find their seats.
It also felt like a long day for me and Alex and while for the 80 guests downstairs the fun was just beginning, we were ready to call it a night,…But, we put on a brave face, I re-applied my make up and waited for the cue…