Skiing in Uzbekistan
After two weeks in DC, I am now back in Uzbekistan to carry out the food safety study that I prepared for the last time that I was here. Last time I was here, my job was very much to talk to different institutions to both get their impression of the situation as well as suggestions and views on reforms and institutional change. This time, there is more focus on the actual issues which means that we have a lot more opportunities to go out in the field and look at production and process methods. (One of the best things about working with agriculture and rural development is that I get to go out in the countryside and visit villages.) Last Friday and Saturday we visited two villages outside Tashkent where we met two groups of farmers with whom we discussed production methods, access to markets, institutional settings and obstacles and opportunities for ensuring food safety and complying with the required standards for different markets.
And as in many countries, the hospitality here is overwhelming and food is very much part of it, so we have been invited for fantastic meals throughout our trips. The Uzbek cuisine with the plov (pilaff), manty, the delicious homemade yoghurt and the traditional bread is fantastic, and the Uzbek fruit is well known for being among the best in the world.
Sunday, I went with a colleague to the mountains about an hour from Tashkent. He was going there to ski and I thought I’d might give it a try, alternatively go hiking in the mountains. To be honest, I said I would probably ski, but I was more leaning towards finding an excuse to go hiking instead. Fortunately, my colleague did not give me much choice and all of a sudden, I found myself standing in a pair of ski boot with two skis in my hand, waiting for the ski lift. The lift was one of those that has kind of like a couch you sit in with your legs hanging high above the ground and this particular one was probably form the 1960s or so (though you never really know in these countries – things seem to be older than they are) with quite low edges and with only a short, unsecured stick to prevent you from falling out. Had I had any idea of exactly how high the lift would go, I would probably now have gotten on it. I am terrified of heights! Terrified to the extent that I actually almost panic in some situations and that I avoid doing certain things. This time, there was not much to do once I was up in the lift and I tried to remind myself of that throughout the 20 minutes ride. Even though I tried to hide it, my colleague (who I hardly knew) saw how afraid I was and tried to get me to focus on other things by keeping the conversation going. However, unavoidably, the topic of heights came up (as he too had used to be afraid of heights when he was younger) and he told me about his experience of skydiving and the trick his instructor used to push him out of the airplane. It did not exactly make things better, but eventually, we reached the final stop where there was a smaller lift taking us to the top.
And the rest of the day was fun, fun, fun. Parts of the slopes were quite steep but after that lift experience, nothing more could be intimidating that day. I am often asked if I ski but for several years, I have not been sure how to answer that question because as most Swedes from the areas where you get snow in the winter, skiing is something we grow up with and is a natural out door activity. I think my first memory of standing on a pair of skis is from when I was five and since, I did at least some skiing every year until the age of 16 or so. But after that I have not even stood on a pair of skis and I was not sure if I could do it anymore. However, it turned out to be something like riding a bike (i.e. once you’ve learned how to do it…) and it was amazingly easy to pick it up. And above all, it was much more fun than I remember so I will definitely not wait another 17 years before going skiing again.
How about DC? Well, I was there for training for two weeks and it was much better than I expected. I really, really liked it and I think that I could definitely feel at home there. Apart from all the interesting training that I attended, I met a lot of people that I know, both colleagues and friends, and even some former colleagues from FAO. I also went to visit Elisa in NY one weekend and we had a really nice time with a perfect mix of brunches at diners, dinners in nice restaurants, museums and walks in the city, and we even went to a blues concert one evening at a bar in East Village. So the thought of moving to the East Coast for a few years is really appealing right now and I hope it will work out.