03 February 2007

Adventures of the everyday

I haven’t run in a week, I’ve been packing these shortbread like cookies that are sold by the kilogram, and my tightening britches remind me that I’m putting on weight. But let’s stop right here.

This, by the way, is the first sentence I have written in a week that wasn’t related to teaching a course. I haven’t even worked on my proposal abstract for the fourth annual American Studies in Central Asia symposium that I have been helping to plan. After a few months of withholding my culturally bound assessment of informal organizational practices in this Russified portion of urban Central Asia, I will characterize the process as one of utterly pointless meetings that are more social in function than task-focused, though someone can claim they were held. Whatever is decided by the planning group is summarily ignored by the Old Guard decision-makers—all middle-aged or older women, who show no hint of solidarity with the younger women—and rationalized afterwards by their memory of what was done last year or the year before, though no one can even agree on what happened at our meeting three weeks ago because there is no record, no minutes. At our last meeting, there never was a single discussion involving everyone because that would have prevented the requisite gossip, posturing and nostalgia in small groups over food served in a crowded restaurant by an overwhelmed waitress who got the orders mixed up, probably she couldn’t hear them over the noise in the first place. No, I’m not going there either, except to add that my contribution to the process is, as of today, dramatically scaled back.

A couple of days ago one of the few people I know in Bishkek who doesn’t work at the university rushed her 11-year-old daughter to the children’s hospital and I volunteered to drop by and bring some things for bored pre-teen and was foolhardy enough think I could take a taxi to a part of town I’ve never been to with no more directions than the closest street intersection and find the child’s room in a multi-building hospital where no one spoke anymore English than I do Russian, though I did very wisely arm myself with my Russian-English dictionary. O yeah, Seamus felt like Dufus doing downtown, but by jesus I finally found the room thanks to the kindness of strangers. Looking completely helpless and lost appears to bring out the best in others.

The crowded American Studies office recently got a new computer—new here means one discarded by someone else but prettied up with, say, a new cheap and shiny keyboard—and an undersized desk to place it on. But the IT folks haven’t hooked it up since they brought it to us almost a month ago and we aren’t allowed to touch a thing. It makes for a nice addition to the single-room office, maybe 16’ x 16’, for six fulltime faculty and staff and three part-timers and a continuous flow of students who have nowhere else to go. A private conversation with a student? Impossible. Cramped? Last Friday I watched an overloaded wall-mounted bookcase collapse on the desk and chair usually occupied by our department chair, Bernadette, who might weigh 95 pounds if she filled her pockets with sand.

The everyday here sometimes offers as much adventure as I could have imagined during the predictable routine of my life in New Mexico less than a year ago. Adventure, yes, but far from crazy. For crazy, I turn on CNN to hear that the sonuvabith occupying the White House wants another $100 billion this year for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With that in mind, let me suggest a little bedtime reading courtesy of Chalmers Johnson, http://www.commondreams.org/views07/0131-27.htm

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