Uzbekistan Tour 2000: The Unabridged Travelogue

By Carol Vesecky, Director, Biointensive for Russia

with input from Daniel and Amber Vallotton, Biointensive workshop presenters

A word of explanation: this three-week trip to Uzbekistan, lasting from July 20-August 11, 2000, was my third in as many years leading USAID/Winrock-supported Farmer-to-Farmer delegations presenting instruction on Biointensive mini-farming. It was a first visit for Daniel and Amber Vallotton, both of whom are Biointensive enthusiasts, and whose background of living in Las Cruces and studying agricultural science there at New Mexico State University has prepared them well for consulting in Uzbekistan's arid conditions. The following is an attempt to give a more or less complete overview of our fascinating trip, including its trials and tribulations as well as its high points.

We spent short periods of time in Tashkent and Chirchik as jumping-off points for our longer and shorter visits in regions to the west and north. Far to the northwest, in Nukus, Karakalpak-stan (an autonomous republic) and in Samarkand (in the southeast part of Uzbekistan), we would be presenting seminars hosted by local nonprofit organizations. Our tours of the Nuratau Nature Reserve (north of Samarkand), the Brichmulla Forestry Farm (north of Tashkent and Chirchik, close to the Kazakh border), and Chirchik were planned so that we could observe the progress made by Irina Kim and her student eco-ag activists establishing Biointensive gardens in various regions of Uzbekistan. Irina and her high school-level "mini-farming" students have been cooperating with local families, schools, and researchers to start these gardens since 1998, when the first BfR/Winrock mission brought Patrick Williams and Darina Drapkin to spend 10 days working intensively to share information and experience with them in Chirchik. Her work in 1998 and 1999 establishing gardens in Nuratau was supported by the German group Naturschützbund (Nature Protection Union) in its work to combat desertification and maintain biodiversity.

An abridged version of the official Winrock Farmer-to-Farmer report on this mission is also available; if interested in a paper copy, write to Carol at cvesecky@igc.org. If interested in more general information on Uzbekistan via the Internet, try Cyber Uzbekistan.

Our First Days in Tashkent and Chirchik:

The "Rovshan" private hotel, tucked away on a side street with restaurants and cafes nearby and just a 15-minute walk to a large bazaar, was our home for 2 nights after arrival in Tashkent. (I spent my first night in Irina's modest apartment in Chirchik.) In contrast to another, more European-style private hotel "Sam-Bukh" where I had stayed during a previous visit, here the rooms were highly decorated with colorful Uzbek geometric designs on the ceiling and embroidered hangings on the walls, and the doors were ornately carved, reflecting the Uzbeks' deep need for artistic expression. Each room sported three wide single beds, a color TV set, fridge, private bath, and air conditioner. We found them a pleasant retreat for work and relaxation, but I would have preferred a quiet ceiling fan instead of the noisy, energy-consuming air conditioner in my room. The July weather was hot (90 degrees Fahrenheit and above), but since the humidity was low, it was not oppressive.

The Vallottons and I visited Winrock and relaxed at the hotel to adjust to the time change. We also took a walk to the bazaar and enjoyed a good, low-cost lunch in a private, air-conditioned dining room at a nearby restaurant.

The domestic flight on Uzbekistan Airways to Nukus from Tashkent lasted about 1 1/2 hours, the two cities being roughly as far apart as Salt Lake City is from San Francisco. The 40-minute wait before takeoff was an ordeal for everyone, sweltering in the cabin in what must have been 115 F heat. This was the first air trip for nearly all the activists; fortunately the flight itself went smoothly and it was daytime, so they could see the desert and oasis cities from above.

Nukus, Karakalpakstan:

Nukus is the capital of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan located at the southern end of the shrinking Aral Sea. It has government offices, a university, an academy of sciences, many non-profits, and a struggling economy based on the republic's cotton agriculture and extractive industries, e.g. coal, gas, forestry, marble, and gypsum. Like other areas surrounding the Aral Sea, it has borne the brunt of the chemical pollution blown by dust storms from the dried-up seabed. Most soils in the area are degraded due to the primitive ditch irrigation (from the Amu-Darya River) of the cotton fields, which has raised the water table, causing soil salinization via capillary action. One of our goals in presenting the Grow Biointensive workshop was to help the mini-farmers, at least, to ameliorate their soils by developing the habit of adding compost to their plots.

The Vallottons and I shared a private, two-story house there, rented for the $45 (times two) housing allowance Daniel and Amber received from the Farmer-to-Farmer program. It belonged to a Korean woman and had everything we needed for comfort, including air conditioning (again, no fan). Declining to risk lighting the water heater in the bathroom, we heated water on the kitchen stove for clothes washing and bathing. In extremely short supply in this drought year in Central Asia, water only came on reliably in the early morning, but during the rest of the day it was accessible (cold) from the heater and from buckets that we filled each morning.

Amber stir-fried several excellent evening meals from grains and vegetables we had bought with our Farmer Center guide at very low cost in the main open-air bazaar in Nukus, and we feasted on locally grown melons, watermelons, pears, peaches, and almond-like apricot nuts. We especially enjoyed dining on the concrete veranda with a view of the closely planted back garden: tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, peppers, corn interplanted with beans along the edges, a grape arbor ready to harvest, fruit trees. Chickens kept by neighbors could be seen through the back fence; the roosters crowed at 3 a.m. but eventually we learned to sleep through this, the hooting owls, the barking dogs, and other early-morning sounds.

Irina and her nine "activists" (including her two daughters), on the other hand, stayed in the Nukus hotel for $5/night, their accommodations reflecting the price. The hotel was said to be the best in Nukus, which was surprising since not only was it dirty and mouse and bug-infested, but apparently lacked a restaurant, so Irina and her "children" had to walk a distance to find food.

The five-day seminar:

The seminar was hosted by Rustam Arzykhanov and Sara Imbarova of the Farmer Center, with whom I had corresponded via e-mail since early May (also keeping the Vallottons and John Jeavons up to date), to work out the details. BfR enabled 60 copies of Kak vyraschivat' bol'she ovoschei..., the second Russian edition of the primer on Biointensive, How to Grow More Vegetables..., to be sent by the publisher in Novosibirsk to the Farmer Center for distribution prior to the seminar. We made the final preparations in the fourth-floor Farmer Center office, now equipped with a late-model Windows computer, Xerox and fax machines, and the appropriate office furniture, none of which was in place in 1998. It was nice to see Darina's elegant companion planting poster on the wall, and the Ecology Action books and booklets, properly cataloged for borrowing, on the bookshelves.

Attending the seminar were 72 participants, including Farmer Center staff and the four interpreters for Russian and Karakalpak. The local scientific establishment was well represented: approximately ten scholars with advanced degrees and other researchers and teaching faculty from the Academy of Science's Institute for Bioecology and Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, and the University's Agrarian Faculty attended. Farm association officials, representatives of 14 local nonprofit organizations and other institutions (including a "mahalla" neighborhood organization with which the Farmer Center has been working), and amateur gardeners also participated.

Our classroom for the week, as in 1998, was the vast, semi-air conditioned lecture hall of the Aral Water Planning Administration, located among the other government buildings of the Karakalpak Republic. Our "coffee" breaks, more appropriately "green tea-and-mineral water" breaks, were served with cookies, fruit, and decorated cakes on the large, glassed-in verandah outside. For lunch each day we walked across a broad plaza, past flower beds where roses were grown 30 years ago but where now only cannas can be grown due to the increased salinity, to a dining room in another government building. Our substantial lunches of soups, salads, bread, Uzbek-style ravioli, and copious quantities of green tea, Coca-Cola, and Fanta were served at tables for eight.

I generally dined with the same group each day, and was privileged to sit near two of the "doktory" -- Kabulov (Bioecology) and Yagodin (History and Archaeology). These gentlemen have earned the "Doctor of Science" degree which is far more advanced than the "Candidate of Sciences" degree, which corresponds roughly to our Ph.D. I remembered Kabulov from the two-hour presentation we had made in '98 at the University; he is hoping for help from me in networking for financial support for a saline soils experiment. Vadim Nikolaevich (Yagodin) was a new acquaintance. Later it was exciting to find a photo of him on an archaeological dig, as a younger man, in the impressive museum nearby. He attended with his wife, L.P. Pavlovskaya, a researcher at the Bioecology Institute. Both took great interest in the entire seminar, and plan to try the method at their extensive "farm" of two typical dacha plots. Vadim also picked up on the alternative, simpler-lifestyle aspect of Ecology Action's teaching, and expressed his agreement with it. I also enjoyed chatting with the two Blind Society officials (both blind) and the sighted wife of one of them at our table; they are eager for correspondence with organizations that help the blind in the States. (I believe this could be facilitated by local Nukus translators.)

The lecture topics included the world and regional agricultural situation vs. the Biointensive (BI) solution, BI philosophy and history, an overview of BI components and advantages, soil preparation, soil fertility, composting and growing compost crops, open-pollinated seeds, seed propagation, transplanting, intensive plant spacing, companion planting, "closed-system" sustainability, growing a complete diet, BI in arid regions (soil-plant-atmosphere water movement, water scarcity, how BI conserves water, rainwater harvesting strategies, irrigation alternatives, salinity, water-use efficiency of various crops), and BI mini-farm planning. The participants listened attentively to the Russian and Karakalpak interpreters, using earphones prepared in Palo Alto by BfR's technical associate, Victor Abbott. Interpreting was consecutive, but simultaneous between the Russian and Karakalpak languages.

During the two (hot!) mornings of practical work, "double-digging" of the soil to a depth of 60 cm was presented and practiced by all those who expressed the desire to try it out, using techniques that minimize the amount of effort required. The participants also practiced building a Biointensive, carbon-conserving compost pile with the help of the young students from Chirchik (with emphasis on keeping it moist during the decomposition period, especially in arid regions), and learned the proper manner of adding cured compost to the prepared garden bed. Preparation of seedling flat soil, sowing of seeds, and transplanting seedlings were also covered during the demonstrations.

In their seminar evaluations, many participants praised the effectiveness of the demonstrations. In fact, the compost demonstration so inspired one of the soil scientists, Dr. Bakhtiar Jollibekov, that early the following morning, before departing from home for the seminar, he built his own compost pile in his garden plot. Ludmila Lutsenko wrote, "We were again convinced during the practical work of the importance of the deep digging factor, of careful use of water ... "

In the afternoon of the last seminar day (Friday), we finished early and set out by bus and car (the Vallottons and I riding separately, as VIPs, in the car!) for a picnic at the Salty Lake. En route we made a stop at the Yagodins' dacha plots that they call their "farm." Their typical dacha house has two stories and a small footprint, economizing on land needed for growing produce, and had a breezy verandah-like area shaded with a grapevine laden with fruit. Every square centimeter of the area was planted -- tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet corn, eggplant, peach, nectarine, plum, apple,.... The two areas must have covered at least 1200 sq. m. and were an inspiration to us all.

Another half-hour's journey took us to the lake, formerly a state-sponsored rest area, now privately run. There were round platforms in the open air, as well as yurts for groups wishing to picnic in private. Our hosts had reserved one of the yurts for our party, so after a therapeutic (salt water is good for the skin!) swim with the younger set, I joined the elders there for sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, shashlyk, Fanta, vodka, wine, stories, address-exchanging, Russian songs, and gift giving. We were sorry to have missed out on the younger set's party, as an attractive woman participant on crutches, an officer of the Invalid Society, sang Uzbek songs and Irina Yugai, Irina Kim's daughter, sang Russian songs, always enjoyable to hear.

Return to Tashkent and trip to Samarkand:

Returning to Tashkent with the activists by plane, we checked back into the Rovshan for two nights, while Irina and her students returned to Chirchik. After our Sunday morning rest, we walked to the bazaar and on to a lovely Russian Orthodox church where a wedding was in preparation. We bought icons at the shop outside, then stood through the wedding, fascinated by the custom of the maid of honor and best man holding "crowns" over the heads of the bride and groom, and thrilled by the quality of the choral singing.

The next afternoon, having stopped into Winrock for a quick update and email session, we met Irina and her activists again at the auto/bus transport station, where Irina hired 3 cars to transport us to Samarkand for sightseeing and meetings to explore the possibility of future workshops there. Three of the activists (Sherzod, Maksim, and Emil) stayed home this time for various reasons, but we still had with us Aziz, Sultan, Bakhtiar, Shokir, Irina the younger, and Mei.

En route to Samarkand, we passed many farms. The rolling countryside was very green closer to Tashkent, with no signs of irrigation canals. The main crop appeared to be cotton, but there were some orchards too. Eventually, the landscape became flatter and took on a browner hue, and we observed irrigation canals in use. For the most part, fields were divided using hedgerows or windbreaks of poplar (of the same genus, Populus, as our American cottonwood) trees. In some of the villages, there were miniature plantations of poplars growing in the dachas. We were told that these trees were grown for building materials, especially rafters.

Our cars were Nexias, a modern, compact Daewoo (Korean) model manufactured in Uzbekistan, actually quite comfortable. But the trip proved quite an adventure. Each driver tried to outdo the next (and all other car, bus and truck drivers on the road) by moving close behind and to the left of the vehicle ahead, leaning on the horn to force the driver to move over to the right to allow us to pass, then chasing the next victim at speeds of up to 140 km/hour. The road to Samarkand is a good 4-lane divided highway, but it lacks painted lines between the lanes of traffic passing in the same direction. There were checkpoints at regular intervals where we were sometimes required to stop and show our passports. We also stopped for melons and cold drinks at a colorful roadside market. In all the journey lasted three hours -- easily beating Irina's estimates of eight (bus) and five (car).

Samarkand:

By the time of our arrival, we had separated and none of the drivers knew exactly where our hotel (the Samarkand) was located, but somehow we found each other and our abode, which turned out to be a decent, old Soviet-style, full-service hotel. The activists, staying in the same place with us this time, were pleased to discover it was clean, bug-free, and even had a pair of noisy peacocks in the courtyard. Again, the Uzbek citizens paid far less than we did -- $8 per night, not $28, despite their accommodations being identical to ours. This kind of two-tier pricing system (for museum, railway, and concert tickets, for example) was outlawed in the Russian courts, but apparently exists unchallenged in Uzbekistan, at least in certain hotels. (As you may or may not know, Uzbekistan remains the most "Soviet" of all the former USSR republics.)

Our three days here were spent pleasantly for the most part. With two guides (one for Russian, one for English) we visited the obligatory sightseeing spots: the Registan, a magnificent ensemble of medressas (seminaries) and "one of the most awesome sights in Central Asia" (The Lonely Planet's guidebook, Central Asia), the Guri Amir Mausoleum where Tamerlane and his astronomer/khan grandson Ulughbek are buried, and Ulughbek's Observatory. We also did a modest amount of tourist shopping in the local craft stores attached to the Registan. For example, Irina bought copies of the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam for Amber and me, reminding us that the poet lived for many years in this fabled city.

The densely tree-lined streets and broader range of floral plantings indicated more benign soil conditions than those of Nukus. Daniel identified certain street trees as sycamores; they are known locally as "chinar"; I also found "plane tree" in the dictionary. I nostalgically remembered its maple-like leaf and its use as an embroidery motif from my visit to Kashmir during the part of my childhood spent in India.

We also enjoyed our one-hour meeting with the Young Naturalist group in the conference room at Victoria Ashirova's NGO that works on women's reproductive health issues, the "AYOL Center." Later I chatted with Jennifer, the Peace Corps volunteer attached to the organization. Jennifer was disappointed with the language training the Peace Corps offered; while on the assignment she had only two hours per week to study Russian, and practically no materials! So I will send her a Russian text and tapes I'm not using.

The absolute low point of our entire visit was, by general consensus, the poor reception we received at the Agrarian Faculty of the University in Samarkand when we presented a short seminar (2.5 hours) organized by Victoria. The seminar was carefully planned by the Vallottons, Irina, and the activists, who had each studied one of the eight essential components of Biointensive, and, with Daniel's help, had prepared to present them, five minutes each, in turn. The presentation (myself and Irina in Russian, the Vallottons in English (translated by local translator Timur), and the activists in Russian and Tajik (Shokir) went off as planned. But there was one serious hitch: the gathered group of ag teachers began to leave the room as the high schoolers began to speak!

This was shockingly rude and apparently represented gross age discrimination. We had noticed this from Rustam in Nukus while preparing the workshop before departure. There was a misunderstanding that led to this, but he wanted to exclude Irina's "children" from the Nukus seminar, saying that the Farmer Center holds seminars "at the highest level" and that he saw no point in having them there. We had to work hard to persuade him to host them.

We found the Samarkand academics' behavior especially appalling, considering the content was precisely the same as what Daniel would have presented. One of the profs interrupted and stated forthrightly, "We want to hear the experts," meaning the Vallottons. I pointed out that the activists (who did not require interpreters) would more quickly transfer the information, but this did not convince them. After the outburst was quelled, the students bravely continued and finished their presentations as planned. Daniel followed, but during his presentation, faculty members again rudely interrupted, insisting that they already knew and were teaching this information. Here, I questioned seriously whether double-digging and composting, as we teach it, are taught in their classes, and did not receive a good answer.

With animated debate among the faculty members, the seminar dissipated, as order was lost, and our reluctant audience went home where they evidently belonged. (After all, they had come in on the day after they had given examinations and this was supposed to be a day of rest for them.) One researcher did approach us to ask if we engaged in plant selection; my answer was that no, Ecology Action's branch organization Bountiful Gardens grows out seeds, but as far I know they don't do selection.

Victoria apologized for the impolite reception, and the Vallottons and I agreed that this was one place to which we would not care to return. I commented that they did not have enough information about us (I don't believe they had seen our book Kak vyraschivat' bol'she ovoschei... for example), but the Vallottons maintained that their behavior was extremely rude and unprofessional, regardless of what they knew about us. As they remarked, this would never have happened in the United States or in Mexico, and Irina commented (and I agreed) that it certainly wouldn't have happened in Russia in a similar situation.

Amber and I enjoyed the most camaraderie of our visit to Samarkand during a delightful evening we spent with Irina and some of her young activists (Aziz, Bakhtier, Shokir, Irina the younger, and Mei) at the sidewalk cafe attached to our hotel. We ordered the usual bread, soups, rice, salads, meat (for the non-vegetarians), French fries, Coca-Cola, and uncarbonated mineral water, then noticed a small band preparing to perform. They were quite good, with drums, keyboard, guitar, and male vocalist. Naturally Irina the younger (Irina Kim's 18-year-old daughter), who is an accomplished singer of popular songs herself, having attended a fine high school in Chirchik specializing in musical performance, wanted to get up on the bandstand with them and sing. With our encouragement, she negotiated with the band and then sang several numbers. Apparently there was a payment involved, but after two songs, the band waived the fee as she was SO good, and the diners were obviously enjoying her music (Russian and English contemporary songs).

An Uzbek woman dancer in a spangled silk dress performed a national dance form, and some of her movements reminded me of the Indian classical dance (Bharat Natyam) I had studied in India as a child. Eventually we all were inspired to get up and dance (in the free style of the late-20th-century American younger generation), and I incorporated some of the Indian motifs that came back to me into my (modestly?) uninhibited dance style. This seemed to delight the others, and provided cause for much mirth and comment. Surely we'll all remember this evening for a long time with a smile.

On to the Kyzylkum Desert and the Nuratau Nature Reserve: Irina hired 3 more cars to take us (in perhaps two hours) from Samarkand to Nuratau. The nature reserve of 36,000 hectares was established in 1975 to protect the Severtzov mountain sheep and many other endemic rare and endangered species. Its population is Tajik; these people have lived here for 2000 years. Since the early nineties, the German NGO Naturschützbund (NABU for short), with financial support from the German Social Bank, has cooperated with Uzbek, Ukrainian, Tajik, and other scientists to catalog the flora and fauna in the region. The original forest cover there has long since been lost due to thousands of years of human habitation, and the soils have been badly degraded by livestock herds. NABU enabled Irina Kim to bring her students and demonstrate Biointensive in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and has included Biointensive as one of the 11 points of the German agenda here, to help the local population survive, enabling them in turn to help combat local desertification.

Nuratau Nature Reserve and Kyzylkum Desert:

Yangikishlak 40 km from the nature reserve's boundary, is situated in a dry, overgrazed desert/mountain region, with small, oasis-like, green homesteads and communities scattered at the base of the mountains. The landscape, here as well as in the mountains, goes brown in June and greens up again in September or October with the first rains, although last year there was rain in July, a new phenomenon. This was the first Tajik village where we would see Biointensive beds, established since 1998 by local families with the aid of Irina and her team of high school student "activists." Bakhtier Kayumov, father of 14-year-old Shokir who accompanied us to Nukus for the seminar, runs the office and works as one of the scientists documenting the flora and fauna of the nature reserve. He, his wife Khadicha, and four of their children hosted all ten of us in their homestead, consisting of adobe house (with several rooms) and its various outbuildings: small barn, kitchen, oven, tool shed, and privy.

Arriving, we were saddened to see that the corn and peas in the BI beds that 14-year-old Shokir had dug for himself had been decimated by grazing sheep. And heartened again to see the new fence his dad Bakhtier had built to prevent this happening again! Shokir and his brother Burier travel regularly with their father to the nature reserve's summer office in Hayat, where they work in the several Biointensive beds that have been established in that mountain location.

After the obligatory period of time sitting on low cushions in the indoor reception room sipping green tea from small bowls and nibbling on bread (non or lepyoshka), the small dried fruits of the mulberry tree, and sweets, we were able to unpack and settle in. We were sorry to learn that every drop of water had to be brought in a large metal container by wheelbarrow from a well half-a-kilometer away. (We heard its squeaking wheels at 6 am.) Thus we took extreme care in using water for hand washing, getting it from a rukomoika that dispenses just sufficient moisture to lather, then rinse when one bumps up a valve under the vessel. I'd like to get one of these, to help conserve water in increasingly water-scarce, overpopulated California! Likewise, those of us who took showers found it easy to economize on water use, under a contraption that dispensed just a trickle, in a proper shower room.

Before supper Irina and her daughters helped the family cooks chop fine (julienne) carrots, onions, and potatoes outside the house, while the less industrious among us watched a German video on the nature reserve on the black-and-white TV set in the house. The nature reserve borders on the southwestern edge of the Kyzylkum Desert, and has a continental climate with temperatures ranging from lows of -22C in winter to highs of 43C in summer. Winter and spring precipitation ranges from 25 to 80 cm, depending on the elevation, which rises as high as 2,169 m (the highest peak). There are 7,000 species of flora, including the 1,000-year-old Biota (a sacred tree), almond, pistachio, cherry, walnut, and five species of tulip and six of poppy. The above information comes from a booklet on the nature reserve that Bakhtier gave us, illustrated with color and black-and-white photos and with text in English, Russian, and German; if you would like to borrow it for a short time, please write to me.

The meal including horsat (an Uzbek dish of rice, the above vegetables, and chickpeas) was served outdoors, where the "table" had been laid on a carpet on the clay earth. Seated as if at a formal picnic were ten of us visitors from afar and the older family members. Toasts were made with vodka and locally produced wine.

Around midnight the "table" was cleared and the area converted to a dormitory, with some sleeping on mattresses on beds with metal springs, the rest of us on mattresses laid on woven mats that had been spread out on the hard ground. To protect us from the cool nighttime desert breeze, each was given a colorful quilt from the shelves in the reception room where we'd been welcomed the day before. Now we understood the need for these quilts, which are part of the bride's hope chest. They support the Islamic tradition of generous hospitality, which can mean hosting a multitude of guests!

We caravanned on in the morning to Hayat, as mentioned above the summer office of the nature reserve, with a new set of drivers and cars that showed the wear and tear caused by the difficult local driving conditions. The rocky dirt road up into the mountains was reasonably well maintained, taking us past more Tajik adobe villages graced with well-tended trees, and children who appeared at the roadside to wave. The area's population is extremely poor, with little educational opportunity and health care. Irina the younger mentioned that if a woman cannot reach a maternity hospital and gives birth at home, the child is not registered and therefore has no official status.

Arriving at the nature reserve's headquarters (950 m elevation), we met Feruza Daminova, an entomologist based in Tashkent working on her second doctorate (doktor) with her research on the Syrphid flies in the region. She looked back nostalgically on the Soviet period, when scientists traveled regularly throughout the USSR to meetings, especially to Leningrad. Natalya Beshko (originally from Ukraine), who has worked at the nature reserve for 10 years as a geobotanist cataloguing the rare and endangered species, also kindly performed hosting functions and humorously described her life there for us. Her face was familiar from the German video; she will defend her kandidat dissertation in the autumn.

The precipitation here is 34 cm on the average, with a low in 1986 of 9.2 cm and a high in 1992 of nearly 50 cm. Land is leased, not owned, here. 

Daniel offered to share information on the low-cost, low-tech "Chick-Chick " drip irrigation system he knows from NMSU and on cisterns for catching water from building roofs, but there did not seem to be much interest.

How productive the BI (relative to traditional) beds will be remains to be seen, since careful experiments have not yet been conducted. Year-old horse manure had been added (a 3-cm layer) in the fall, then more in the spring (not as much).

Natalya said that the soil had a pH value of 8.5 and was low in nitrogen, but had plenty of phosphorus and potassium. The BI beds are watered by mugs, one per plant, all water being hauled up from the nearby creek in buckets this year. (In traditional irrigation, the water is poured from the buckets into the irrigation ditches.)

We learned from Natalya that the cucumbers direct sown on April 10 were harvested starting June 10, 100 kg from 16 sq.m. The July sowing would be done direct, since local gardeners have observed that transplanted seedlings die in the heat. (We did not observe the use of any kind of shade covering to protect new transplants.)

The interplanted tomatoes and peppers were transplanted in early May from seedlings purchased in the bazaar. Tomatoes had been harvested since the end of June. There were also soybeans and peas, but the new growth on the soy plants looked chlorotic to Daniel, who believes that this is a high pH-related problem.

The corn was not yet mature. It was not grown Biointensively -- local growers maintain that BI is not convenient for corn and potatoes due to the use of irrigation ditches. People eat the corn grain, while the stalks are fed to the horse, Stefan (named after Dr. Stefan Michel, the German environmentalist directing the Ecosphere project here). Stefan (the horse) had also gotten into the compost heap; hence it was not neat and tidy.

The trees that had been planted locally were poplars (Populus alba, the more common variety, and Populus ephratica, resembling our quaking aspens) and apricots; there were also wild apple (Sievers), sweet and sour cherry, and walnut trees in the area.

By mid-afternoon we piled into our three cars again for our first excursion to visit other BI gardens in the area. Arriving in Ukhum, at approximately 1000 meters elevation, we climbed up a path with walls alongside it, there being plenty of rocks in the ground nearby for building. Then we passed a bed of bright zinnias and fruit trees before reaching the house, its verandah's trellised roof being a grapevine laden with grapes, many of the bunches tied up in colorful scarves to preserve them from the birds. We were received on the veranda by our host Bagrom, his wife Zhumagul, and their six children Chinigul, Rurboigul, Agashoi, Kuchporboi, Gulruksar, and Uralboi. Those with names ending in -gul are girls; -boi boys, probably -shoi are boys; -sar is anybody's guess at this point! Bagrom is the brother of Bakhtier from Yangikishlak; he also collaborates in the work of the nature reserve. Here we were served a delicious soup along with our tea, grapes, sweets, and mulberries. The Tajiks in this area grow apples and pears; we also saw peach trees. We heard more complaints about the climate change, as this has been the second year with very low precipitation, with only one or two snows in the past two winters.

A short walk took us to the first BI garden established in Nuratau, located near the school. Ukhum is a village of 80 families, each typically with 10 members. A mini-farmer club is being started in the school, and it was here that we heard the suggestion that a Tajik translation of How to Grow More Vegetables... would be especially welcome. More recently we heard that environmentalists are seeking governmental support to publish the book in various local languages!

In Bagrom's garden, we saw cucumbers, tomatoes, Bulgarian pepper, onion, cabbage, and garlic. The cucumber seeds from Seeds of Change that Albie Miles brought in 1999 had been given out to 30% of the families in Ukhum; they're much appreciated, since the cucumbers are very long. The best harvests have been of those cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, and Bulgarian peppers. Tobacco (for chewing) is also being grown Biointensively!

The soil is more alkaline here. The garden is part BI and part organic (with narrower beds). Direct sowing is done here, as opposed to transplanting. Four beds have been double-dug this year, using 50 kg of year-old sheep manure per 5-sq.m bed. The gardeners expressed an interest in growing compost crops over the winter.

The school garden is managed by the 28-year-old teacher; here there were four new BI beds; soy and corn are also grown by the traditional methods. Manure is used as fertilizer. Each plant has a microcatchment for watering using mugs. Again, the seeds are direct sown, not transplanted, although transplanting is done if the seeds in the ground fail to germinate. If several seedlings per spot come up, they are thinned to two per spot. Based on his reading of the Russian draft translation of Lazy-Bed Gardening, the schoolteacher had built a small compost heap. He also grew potatoes, but not Biointensively.

We returned to Hayat just in time for a short hike before nightfall to see the Severtsov mountain sheep. Ever-gallant young activists Aziz, Sultan, and Bakhtiar aided yours truly (in sandals) occasionally in negotiating the steep mountain path. Irina's 12-year-old daughter Mei proved a veritable mountain goat herself, never faltering in her fashionable, thick-soled rubber thongs. We spotted the elusive mountain sheep from across a chain-link fence that had been erected to keep poachers and other grazing animals out. (Daniel's comment: It was the mountain sheep that should have been allowed to roam free outside the fence, not the domesticated ones!)

Well camouflaged against the dry brown hillsides, the creatures were hard to spot when standing still. But once in motion, they ran like the wind! We counted seven of them. Their large, curved horns extend up and back from the head in a wider curve than those of our Bighorn sheep, but there's enough similarity that one wonders if they could be cousins.

Sleeping outside on a metal bed at the nature reserve HQ, I was grateful for the lack of mosquitoes and other insects, and even more for the brilliant display of stars and the soft night breeze. My prescription sleeping pill "Ambien" (8 hours sleep, no side effects) and Amber's herb valerian, (4 hours, also no associated problems) sometimes helped me to stay asleep after dawn when sleeping outside. But next time, I'll also be sure to have with me the black eye mask I bought in the travel aids section of a shop at JFK Airport en route home.

In the morning we journeyed on to Asraf (1100 m), where we were hosted by retired engineer Ruziboi Azizuv. His son, Abdul, had already been serving as one of our three drivers. Ruziboi's resident family numbers six or seven, four grown children having already married and moved out. He held court at the tablecloth laid on a mat on the verandah, taking particular interest in Daniel, remarking several times how much he liked his beard, and wondering aloud why Daniel did not have more children. (Daniel and Amber have only the one very fine son, Jeremiah, and no daughters.) I suppressed any comment I might have made regarding my deeply felt, liberal American need not to overpopulate the earth. Justly so -- as the Vallottons commented later, these good people (among whom we saw not a single case of obesity), despite their large families, probably consume far fewer resources than a typical American family (liberal views notwithstanding), and therefore do less harm to the planet.

We took great pleasure in consuming the huge, juicy, just-picked BI tomatoes our host offered us. Our climate discussion produced the information that hail does fall here in the mountains, usually in May, and one time remained on the ground for 24 hours.

The BI garden here could be seen across the path from the house, with heavy, rocky soil. Our host asked the rhetorical question, "How can one live here? We've not had enough water for years." Three beds were nevertheless yielding copious quantities of the above-mentioned beefsteak tomatoes, which had been transplanted from flats grown here. The harvest of melons and the first cucumbers was over, while the second planting of cucumbers, direct sown (July 8) looked dry due to less water being available in this drought year. (The traditional method is to sow these in the ground in the spring, cover them with plastic row covers, then remove the plastic during the hot weather.)

Manure is being used; better water retention was noted. Ruziboi wants to use BI compost and intends to plant oats and wheat in the fall, so he'll have the straw for the compost piles. (Daniel noticed a small pile next to the tomato garden.) We also saw examples of companion planting, e.g. the use of vines for shading. Ash was spread on the leaves to control aphids and eliminate some diseases, but too much was added, which becomes problematic under very sunny conditions. Therefore, its use is now being cut back. (Irina said that aphids generally appear under wetter conditions.)

Ruziboi and his family had accomplished a remarkable feat in 1998, by bringing water down and up, down and up again to the garden from a spring 350 yards away, in a PVC pipe laid just below ground along the contours of the hilly landscape. This irrigation water was fed into a ditch on the upper side of the beds. To my question of how many days it took them to complete this engineering feat, Ruziboi replied, "Just a few hours!" (Remember, many hands make light work; some justification for large families....) For this accomplishment his wife dubbed Ruziboi "Gorbachev," since the Soviet leader also was also known to perform amazing feats. And "Gorbachev" is the name by which Daniel, Amber, and I will always remember him.

We made the pilgrimage to the spring and back, noticing the places where the pipe was occasionally visible. We passed through an orchard, and noticed how the heavy fruit load on the unpruned peach trees had broken some of the branches. Fruit tree pruning seems to be less practiced not only here in Asraf, but in many places we have visited in Uzbekistan.

After our visit with "Gorbachev," we drove to another watershed and took another short hike to visit the venerable evergreen Biota, which has cypress-like needles and a massive, gnarled trunk and easily climbed lower branches. There are examples up to 2500 years of age; this one was reputed to be about 1000 years old. We were told it is a good place to say a prayer, and to judge from the many scraps of cloth tied to the lower branches, many visitors had done so. Just alongside and ranging along the hillside above the path back to Hayat were ruins of stone houses believed to have been built by soldiers of Alexander the Great's army who had remained in the area, more than a millennium before the young tree arrived on the scene.

Now it was time to depart for the desert BI garden site Ottakurgan, in the barren Kyzylkum Desert. Before our party set out to descend the 950 meters in the three cars, the Vallottons and I checked our bottled-water supply and realized that it was lower than we might have wished. Irina and her activists were satisfied with the green tea that was offered at each of our hosting locations, while those of us from across the sea depended more on the bottled water, carbonated or still, that we bought (ice-cold if possible) from shops or roadside stands. Deciding that the situation warranted this in view of the fact that such shops did not exist in the desert as far as we knew, Daniel purified three bottles for the journey using tablets I had bought at REI in Seattle. The second tablet (ascorbic acid) eliminates the unpleasant iodine taste but makes the water milky -- which, while being slightly off-putting, proved an advantage, as no one else reached for a drink from our unattended bottles!

Our destination, Ottakurgan, is located in the portion of the Kyzylkum between the Nuratau mountain range and the gigantic Lake Aidar. Most of the way, the desert was dry, with tufts of dead grasses dotting the sandy landscape. Scattered here and there were green villages or homesteads with trees and gardens (but no windmills), where water was available from a well, evidently brought to the surface using gasoline-powered pumps. As we approached the lake, appearing as a mirage-like blue stripe in the distance, the tufted grasses became greener.

Here we experienced an adventure we consider worthy of the name. The Vallottons and I were riding with Irina the younger in the third and last car in the caravan, a Zhiguli with mechanical problems. Like the others, our driver had to stop regularly to throw water on the outside of the radiator and pour water inside it to cool it down. But he also, when the engine began to cough, would stop to perform an operation that caused us to be concerned about his health. He would jump out, go to the gas tank and perform a sucking operation from a small tube protruding from it, then jump back in and drive on, the engine running smoothly again.

We all really began to worry when, first, the two cars ahead of us turned in opposite directions on the dirt roads criss-crossing the desert, and we didn't know which to follow! We decided to chase the black Nissan jeep owned by NABU in which we believed Irina the elder was riding. Then, after being delayed by one of the above-mentioned gasoline-sucking episodes, we even lost sight of that car, and felt completely alone in the desert. Compounding the problem was our driver's habit of not always answering our questions or responding to suggestions. He appeared to be attempting to solve the problem by stopping and scrutinizing the tracks in the dirt road in front of us, to see which looked fresher (this reassured us only slightly). But after about a half-hour of this, there was still no car in sight. We could see several small homesteads, but did not know which to head for.

No one was timing this experience, but it seemed we spent a good two hours chasing around the desert without a compass. Eventually we found ourselves close to one of the homesteads where a man standing at a well, in response to our query, pointed to another oasis-like village on the horizon, indicating it was Ottakurgan. Finding our way there in another 20 minutes and, sure enough, being happily reunited with the rest of our little band, we vented our feelings with as much self-control as we could muster. We said what we hoped was the truth -- that in the States, especially in the hot desert, the driver of a car leading a caravan continually watches the rear-view mirror to check that those following behind are in sight! (After this the drivers of the caravans back to Yangikishlak and thence to Chirchik were better behaved.)

Then, putting this trying experience behind us, we warmly greeted our new host Shodibai Bekmuratov, a Tajik former dentist-turned-general medical practitioner. Irina explained that he had first moved from a state farm to this Kazakh settlement in 1974. He had planted the very first fruit trees here in 1986 at the suggestion of the state farm agriculturists. We inspected his trees -- apples, apricots, and figs among others; also a flourishing grapevine. The local Kazakhs, who as traditional nomadic herders had not been planters of trees, soon followed his example.

During our tea-drinking and snacking at a tablecloth on the ground outside his house, our host recounted that recently there had been only 2-3 cm of precipitation per year, with very few snows, and only one month of frost (January 15-February 15) with lows of -8C in the past few years. Previously it had snowed much more and the frosts had been more severe. For example, the temperature had gone down to -27C in 1993-94 and he had lost some cattle in the freeze. He has a shallow well (two meters deep) yielding water that is somewhat saline; the deeper well 90-105 meters deep that provides better water is a distance away at the state farm. Both provide a constant supply of water. A state well-digging enterprise put in the deep well during the Soviet period; now it is unclear whether this organization is public or private. The water table is considered to be 12 meters down. Gasoline engine-powered pumps (no windmills to be seen) pump up the water.

With help from Irina and her activists, most of the Biointensive beds had been double-dug in 1999 by our host's daughter Norgul (the local schoolteacher), but a few were dug this year by our host himself. We saw winter squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, and carrots; the crops are being rotated in double-dug beds. The cucumbers were direct sown; the tomatoes transplanted from seedlings. This was the first year for carrots in double-dug beds; the second for cucumbers. It was noted that once the leaves started to touch, less water was needed. Tall cornstalks provided a natural windbreak and fence around the garden as a whole, and also around certain sunken plots.

The Bekmuratovs had tried overhead watering as recommended by Ecology Action, but plants had died. They then resorted to Irina's furrow irrigation methods, although there is a plan to try overhead watering on the corn and tomatoes in the coming spring. This soil had been enriched by organic matter (manure) for the past 14 years, and our host had noticed that less water was required each year. Four to five wheelbarrows of manure have been incorporated into each six-square-meter bed, each year. The manure came from cows, sheep, and goats, and was aged in a pile along with weeds.

The daughter, who had qualified as a teacher not long before by correspondence studies with a pedagogical college in Tashkent, had worked with her 12- to 14-year-old students to build a compost pile. (We photographed it, of course.) Cornstalks are usually used to feed the animals -- the humans also eat the grain, boiled -- but Irina is trying to persuade these people to compost it.

Before our departure, we were offered a drink of fresh skim milk from the family cow that "will ensure that we won't be thirsty for the entire journey." It was very cold and slightly sour, but certainly thirst-quenching, so that indeed, I was not tempted to reach for a water bottle during the entire two-hour car trip back to Yangikishlak.

Bakhtier and his family treated us to yet another ceremonial dinner, this time with neighbors and the drivers, and more toasting and storytelling. After another night sleeping under the gorgeous desert night sky, we bade farewell to the family, and set out in caravan back to Tashkent (where we stopped for lunch at a cafe) and then to Chirchik. En route we saw more mountain ranges, greener than Nuratau, plantations of poplars, cotton and wheat fields, and rice paddies. The journey took many more hours than the outbound one, for various reasons: (1) the cars were older and the drivers better behaved, (2) if anything there seemed to be MORE checkpoints, and (3) the usual road from Tashkent to Chirchik was closed (possibly due to a visiting dignitary's motorcade), and no one seemed to know an alternative route. Our way finally took us past President Karimov's dacha -- behind a VERY long wall; one could only imagine the extent to which it resembled a royal palace. (This was only one of many indications that the country's government is corrupt from the top down.)

Chirchik: The Combination School Garden:

This garden is managed by the school's director, with student assistance. Patrick and Darina had demonstrated Biointensive first here in 1998. It was apparent that part of it is still being double-dug, but some of the area had reverted to traditional methods. The director is supportive of Biointensive and wants the entire area to be double-dug. There was a compost pile. There were other gardens here, tended by people from the local chemical industry. The soil is heavy, with large cracks where it had dried out. Cow manure is incorporated in the soil in the fall for the plants sown in the spring. Gardeners bring in fresh manure, against Irina's recommendations.

Irina's Dacha Garden:

The area where Irina's dacha is located is eight kilometers from her apartment, a journey of 40 minutes by bus and walking. It had originally been a garbage dump, but in 1977 the machinery factory parceled out the plots to their employees, and soil (heavy loam) was trucked in and spread to a depth of one meter. Irina bought the dacha for a Biointensive demo garden with the gift of a good portion of Patrick's and Darina's USAID Farmer-to-Farmer per diem money ($1700) in 1998, from an old Russian woman departing for Russia.

The elevation of the area is 800 meters. Irina explained that the soil is alkaline (pH 8.5), with a very low nitrogen content, but with plenty of potassium. Irina is having a soil analysis made, but does not trust the quality of the testing. Manure had been used in the plot, but the last time the Russian woman had brought it in was 1994. After that (in 1996 and '97), she had used compost made from weeds.

During her first year gardening there (1998), Irina removed the old and sick trees and cleared up the plot in general. She double-dug two beds in the fall and planted Russian peas in them, and single-dug the rest of the area and grew garlic in part of the area. The rest she left fallow.

In spring 1999, Irina and the students double-dug six more beds and planted tomatoes, cabbage, pepper, sunflower, and corn. The tomato seedlings (following the Russian peas in their bed) were transplanted from paper tumblers saved from soft drinks, and their survival rate was 97%. They also grew faster than those planted in traditional beds. The tomatoes this year that didn't look good were planted following garlic. (Irina noted that onions and garlic exude a substance that inhibits the growth of tomatoes.)

This year (2000), Irina and her students planted amaranth, corn, and soybeans for compost (the soy also for nitrogen fixation), as well as a bed of oats. She would have planted alfalfa if she had been able to get the seed. In the past she has experienced poor germination with alfalfa (which had been sown directly rather than in seed flats). She planted more corn before leaving for the Biointensive Conference in Davis (late March), and sowed corn in July, after harvesting garlic. She direct-sowed it after soaking the seeds. Irina had four Biointensive compost piles made from weeds, purchased straw, and soil. She puts the compost through a fine sieve when it is ready. She used all the compost, but it was not enough for all the beds, so much of the area did not get compost this year. The soil is poor, and it needs much compost.

The plants in Irina's garden include soybeans (2 beds), peas (one bed), beans (3 beds), eggplant (1 bed), corn, corn interplanted with beans (2/3 bed), tomatoes and peppers and, in mixed beds, onions, daisies, amaranth, coreopsis, roses (from previous gardener), red Swiss chard, herbs such as basil, dill, lemon balm, mints, comfrey, and cilantro, grapes, cucumbers, Chinese lanterns, garlic, lettuce, pomegranates, strawberries. Sultan and other students helped double-dig and plant around June 15.

At the beginning, Irina used watering cans and observed a surface crust forming, due to the heavy clay in the soil. Now she uses her furrow method, watering twice a day if needed. Water is pumped from a small nearby stream and distributed via canals. It is available four times a week for three hours, from 4-7 p.m., and Irina stores it in small tanks.

The house is furnished with basic furniture, housewares, an antique radio, and books, and inspirational BI and sustainability slogans are posted on the walls. Cooking is done outside on an open fire. Tools cannot be stored in the house, as they have been stolen -- even books have been taken.

Irina told us about a two-year experiment she had performed at State Farm No. 5 near Azadbash, in Bostanliksky rayon of Tashkent oblast' in 1993 and 1994. She herself had already successfully grown corn with amaranth on 20 square meters in her home garden, from 1991 to 1993. She was raising rabbits, chickens, and ducks at the time and the amaranth served as excellent feed for them, although the chickens preferred it with corn and wheat added. They gained weight and their eggs increased in size, so she recommended amaranth to the state farm as chicken and cattle feed. The cows didn't care for it, but after it was mixed with other grains, they found it more palatable, resulting in the cows gaining weight and giving richer milk.

Brichmulla Forestry Farm and Environs:

Our trip to this region in the Western Tien-Shan mountains above Chirchik that extends on both sides of the Charvak reservoir, offered the opportunity to see both Irina's graduate work from the 1970s and '80s and her network of experimental Biointensive beds in this area. The area was deforested by grazing by the 1960s, but over the years has been transformed into a state-supported forestry farm, considered the best in Uzbekistan. Irina's research involved working toward the establishment of nut and fruit orchards on the mountain slopes, with the goal of restoring the soil's fertility and water-holding capacity, to avert landslides, and, of course, to increase its productivity. She worked with high-yielding and fast-fruiting varieties of walnut, almond, apple, cherry plum, and hawthorn.

The high mountains are normally snow-capped even in July, but no snow was visible this year, due to the drought. Irina pointed toward the mountains up-valley, and commented that at various times in the past (e.g. in the late 1950s when Sino-Soviet relations were at their nadir), some people had feared an invasion of Chinese troops, crossing Kyrgyzstan from Sinkiang province via that route.

Irina showed us a plantation of almond trees, planted under her direction in 1983-84 as a part of her thesis work researching the use of almond trees for reforestation. The mountain slopes were terraced one year before planting to catch water and store it in the soil. The seedlings were planted in soil amended with various quantities of organic matter, to learn what the most effective amount of organic matter would be. The research established that where more organic matter had been applied, there was less transpiration of water by the trees. Irina said that after five years, an impressive 85% of the trees had survived. (More details of this work can be found in an article Irina wrote during her visit to California; Carol has it on file and can e-mail it on request.)

This region in the Western Tien-Shan mountains, Chimgan, and the area back toward Tashkent along the Charvak reservoir are home to many vacation centers, sanatoria, and youth camps. These have been established by various organizations, such as commercial firms, Uzbekistan's Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Health, various institutes, the National Bank.en route to our destinations (schools where BI gardens had been established). We encountered a crowd of teens waiting for their buses back to Tashkent, they had competed their stays of two to four weeks at the camps.

We stopped at the school in Navobat, a town which Irina had not visited since 1998, and saw some beds still apparently being double-dug. The school is linking up with two other schools in the area to pursue a BI gardening project, the sales of vegetables intended to support much-needed building repairs and other school needs. Irina has been invited to return in the autumn to help develop a plan for this project.

We spent some time learning about the "topol" (Populus) trees, planted to provide building materials. They are spaced very close together (down to 30-45 cm apart), and then thinned out as they grow. We noted sheep damage to the bark on some of the trees we saw planted near the school gardens.

In Kainarsai, near the village of Sidjak, we saw the first bed double-dug in 1995 from the instructions in Kak vyraschivat' bol'she ovoschei... Irina had taught forestry farm workers double-digging and composting there, and established two BI beds, with peas and corn which grew well. The forestry farm is growing walnut seedlings there now, however, as the plot is part of a tree nursery.

Back in Chirchik:

We thoroughly enjoyed our all-too-brief visits to Aziz' and Emil's family dachas. Following are short summaries of those visits, and information on the "activisits" provided by Irina:

Sixteen-year-old Emil Zinedinov grows corn, beans, and tomatoes in 25 percent of his family's large garden area. (He's also interested in boxing.) After we declined to sit down for tea, his mother offered us sweet pear compote to drink from small bowls while standing outside their home. Emil's father works as a builder, his mother as a technician at the chemical factory. He has a younger sister.

The sun had set by the time we reached Aziz Abkerimov's home, but by moonlight we were able to see the flowers in the raised bed in front of the house and the grape arbor absolutely laden with fruit (yes, the family does make wine!). Aziz, aged 18, speaks some English, and is from a Crimean Tartar family. He graduated from the Combination School in 1999 and has since been studying at the Tashkent Economics Institute. He has started an environmental club there, but he's also interesting in flying. His mother is a commodity researcher, his father an electrician. He has a younger brother.

We were sorry we weren't able to visit Maksim Kamenko's plot. When Irina tried to reach him by phone there was no answer -- probably he was out playing basketball for the Chirchik team! Maksim is 16 years old; he's a good student in the 11th grade, and hopes to become a mathematician. He has a small garden in of his own and also helps his parents in theirs. His mother teaches mathematics, while his father is a retired military officer. Maksim has an older brother.

Sultan Khaleraev is 17; he graduated from high school in good standing, and is very serious and dependable. He helps in his parents' garden. Beyond gardening he's interested in technology, so is starting a year of computer studies before entering the Agricultural Institute. He has two brothers and a sister. His father is a bus driver, his mother a homemaker; his family is very amicable.

Sherzod Nuruddinov finished high school at age 17 in good standing. He is very lively and also dependable. He's interested in business as well as gardening; he wants to study law. He has two brothers and a sister. His parents are businesspeople; they sell imported goods in the market.

Bakhtiar Zulimov is 16; he's in the 11th grade, a good and sometimes excellent student. He is very capable and attentive. He has one sister. He's interested in business as well as gardening. His parents work in the Brichmulla mountains and keep bees and a small garden and orchard there; Bakhtiar helps them in the summer. His family is very close.

Shokir Kayumov, at 15 years of age, is a good student in the 9th grade. He's very modest, serious, and dependable. He loves animals and birds, as well as his garden. He has one younger brother and two sisters. His father is a scientific worker at the Nuratau Nature Reserve. His mother is a homemaker; she also makes beautiful carpets.

Irina Yugai (Irina Kim's daughter) is 17 years old, and loves music, singing, dancing, drawing, and poetry as well as gardening. When she was four she studied in an opera studio, and at five she sang on tour in Minsk. She studied art for two years, and dance for one. She graduated from a music performance high school, and now sings solo in a music studio. She has competed in national competitions in singing and piano, and of course has taken part in all the ecology skits her mother organized. She's studying computers and the English language and has entered the People's Economy Institute.

A farewell supper at Irina's apartment included a visit by Irina's oldest daughter Tanya, husband Sasha, and their sweet baby Kristina, who would be one year old the following Sunday. The event would be celebrated with a well-attended family gathering requiring certain ceremonies offering a glimpse into the child's future life, and much cooking and other preparations. No rest for Irina after our departure!

Back in Tashkent:

Our last two-three days were mostly spent translating lists and typing up notes (Carol) and writing a report (Daniel and Amber) at the Winrock office. But a real problem arose when we realized that during our time in the nature reserve and at Irina's apartment (three and two nights respectively), we hadn't registered with OVIR, the special police department that keeps track of the movements of foreigners. Checking our other registrations, the Vallottons also found some incorrect dates. So, our dear hosts Irina and her son-in-law Sasha drove to the OVIR office with (1) our passports, (2) a letter from Winrock attesting to our status as volunteers attempting to provide eco-ag assistance, and (3) our tickets, to show the need for prompt action (it was the day before the Vallottons' departure; I would be leaving one day later).

Irina and Sasha returned in several hours, reporting that after a lengthy wait, the official (consulting with his superior) separately interrogated first Irina, then Sasha, then Irina, then Sasha, establishing their guilt in the matter and eliciting assurances of penitent feelings, and finally a small bribe offer of $20 (which was negotiated up to $30). The Vallottons' passports were returned, properly stamped, but missing the stamped sticky labels from our Tashkent hotel. All was still not in order with the Vallottons' passports, and mine was still being held by OVIR, pending another visit bearing another Winrock letter....

That evening we were joined by environmentalists Oleg Tsaruk and Yusup Kamalov to dine al fresco at a restaurant on Broadway, a pedestrian mall given over to street vendors, shashlyk stands, amusements, and loud Uzbek pop music. Oleg is BfR's oldest friend in Uzbekistan, whom I had first met in San Francisco in '93 and who in '94 gave Irina the copy of Kak vyraschivat'...that led to her prodigious work disseminating the BI method. Yusup directs the Committee for the Protection of the Aral and Amu-Darya based in Nukus, and had been visiting Oleg while the two worked on a UN-supported documentary film on desertification. That evening and subsequently on the Uzbekistan Airways flight to Kiev (where he was traveling to attend the all-CIS Socio-Eological Union conference), Oleg offered a number of leads for UN support for inclusion of Biointensive in projects to combat desertification. He also requested a write-up of the Nukus workshop for a Web site on desertification that should be uploaded soon.

Meanwhile back at OVIR...

The next afternoon, that of the day before I flew home, was most definitely not fun. After I spent several reasonably pleasant, air-conditioned hours working on the computer at Winrock, Irina, Sasha and I took off for OVIR in a taxi with the Winrock letter with the newly fudged date that will not incriminate the OVIR officials who had taken the $30 bribe. Sasha went into the building while Irina and I waited outside, since I had with me some small bags that wouldn't have been allowed inside. Our waiting place was a long bench inside the building's walled enclosure, in an area that stank of urine. Fortunately, one could walk 30 feet away to stand and avoid the smell, which Irina and I finally did.

After we had waited at least half an hour, Sasha came out, saying that the esteemed authorities had requested he return with a photocopy of the yellow stickers proving we'd been registered at the Rovshan hotel, that they had (surely illegally) removed the day before! It took him at least another 45 minutes, lacking a car, to find a place that does copying in that neighborhood. Returning with the copies, he went back in and left us to wait outside for probably another hour. I was doubly frustrated because not only was I losing shopping/museum time and Irina and Sasha valuable work time, I was also constrained from sitting in their office and finding creative, dignified, respectful (?) ways of showing my utter contempt for the entire two-day, time-wasting charade!

Irina went into the building after another half-hour or 45 minutes, then came out to report that Sasha, after waiting with others in the queue, was now sitting, as patiently as he could, while the official was outside taking a break. Somewhere around 5 p.m. Sasha came out, to our great relief, with the passport and the proper stamps. Sasha politely asked if I was glad to be leaving, and I politely replied that yes, three weeks traveling is long enough, and yes, it would be great to be back home where I could taste the fruits of my garden. What I could have said was that it would be great to be back in a country where we don't normally have to put up with corrupt, kafkaesque, petty power plays such as had just occurred. In the taxi to the apartment I had to breathe more black exhaust smoke from a bus, then gray smoke from a truck, and began to be very glad I was to depart for my (relatively) unpolluted, uncorrupt California homeland early the next morning -- despite my new and renewed friendships and joint projects with the many wonderful people I was leaving behind.

Irina and I spent my last evening at the apartment snacking on her salads brought from her home and working on her financial report on the Ecology Action grant money she had used to fund her activist group's and our trips to Nukus, Samarkand, Nuratau, and Brichmulla. We were picked up at 5 a.m. by Winrock's driver, Mahmud, who drove us to the airport, where Irina waited outside (only passengers were allowed inside the airport terminal) until she could no longer see me checking in.

The Homeward Journey:

The Uzbekistan Airways flight back to New York went smoothly, with vegetarian meals when requested, although I was cool in my short-sleeved blouse as the blankets all were given out before I reboarded in Kiev, and I had left my jacket in the checked luggage. (Incidentally, according to Oleg, Uzbekistan Airways has received the highest rating of all the "Babyflot" post -Aeroflot-breakup airlines, including Aeroflot!) My TWA flight was delayed by rain at JFK, which snarls traffic there regularly. Nevertheless I made it in to SFO and was greeted by BfR's Web master Shoshana Billik and our mutual Russian friend and BfR volunteer translator Margarita Orlova (from Almaty via Mountain View). Our visiting en route home provided a delightful conclusion to a most memorable tour.

Biointensive for Russia
831 Marshall Drive
Palo Alto, CA 94303 U.S.A.
(650) 856-9751  cvesecky@igc.org
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