Yesterday, I arrived in Urgench.
So, yes, I got my visa.
After a rather hectic -but pleasant- stay in Belgium and Holland, I spent a day, June 30th, in Bonn, to talk through the logistics of my work in Uzbekistan with the people at ZEF. That same evening, I had a meeting with Anna, in a nicely terraced beer garden, to go over the work plan. She pointed out, among other things, that it was probably too much. We discussed some of the literature I was familiar with, and she handed to me an additional pile of publications. A recent GIS study could be a good starting point for the analysis of landscape and landscape change at the local level, i.e. in my case site.
The flight to Tashkent became more bearable and interesting because of the company. Usman, from Pakistan, and Fazlullah, from Afghanistan, both ZEF, joined me, and scared me with plenty of stories of disease and disaster. We spent the night in an apartment in Tashkent, were several people awaited us, with tea, cookies and watermelon. Among them Kirsten, who works for an international organization dealing with dry areas. She knew everyone who ever published on Uzbekistan, spoke Russian fluently, and just came back from Turkmenistan, where driving a dirty car in shorts is highly illegal.
The next morning, we woke up at 5, and were picked up by Kostja, the project driver. His help meant significantly less hassle -compared to Frankfurt- with the luggage. This time no lengthy discussions on rules and regulations, no overpaying and repacking. Once arrived in Urgench, we were brought to the guest house, a large building formerly occupied by a local notable, and later to the ZEF/ Unesco office, well guarded, well furnished, and -first impression- a well/ oiled machine. I was introduced to more researchers, most of them rather adventurous types, and had a long conversation with John, the project coordinator.
That proved very useful. He is very well- connected, has an excellent overview of the whole project, covering several years of research in several disciplines, and a good sense for what might work or not work in the fieldwork. More focus on landscape change, and on the history and future of more integrated, more comprehensive forms of planning, seems warranted. Joining some other researchers at first, later going to the field with my own assistant, seems a good way to get a feeling for the landscape and its history. Talking to older farmers and other residents would be a good way to figure out how the place changed, what and who were the driving factors. In parallel, I can gather old maps and planning documents, and interview officials. That way -in the current plan- I could hopefully reconstruct the evolution of the planning system, its impact, and then figure out how this could be made more comprehensive, more aimed at the improvement of landscapes than at the separate achievement of a series of goals in many different policies.
Today then, July 3rd, I got an office, with air-conditioning [a blessing], a desk, and a computer, a rather slow one unfortunately, so we will have to see how illustrated this blog can be. The food up till now is very good -yesterday evening Georgian chinkali, this morning pizza- with as only complaint the excessive quantities, and the formidable and relentless cook that keeps you eating. I'll have to figure out how to sport in the scorching heat.