The following questions have been answered by Uz PVCs, RPVCs or someone experienced with living in the region. Most recent questions are posted on the bottom of the list.
1. Is it better to live with a family or in own apt? I'm older and not used to living with other people.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I really won't know what I will prefer until I get there.
2. Does the PC restrict/discourage subsidizing housing out of own pocket? If I get my own apt.
The PC currently financially encourages PCVs to live with host families. We PCVs that live in cities and on our own are trying to get them to change this and they probably will by the time you go to site. Unless you are in a village, you can definitely get an apartment.
I'm 34 and fresh out of corporate life so I use my own money for many things to make life here a little easier. You don't need to but, if you can, treating yourself is more than possible. The only thing with that is to be culturally sensitive to where you are dropping money. Many host country nationals (HCNs - do you know you are about to be plunged into acronym hell?) assume that all Americans are rich. In order to not get constantly ripped off and hit up for money, it's probably best to act like you have no money. As it is, we get paid at about 3x what the average monthly salary is. That doesn't make it as easy to live as you would think because most people don't live on their own here and it costs more. You can live slightly better than a local on PC salary.
There are no rules against spending your own money for something. I think there may be something about buying property - but that would be tough anyway. The other thing - what is in PC policy or even what is encouraged is not really enforceable at site. You can do your own thing.
Finding a livable apartment that you can stay in for a long time may be hard. I've had to move 4 times in a year. People here aren't used to renting out apartments so some things that come up may be a problem - the owners may keep stuff in your apartment that they want to come get access to often. Or, they may sell the apartment causing you to move with little notice. When you get assigned to site, other PCVs and your counterpart will be able to help you figure out what you need to do in your particular site.
3. What is in the medical kit PC hands out? So I don't duplicate my med kit.
- ace bandages
- adhesive tape
- First Aid & Safety Handbook
- antacid tablets (Tums)
- antibiotic oitment (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
- antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
- butterfly closures
- calamine lotion
- cepacol lozenges
- dental floss
- insect repellent stick (Cutter's)
- water purification tablets
- lip balm
- oral rehydration salts and Gatorade
- oral thermometer
- Robitussin lozenges
- sterile gauze pads
- antifungal cream (Tinactiin)
4. Should I bring any kitchen supplies?
I can't think of anything that wouldn't be available in at least Tashkent. I'm in the PCV lounge now and am asking others what they can think of - can openers - just the hand crank type. After a lot of looking, I found a garlic press in Ferghana. I brought a coffee press but you can buy them in Tashkent. I bought a coffee bean grinder in Navoi. (The coffee itself is the hardest to get here - I have friends send me coffee from the U.S.) I've seen juicers, microwaves, blenders and other appliances. Basic kitchen tools are around everywhere.
5. Are there any restrictions on bringing in certain foods? My mother wants me to bring fish sauce.
I don't know of any food restrictions.
All boxes shipped to the PC adress in Tashkent are opened and inspected at the U.S. Embassy. Some of my boxes to site have been opened - strangely, it seems that they've been opened in Moscow for some reason. Even the food boxes inside were opened - down to where they were individually packaged. a few things were missing after the boxes were opened. Most packages get to me unopened.
6. How are the supply of books at Headquarters? I plan to send a box.
There is a pretty good supply of books at the office and being passed around by PCVs. Those of us that are book junkies have shipped books by m-bag. One PCV I know even orders from Amazon. You will do A LOT of reading here. Bring the things you've always wanted to read but didn't have time.
7. If I want to go camping, should I bring my own tent? For getaway weekends in the mountains.
If you have space, bring the tent. You can arrange treks that include equipment but it's also nice to go off on your own. I think a sleeping bag is a must - for camping, sleepovers and cold winter nights when there is no heat. (Not normal in cities but definitely frequent in villages.) I also brought one of those hostel sheet sleeping bags that I found useful in the summer.
8. What kind of things make the best gifts?
Wall calendars, pens, matchbox, jewelry, postcards, American souvenirs. Quantity matters more than quality.
9. What kind of learning games or fun games should I bring?
It's nice to have games you can play when you are getting to know your host family - during and after training. Some games that I've seen work well without understanding the same language are Uno and Skip Bo - which is like Uno.
Someone suggested magic tricks for the kids.
10. What can I bring for other volunteers and PC staff?
People have a pretty regular network of having stuff mailed. Also, now that there are a lot of us here, someone is usually going home for a visit soon and we give them requests. Maybe current newspapers. The staff might like a few entertainment magazines. This really isn't necessary though.
11. Should I start learning Russian now? Will I need it for NGO Development?
Most of the PCVs learn Uzbek in training. I learned Russian because Navoi used to be more of a Russian city. Those of use that learned Russian are in Navoi, Tashkent, Nukus and a few sporadic towns where they are teaching in Russian schools. You can get all the language you need during the PC training and studying ahead of time isn't really necessary, but can't hurt of course. Also, if you are good at languages, learning both Uzbek and Russian is helpful. The Uzbek is better for interactions with HCNs. Russians is way more useful in the cities.
I don't know if they are planning to teach Russian to all NGO Dev PCVs but it makes sense.
12. I don't like lamb. Can I refuse lamb dishes politely?
Yes. Although you get over being a picky eater - mystery meat is pretty common. If you want to avoid something right out, it's easiest to claim medical reasons. You will be pushed and pressured by HCNs, but can definitely refuse and just accept your role as a "weird American".
Some PCVs even eat vegetarian for the most part. Although that usually just means the meat is picked out of whatever the dish is.
13. I can't drink that much. Can I refuse vodka shots politely?
I think I'll be able to manage this once I get there and get a sense of the norms and customs. Observe first, and then make the necessary declarations that is culturally sensitive as well as fitting with my constitution.
14. If I send myself a box, will it be difficult to get it from headquarters to the training site?
You'll have to cart it there yourself - via plane, train or automobile. But if you can carry it to the transportation, it's not a problem. You can also keep boxes or parts of boxes int he PCV lounge and bring things out to site when you can. Or, you can ask PC staff to bring it with them in a PC Land Cruiser when they are coming out - usually at least once every 2 months or so.
Airmail boxes can take 6 to 8 weeks. Surface mail boxes - 3 weeks to 4 months. It's really nice to get mail. Ask your family and friends to send stuff before you leave so it starts coming in during your training.
15. Looks like I'll need to be professionally dressed. Do you think I can still buy second-hand stuff from the US, or will it seem junky? I don't normally wear skirts so will have to buy some.
What you hear about dress is way more conservative that reality. I would think that most NGO volunteers will be placed in cities and you could definitely wear pants/slacks everyday as long as they were neat and clean. Think business casual. You would only need to wear skirts 100% of the time if you were in a small village. You could probably get away with bringing 1 or 2 conservative skirts for guesting at traditional Uzbek homes and be safe.
In the city of Navoi, I am oftened asked why I wear long skirts all the time. I dress more conservatively than most of the locals my age. But, as I said, city life is a little different. I sometimes wish I had nicer "party" clothes. You get sick of your clothes real quick. But, I also think luggage space is better spent on things other than clothes. You can buy clothes here - the quality isn't that great but you can get what you need. I also wish I brought a couple of more things that are "comfort" clothes for me. I miss my ratty old pair of demin overalls for just wearing around my apartment.
Second hand stuff would be totally fine. People here wear the same outfits for years and years without buying new outfits so things are pretty worn. A lot of the PCVs are outfitted from goodwill back home and it's fine.
Bring undershirts. Sweaters take up space in your luggage. I only brought 2. I wash them only once every few weeks (this is not gross here) but wash the undershirts instead. (The you don't smell funny.) People honestly wear the exact same thing for a week straight. The is convenient in winter when drying things on the outside line takes a few days.
16. I am SEAsian and will often be mistaken for an Uzbek. What are your views or experiences of other Asian volunteers and how they handle themselves?
17. I noticed that there are several Uz PCVs who have a web-site. Currently, there is a lot of controversy in DC about them. The policy seems to be up to the respective Country Director. What do you know of the Uz CD's views on PCV web-sites?
As far as controversy about pcvs and their websites, the people I've talked to including myself haven't heard of any controversy but maybe I'm just out of the loop.
18. Should I bring more than the required 20 passport photos?
The 20 passport photos is more than enough. I ended up having about 5 left over so I gave one to my first host family during training.
I don't know why they want 20 little pictures...it seems like a lot. They had everyone in my group hand them over right when we got off the plane so I have no idea how many are "left."
19. Should I bring a travel blow dryer to dry my hair in winter?
For me it's not that bad anymore since I chopped most of it off shortly after I arrived so I just towel dry it. There are blowdryers available to buy.
Uzbeks will be very concerned if you attempt to leave the house with wet hair. I wash mine at night so I don't have to wait for it to dry in the morning.
Don't like showering at night? Don't worry. You won't be doing it on a daily basis anymore. You get used to this quicker then you'd think.
20. How do you handle your winter woollen clothes which have to be dry-cleaned?
I didn't bring any. I'm not going to say not to bring them, just use your judgement and know that dry cleaners are few and far between here (been told that there are a couple in Tashkent).
21. Are there no chickens in Uz?
Yes there're chickens here to eat, just expensive and sometimes questionable (espically in summer when you know the chicken meat has been sitting out all day w/out refidgeration....but there are supermarkets where you can buy it). Families may also have chickens that they will kill and eat.
22. Do the Peace Corps offices allow you to use their internet connection? I'm wondering if I can hook up my computer to it so I can use a web-cam with my family.
Peace Corps will not allow you to hook up your computer to their server. Opens up too many security risks.
23. If our care packages definitely get opened and there are changes for pilfering, what kinds of things should I NOT have sent to me?
I get my mail here at the office and all the packages have been opened but I haven't had anything taken. I have the people sending them make an invetory list which I double check when I get the package. The packages that come to the office are mainly opened by the embassy. There are stories though of stuff being taken. I just wouldn't have really expensive stuff sent, like a really nice camera, computer, etc. If you can't afford to lose it, don't send it is a good philosophy to keep in mind.
24. What is the current situation with Karimov being reportedly ill? Any update?
Karimov is not ill, it's a rumor that Uzbeks like to tell.
25. Have you felt the impact of increase in import taxes? Are there fewer goods on the shelves these days?
I believe the increase in import taxes happened right before my group came in Jan or right about the time we arrived. It's hard to say what the impact is because we don't make enough to really buy anything that would be affected. There's still plenty of applicances on the shelves from what I can tell. Things are a bit more expensive, for example, the cheapest blender is about 40,000 cym (1,000 cym roughly is equal to $1) and vcrs that are both PAL and NTSC (to play american videos) are around 100,000 cym. A problem that keeps happening is that the government likes to periodically close down the bazars where you can buy a lot of the stuff for cheaper than in the stores.
That happened during my training. Yes, we definitly saw the store shelves and bazaar stalls empty out. It didn't affect us too badly because in training you are heavily dependent on your host family for all your food and they just get what they need on the black market. It was no doubt a hardship for them however. And if it had happened while we are at our volunteer sites it might have been difficult. Things are back on the market now...except when we get those police raids...but prices go up all the time. Our living allowance is being re-evaluated to account for this. Volunteers still with host families (like me) seem to be okay on the current living allowance, but volunteers with apartments have to budget more carefully. I'm looking for an apartment now and that's one thing that is really pricey...people see I'm an American and jack up the price so they can deal with the higher food/clothing/gas prices.
25. Is it considered insensitive to give HCNs luxury gifts because they then have to live without it when it runs out? I'm thinking about things like the free samples of cosmetics we get here to give to women.
I think it's fine to give luxury items. They are touched by any kind of gift and I don't think you have to worry about them getting used to them or getting upset when it runs out. Products that are sold in the markets are quite random, since many are smuggled in, so not many families get attached to brands or certain types of products.
26. What kind of long winter coat is best to bring? Long wool ones seem to be too dressy, yet, sporty down ones would be too short.
Go for the long coat. I brought an old (but still warm and nice) one with me. Don't worry about something being too dressy, go for warmth! The long coats are the way to go, but also bring a shorter one for hiking or spring/fall days.
Something to keep in mind would be that often you won't be taking it off when you go inside since often it is not any warmer inside than out, unless the gas acutally works then it will be steaming inside....you just have to learn to deal with it.
I don't know where you will be as an NGO PCV, but for most areas, what would be considered dressy here would never pass in the states. The suites are often torn and tattered, but still worn to work. I wear a full length Australian style duster most of the time in winter. I use poly pro long johns as my main defence against the cold. You will be able to get away with a bit more than the locals since they kind of expect you to be different. We worried about "fitting in" before coming only to discover that it will never really happen no matter what you do. You could be dressed just like your counterpart, but the locals will still be able to spot you coming a mile away. Go for functionality, and if it fits in, that is just a bonus. Some of the PCV's here have bright colored coats from major outdoors companies, and it doesn't matter. Ease of cleaning is an issue to keep in mind to some extent. With my duster, I just have to rinse it out well and let it dry. I can't use soap on it anyway.
27. From various packing lists I've seen, it's quite a lot. What's the best way to handle the packing? Two x-tra large duffle bags with backpacks stuffed inside, with perhaps an extra box?
I had two large duffle bags and two large carry-ons. They were very liberal with me taking on the carry ons (but this was before 9/11, so who knows now...but try to get away with as much as you can with the carry on. And as cumbersome as it is, wear the long coat (if you're bringing one) or your heaviest coat so that it takes up less space and room. Honestly, you won't be able to bring everything that you've laid out, so when it comes down to ditching things to put in the suitcase...that's when you need to decide to opt for the things that you may miss the most or for the things that make you happy (for me, it was music, so I tried not to skimp on that...for some people it was books). Oh, one note about books--there is a pretty good library in the Peace Corps office and people will send you stuff from home. Also the volunteers trade and exchange books, so make that lower on your priorty list, unless you are a avid, avid (and picky!) reader!
So go with the two large duffel bags, a good size packpack for the plane (with a large "purse" to fit even more stuff in). I don't know about the box (are you thinking that's in case you are over the limit and need to send it separately on the plane? In that case, only bring one if you really think you're over the limit! I thought I was over the limit (and I packed a TON) and I was actually about 15 pounds under. Most people were fine--it was pretty obvious those who were over the weight limit. If you're bringing hiking equipment, then perhaps you will have to worry more about the weight limit.