Nadia and I attended Student-led Conferences last week. It was a nice format, each student had 45 minutes to talk to their parents about their learning. The teachers did a nice job of preparing a packet to guide the conversation. I most appreciated that the school carved out this time and forced teenagers to talk to their parents in a quiet environment. Both Ocean and Oliver were so cute!
Summer weather has returned to Tashkent with temperatures in the 40s (C) / 100s (F). The pool has been a godsend! It is so refreshing to dive in after a hot day at work. I am getting up in the mornings before school to bike for 60-90 minutes which is my favorite way to start the day. We also are taking Obi (our dog) out for walks in the early evening. I love summer nights and Tashkent in my opinion, is a pleasant city to walk dogs. There are many parks and walking streets to take out the little guy.
We also got the second dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Saturday. That means in we will be fully vaccinated by the time we leave Uzbekistan for our summer holidays! Thanks again to the Tashkent International Clinic
It was a special night on Friday, May 28 for our family. Owen graduated from the Tashkent International School. It was a touching ceremony and an emotional day for Nadia and I. You can see from my speech below, how I felt about the day.
I am honored to open the Tashkent International School Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2021. This is the 23rd TIS graduating class and the 33 seniors graduating today will bring the total number of TIS graduates to 470, joining our illustrious and very successful alumni. Shout out the Class of 2020 who made it today!
The first thing I want to acknowledge is that we are here, in-person, together as a school community. I see this as the one of the first glimpses of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. COVID challenged us all and I think of all of the uncertainty and isolation this once-in-a-century, global pandemic has caused us. There were many days I wondered if this Class of 2021 would make it here today. They showed resilience to get through having ⅓ of the Diploma Programme online. They were one of the few international schools in Eurasia to take the IB exams and they’ve been staying safe, together, on-campus since October!
I am so thankful the pandemic taught me to savor life’s moments, and what a moment this is. The setting sun coming through our glorious trees. These young people on the stage, bursting with dreams and possibilities. Proud parents, siblings and TIS staff members, who have given them so much support to help them to complete their high school education. It is wonderful for us to be together as a community again, deepening our relationships and human connections with each other, not through Zoom, but as it should be, face-to-face (although, of course, adhering to our protocols of physical distance, wearing a mask, spraying our hands, checking our temperature, etc. not too close)
I’ve had a long career in international education and have attended or led many graduation ceremonies. However, this graduation ceremony is different from all the others I’ve attended. This time, not only am I an international school leader, but I am also a father of a graduate. As with the parents, guardians, siblings, grandparents, in the audience today, this is a bittersweet event for me. In many ways, I see my son is ready to go. Late adolescents get a bit tired of their parents and the routine of K-12 schooling. He wants to make his own way in the world. I am happy for him. In other ways however, I am breaking up inside that he is leaving our family. Where did the time go? I can still remember very clearly the first time I saw him in the delivery room. The doctor lifted him up to cut the umbilical cord and my first thought was wow, he is this big, fat, red round ball with a full head of blond hair. As you can see on the stage today, he has grown quite a bit and is no longer a big, red, fat ball, although he is still blond. I think many of the parents have some of the same thoughts, wondering how we so quickly got to this milestone and can we slow down the steady tick of time.
Graduation speakers are supposed to give you sage advice or give some high-minded quote in graduation speeches. I am only going to say to you, on behalf of the many of the parents in the audience
#1) When you are at university next year, remember that money is a finite resource. You do not have an unlimited bank account. Maybe parents can track your spending. Say goodbye to your daily Express 24 or that sandwich and coffee from Paul’s. And, taxis in other countries cost a bit more than Yandex. It adds up and give your parents a break.
#2 Call your parents! Call them often! And not just when you have a problem with #1 and need more money. Thank them often for everything they do for you.
Class of 2021, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know many of you inside and outside of school. As parents, my wife and I appreciate that you treated our son who really just arrived here, with kindness and helping him through the DP journey. You have survived the great pandemic of 2020-2021 and after starting out your adult life in the midst of COVID, you can meet any challenge that awaits you. You got this! I can’t wait to see how you can clean up the mess (climate change, income inequality, media misinformation, etc.) that my generation and generations before me have left you. Young people like yourself give me hope for the future!
It is hard not to have a good weekend with the weather being so gorgeous in Tashkent. Today’s big event was Ocean’s hair coloring appointment. She wanted to dye her hair a different color and so Nadia and her decided on purple. As you can see, she is so beautiful, she looks great with any color. She is growing up and wanted to express herself. Her and Nadia had a nice afternoon together. I was the support team with meal prep and driving them to and from the appointment.
Owen and I really enjoyed the TIS student-teacher softball game on Friday evening. Thanks to Sione and the PE department for organizing the game. It was the last time I got to watch Owen play sport as K-12 student. He hit a home run and played first base and his team beat my team, 11-8. He played a lot of baseball in Japan and unfortunately here in Tashkent due to COVID, we couldn’t play much. There is not a high school team, but there is an intramural club that plays in the spring. I’ll be helping coaching next spring for sure.
Sometimes I feel like an Uber Driver (Yandex here in Russian-influenced Tashkent). Saturday I took Owen to play tennis and Oliver and Ocean to sleepovers. The kids have an active social life here and are starting to get over leaving Japan. Owen and I got in a tennis practice with coach Igor at the Olympic Tennis Club on Saturday morning. Igor taught us where to position ourselves in anticipation of opponent’s shots. It really was an epiphany for me and it will improve my game. We are planning to buy new racquets this week.
One of the crazy things about Tashkent is I often see people driving around with furniture, equipment, supplies, etc. strapped to the top of their cars. Pickup trucks are rare here so the Uzbeks make due. You would be amazed at how much stuff they can secure to the top of an old Lada car. I end this post with some some sunset photos from my walk with Obi. I love spring and summer evenings and often take the dog out for walks around the city close to sunset.
This is our first spring in the mountains of Uzbekistan. Last year at this time, we were under pandemic induced lockdown in the city and unable to leave the city limits. This is the most beautiful time of year to be Tien-Shan mountain range. The spring run-off and rains make for deep green grasses and wild flowers. It contrasts with the snow-capped peaks and patches of snow in the high altitude areas. It looks like the Swiss Alps or Colorado Rockies. Later in the summer the greens turn to browns and the snow melts. However, just being in the mountains anytime of year is refreshing for me. The Ugam-Chatkal National Park is my favorite part of living in Tashkent and is a short drive out of the city.
This morning I took Obi on a walk to the 12 Pools, a small series of waterfalls on the eastern side of the Amirsoy Resort. It was so nice to be walking through forests in the valleys between two ridges. I eventually climbed out of the ravine and to a grassy meadow. The Sound of Music was in my head as Obi was running around. He really loved the forest and he even crossed a small stream. He doesn’t like swimming in our pool and it was surprising.
In the afternoon, we all went to the top of the resort on the ski gondola. We walked down “Papa” ski trail to the first station and then went up and around on the gondola. There were lots of people heading up the gondola as Thursday was Eid al Fitr and a public holiday in Uzbekistan.
The evening sunset was stunning with Chimgan peak turning a glorious pink for a few minutes before the sun went behind the ridge. A nice day indeed!
I took the kids to the Red Rock Hammon and Spa last night for their first Russian баняbanya experience. My friend the general manager of the resort gave us a complementary visit to the recently opened spa. The Russian banya is similar to a Finnish sauna. It is a wooden room (парная) with benches and a large, wood-heated stove in the corner. The banya master (ба́нщик) threw water on the stove to create hot steam. We wore traditional, elf-like bell-shaped felt hats. The felt cap is traditional and insulates the head from heating up faster than the body. The banya master, a Russian guy, waived bundles of oak or birch branches call ве́ник (venik) to push hot air on us while we sat on benches in the steam room. He later gave us massages with the leaves, gently hitting our legs, arms and torso. He also pushed the leaves against our skin and gave a nice massage. The leaves are supposed to improve circulation, metabolism and make the skin softer.
After the massage, we went outside an dipped ourselves in a cold pool (ушат) to cool off. Then it was back in for a sprinkle and waive from the venik. It reminded me of my adopted mother’s stories of swatting their backs with birch branches in the Finnish sauna when she was a child. The experience reminded me of the Japanese onsen or the spas of the Baltics. It was really relaxing and we talked quite a bit on the grounds, drinking tea and listening to New Age relaxation music. It is such a nice social experience going to the baths. I read where they are making a comeback in the USA. Public baths are great for building community. In Japan we used to go with friends often and it is usually followed by beers and a meal. I am a big fan of the experience.
LearnRussian.com has a list of proverbs about the banya that I now understand better after the experience:
Ба́ня здоровит, разгово́р весели́т. The banya makes you healthy, it stimulates conversation.
Ба́ня – мать втора́я. The banya is like a second mother.
В ба́не помы́лся — за́ново роди́лся. Washing up in the banya is like being born again.
Вы́лечился Ва́ня — помогла́ ему́ ба́ня. Vanya has recovered from sicknesses – thanks to the banya.
Приста́л, как ба́нный лист! Stuck like a limpet! (literally: Stuck like a banya’s leaf.)
В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег. A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.
“The day you spend in the banya is the day you do not age.” (В кото́рый день па́ришься, тот день не ста́ришься.)
Russian Banya Vocabulary
ба́ня – banya (Russian sauna and steam bath) парна́я – a steam room ве́ник – a bath-broom (bunches of dried or fresh branches and leaves) уша́т – tub предба́нник – the entrance room ба́нщик – a banya’s service person пар – steam вода́ – water здоро́вье – health
I will definitely go back again, especially in the winter. I see the appeal and after day on the slopes, a hot steam bath and relaxing with friends will be the perfect ending for a day of winter activity. I was proud of my daughter Ocean who was apprehensive of the experience but fought through her fears and did the whole experience with me. Thanks to Inaki for the kind gesture!
Matt, Jimmy, Simon and I yesterday went on a 60 kilometer bike ride north of Tashkent. We headed out from the Hotel Uzbekistan towards the Kazakhstan border. We then did a loop through agricultural areas and villages. Going with a group is much better for me than by myself. I had to push myself to keep up with them. We ended the ride with coffee and breakfast at a Turkish Cafe. My perfect Saturday morning!
Ramadan is coming to an end next Thursday with the breaking of the fast celebration called Eid al Fitr The weekend prior to this, the mosques at night are quite busy. People pray in the evenings at mosques throughout the city during Ramadan after the first evening meal. Last night Ocean and I were driving around to see how many people were coming out. She just took video from the car because it was hard to find parking and there were so many people. I am glad they were outside, but I wonder with what the impact will be on COVID numbers in a couple weeks’ time.
We also went shopping for Mother’s Day which takes place tomorrow, May 9 in the USA. Here in Uzbekistan May 9 is commemorated to honor the soldiers of World War II.
We celebrated my son Oliver’s 15th birthday Friday at his favorite restaurant, City 21 at the Hilton. It is on the 21st floor and overlooks the Tashkent City development. His girlfriend came with and we all enjoyed a delicious meal style. Afterward we came home and went for a swim. We ate so well that no one had an appetite for cake.
Oliver is completing grade 9 and passed me this year in height. He loves socializing with friends, Japanese anime/manga, gaming and playing volleyball. Happy birthday Oliver, we love you!
Nadia, Owen and I received our first dose of the vaccine against COVID. The World Health Organization helped Uzbekistan purchase 600,000 doses of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine last month. The COVAX program’s goal is to deliver vaccines to low income countries. The idea is that no one is safe unless all countries are vaccinated. Having the virus continue to thrive in large populations risks the rise of new mutations that may not be deterred by our current range of vaccines. Especially for our foreign faculty who are caught between being an expatriate here in Uzbekistan and not being a resident of their home countries, I was concerned we would not be able to access the vaccine. But thanks to the help of the World Health Organization Uzbekistan office and our clinic, we were able to secure enough doses for everyone. The Uzbek government is prioritizing the elderly, health care workers and now teachers. Our school was able to offer the vaccine to all employees and dependents this week, thanks to help from our sister organization, the Tashkent International Clinic. Authorities from the Sanitary Epidemiological Station (SSES), the Health Department of the former Soviet Republic world came to the clinic to deliver the first doses.
The SSES personnel felt great satisfaction to get such an ecstatic response from our foreign employees, including the Kralovec family. The vast majority of Uzbeks I know are skeptical of the AstraZeneca vaccine. They cite the very rare instances of blood clots and the pauses governments around the world have taken. There is also skepticism of government programs in general which is part of the Soviet legacy and autocratic government here. I fear that vaccine uptake will be slowed by this attitude. Hopefully, Uzbeks will be more accepting of other vaccines like Sputnik V or the Chinese vaccines.
I did not feel much fear or anxiety about getting COVID. I am in pretty good health and not over 65. However, after getting the first dose of the vaccine, I felt elated and relieved, more so than I thought I would. We will now get our second dose before we leave for summer vacation in June. We received the Oxford AstraZeneca manufactured in India and is called “Covishield”. We’ll be some of the few Americans with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Because of the upheaval the coronavirus has caused us, we were happy to start to see the end of this pandemic. However, it is going to probably be much like the flu vaccine, with us having to get a yearly booster against the different mutations from that particular year.
This rapid development of the vaccine also highlighted to me the progress of science. DNA technology has really changed the vaccine landscape, making it much easier for companies to design specific vaccines to counter a multitude of viruses. I can see this area of science only getting better which bodes well for a planet with an ever increasing population and the potential for new viruses to infect humans.
About 1/3 of people who took the vaccine, felt side effects bad enough to keep them at home from school. I didn’t really feel much which worries me a bit about my immune system. Why no strong reaction? 🙂 Nadia had fever and headache and Owen had a headache. Both are feeling better as I write this post in the evening of the day after the vaccines. I came home from school and took a nap and went for a bike ride along the Ankhor Canal. It was a beautiful Tashkent spring evening and the Minor Mosque and water reinvigorated me to finish the week at school on a positive note.
Ramadan started this week in the Islamic world and it is celebrated here in Tashkent.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar-based Muslim calendar. This year it is from April 12 to May 11 and moves 10-12 days earlier every year because the Muslim calendar is shorter than the Gregorian calendar year. In Islamic tradition, this is the month Allah revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad. The faithful followers of Islam use the month to fast (no food, drink, sex, etc.) in daylight hours and to reflect on the wisdom of the Qur’an and lots of prayer.
We received a Ramadan starter kit from our mahalla officials. Every house received a bottle of water, a guide to sunrise and sunset times and some dates. Traditionally, the evening meal iftar begins with dates, as Muhammad did 1400 years ago. It is challenging this year as Ramadan runs to mid-May, which is pretty close to the summer solstice.
I am not sure what the percentage of Tashkenters are observing the fasting rules. Outward signs of Islam are growing here since the government loosened restrictions. This seems to be a trend which over the years will continue. I don’t think it will be as popular as it is in the heartland of the Islamic world, the Gulf region because of the secular influences in Central Asia. I did notice less traffic and people in the supermarket the other evening, right before sunset. I took Obi for a walk over to the Teleshayakh Mosque or Zangi-Ota Mosque and (zangi-ota means black)Museum Complex. The large property has a beautiful mosque, madrassa, museum and shops/apartments. The museum displays some very old copies of the Qur’an. One copy uses the Kufic script, an ancient “font” from the city of Kufa in Iraq that feature in many early Qur’ans. I didn’t go into the mosque because I had Obi, but thought it would be appropriate during Ramadan to visit some of the mosques here in Tashkent on my nightly walks with my dog.
It was a big day for Nadia and I yesterday as our son Owen had his last day of classes. He is a senior this year and will be graduating next month. The day was marked with an assembly for the Class of 2021, a “clap-out” and a nice lunch at Loza Restaurant. Of course, Nadia was crying, “our baby is leaving us.” I am devastated as well! Next week they will be undergoing a whole-class quarantine in anticipation of the first IB exam on April 29. International Baccalaureate (IB) exams are conducted during the month of May. With the number of COVID cases rising in the city, we are being cautious to make sure everyone is healthy and ready for the in-person exam session. Many schools around the world are either on lockdown and not able to come together for exams or have had too much Virtual Learning over the two-year IB Diploma Progamme to make the exams valid. Our school is fortunate to be able to administer exams and the Owen’s class only had around 100 days of VL over the course of an approximately 320-year Diploma Programme.
I love traveling and seeing new places and after over 25 years of living abroad, it is rare that I go to a place I’ve never heard of. Over our Spring Break last week, we traveled to the far western part of Uzbekistan, to an autonomous region called the Republic of Karakalpakstan. It took our traveling party a couple of days to learn to say it. Kara-kalpak – stan means “black” “hats” “people” “land of”. The name derives from the Central Asian hat made of the Qaraqul breed of sheep. An “autonomous region” is analogous to a state or province so it is not a separate country. However, the Karakalpaks have their own flag, their own language and they do have the right to vote for secession. The Karakalpaks are a traditional Turkic nomadic ethnic group of fishermen, herders and farmers. The language is more similar to Kazakh and Uzbek and they look more Mongol/Kazakh than the Uzbeks. In the few words I learned, Karakalpak differs from Uzbek/Kazakh like Catalan is to Spanish, slight differences of spelling and pronunciation and spelling, but similar structure. Karakalpakstan was part of the Khanate of Khiva and became an autonomous republic under the Russians and Soviets. It is historically known as Khwarezm and was controlled by the Persians before Alexander the Great conquered it. For milennia, the Karakalpaks survived off irrigation and fishing from the Amu Dayra.
The capital of Karakalpakstan is the city of Nukus. It felt rough-edged in the middle of a vast desert. The Uzbek government has put money into the infrastructure and in the city center, there are new apartment buildings with retail shops on the ground floor, new roads, a big mosque and nice promenade along one of the many canals leading off the Oxus River (Amu Dayra).
Our tour guide, Aydos, took us to the village of Shimbay for a day of experiencing Karakalpak culture. The tour company as with many businesses in Uzbekistan is new and is developing tourism in the region. The Shimbay villagers were excited for the novelty of foreigners and provided us a fascinating day. They were as curious about us as we were of them. No jaded locals, tired of the throngs of tourists in Karakalpakstan! I put together a video of our experiences. It really hit home for me the socio-economic levels in the region. All of the homes were clean and well-maintained, but every house had an outhouse (long-drop) and there were lots of livestock in the back yards of the homes. It reminded me of the stories my mother told me of her childhood in Michigan. Her grandparents came to America from Finland at the turn of the century and when she was born in 1940, the family still had a cow and outhouse.
The highlights included listening to Karakalpak folksongs played on a traditional, two-stringed guitar, the colorful women’s dresses and building a yurt. We got to see how yurts are assembled from Black Poplar branches, one of the few trees that grows in this dry region in riverine habitats. I also loved the bread ovens and like many Central Asia peoples, they’ve had a long time cooking with wheat and know bread! The menu included a hearty turkey stew, hot bread, fresh off the sides of the adobe oven and mixed salads.
The people of Shimbay were obviously proud of their Karakalpak heritage and we were honored to spend the day with them. The village had a real community feel, something that is lost in more affluent, modern societies. Humans yearn for connection and that is something we can learn from.