Between 30 November and 11 December this year, the leaders of the world are meeting in Paris for 21st session of the COP (Conference of Parties) to the UNFCCC, which is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Together with Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) have a special status and interest in negotiations about climate change. While SIDS are mostly threatened by a rise of water-levels due to climate change, LLDCs experience serious threats due to the melting of glaciers, their only water source. Obviously, the whole crowd of ‘stans’ is part of the latter category and Uzbekistan is together with Liechtenstein the only doubly landlocked country in the world.
While in Paris, the country representatives pledge to provide more money, commit to measurable goals etc. to manage the human-made catastrophe of climate change, there are of course also human forces that, mostly for the sake of profit, continue to work in favor of climate change, such as the Goldmining industry in Kyrgyzstan, which contaminates water resources and, together with already melting glaciers poses a threat of a flood for the country. In this post, I will address another water-related issues in Central Asia and its human origins: the Aral Sea catastrophe in Uzbekistan.
Some time ago, I left Bishkek for a weekend and visisted Talas, where the family of a friend of mine lives. Talas region is a beautiful place in a valley in between very high mountains. It is surrounded by mountain ranges which make it hard to enter (over a pass-road from the East) but make its nature all the more remarkable:
Except for the nature there were some things that were new to me or that I had heard about but never really experienced with my own eyes and ears. It was pretty interesting so I wanna share three facts that Talas taught me:
“Anyone working in international development for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the past few years has likely had the following experience:
Working for or interacting with NGOs (such a broad category that it encompasses all manner of organizations) that serve no apparent purpose”. (africasacountry.com)
The introductory sentences are from an article featuring a new TV-series about an “NGO that does nothing”. In an interview, published on the blog “Africa is a country”, whose philosophy is about empowering the continent from within, the director announces the subject of the first season being about the NGO applying for a huge grant. In episode 2 they are looking for an acronym before having decided about the project’s topic.
Since this is a comedy series, it is of course highly exaggerated, but nevertheless the abovementioned quote is picking on some weak points, rubbing salt in the wounds, (or whatever you want to call it) of the critique on NGOs and foreign (humanitarian) intervention(s).
Bureaucracy illustration with Max Weber and Franz Kafka by: Harald Groven (flickr)
I enter the building for the fifth time in two weeks. I know now where to head. I carry my passport in my hand, passing by the queue of people sitting at the table and filling out documents. The woman in line before me is almost crying: “… but he is studying here. He has all the documents to study, he already started!” Woman behind the counter: “The permit is only for a month. I cannot extend it”. The first woman: “But you cannot finish studying in a month. He will miss the exams. He will fail the exams”. Woman behind the counter: “The permit is only for a month.” The woman turns around and addresses the person she’s been arguing for. He shruggs, she sighs and both of them have to leave the room. I’m next. I’m nervous. I will ask for the director, I will try to find clear answers. I know I won’t get them from only-one-month-permit-lady but she is my starting point into a lot of trouble. I hand over my passport – and wait for the trouble to start.Visit visa-free Kyrgyzstan!
We heard so much about it – yet it all comes down to the straw.
And the people you love.
I really love this poem, Hermann Hesse wrote 1941 and think it’s still worth considering although it has whiskers. It is neither a travel nor a cultural poem. He wrote it after a longterm disease, reconciling thoughts about death and life.
Wie jede Blüte welkt und jede Jugend As every blossom fades
dem Alter weicht, blüht jede Lebensstufe, and all youth sinks into old age,
blüht jede Weisheit auch und jede Tugend so every life’s design, each flower of wisdom,
zu ihrer Zeit und darf nicht ewig dauern. attains its prime and cannot last forever.
Es muss das Herz bei jedem Lebensrufe, At life’s each call the heart must be prepared
bereit zu Abschied sein und Neubeginne, to take its leave and to commence afresh.
Um sich in Tapferkeit und ohne Trauern courageously and with no hint of grief
in andre neue Bindungen zu geben submit itself to other newer ties
Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne, A magic dwells in each beginning,
der uns beschützt und der uns hilft zu leben. protecting us, telling us how to live.
When I arrived in Kyrgyzstan I was prepared for the ultimate shock that would strike me at one point in the next months. And with Hesse I was counting on the magic that would help me endure it. But there’s more to that subject than mere (always helpful and great) poetry: Science! As I studied the phases you go through, (predicted by scientists of I don’t know what subject – travel-psychology supposedly) I found different models that are of course all kind of idealtypes and are to be individually adapted but that now in hindsight offer the possibility for interesting thoughts.
Lenin on a square in the centre of Bishkek
November 7 was a national holiday in Kyrgyzstan celebrating – the Bolshevik Revolution. Well, every post-soviet country has a different way of dealing with its past. While in most of them every single Lenin statue has been torn down, this is not the case in lovely Kyrgyzstan, where my Latvian flatmate is still shocked and disgusted whenever she sees Lenin on a street corner, friendly standing opposite the national hero Manas. Neither in Latvia nor Uzbekistan or Georgia could bronze Lenin survive his empire.
But for somewhat more contemporary reasons I want to talk today about Russia. Although Lenin can also be found in Russia, apparently the country has developed another way of dealing with its memory.
Nationalist demonstration in Russia under the old flags, pic by valya v. (flickr.com)
On November 4, Russia celebrated “Unity Day”, a holiday established in 2005 to commemorate the unification of Russia against a Polish-Lithuanian occupation force in the beginning of the 17th century. It is also said that the day was mainly installed to replace November 7.
However, “Unity Day” somewhat seems to be the opposite of unifying today. In several marches all over the country it showed to be mainly anti-gay, anti-muslim, anti-migrant, xenophobic and racist (“Russia for Russians”, “White Russia”).
Some time ago, I’ve been to Uzbekistan. It’s an amazing country, full of beautiful mosques, madrassahs and mosaics. I’ve been there for ten days but traveled five cities. That’s usually not my style of traveling, as I like to have more time to get into the atmosphere and lifestyle of a city. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to do this one time and I saw a lot of amazing buildings and got an impression of the huge differences in architecture and culture in this big country.
But, because of our ambitious travel planning and the size of the country (see box), we spent a long time in cars, trains, marshrutkas and even a propeller-driven plane. So, before talking about the amazing buildings and history of this fascinating country, I want to give you an impression of our “roadtrip”, and some lessons we learned. A somewhat sarcastic “road”-experience: