The institute here in Urgench is primarily a site for fieldwork, a starting point for data collection in presumably even more exciting places. It took me some time to explain the colleagues that the institute itself was part of 'the field' for me, that I wanted to talk to many of the colleagues, learn from them, hear their perspectives on the changing governance and organization of land in the region.
But, I did have ambitions to venture out of my air- conditioned office, investigate more in depth the history of land use in one small community. Wednesday, yesterday, I finally went there, in a mild 45 degrees, and it was certainly worth the hour-long drive. Ashirmat is the name of the community, formerly a kolkhoz, a collective farm, now the territory of a so-called water user association, an organization that took over some tasks of the old kolkhoz. Right before we left, the rector of the local university showed up unexpectedly, with three professors he rounded up especially for my research -the previous day, John and I had talked to the rector about my research. I apologized profusely, and the relations don't seem to have suffered [not a good start for the networking]
In the field, we were welcomed more warmly than I expected-yet in relatively cool homes. I understood from the colleagues that the farmers had been subjected to so much scientific scrutiny over the years, that I had to be very cautious and patient. I was joining two colleagues on a survey-trip that had been arranged a while ago, to get a feeling for the place and the people, and to get introduced slowly into the community. Indeed, some farmers did not show up, some seemed annoyed or sarcastic, but overall, the experience was heart-warming. I had the chance to talk to some farmers, to local officials, in the shade of a mulberry tree -for the silkworm- or in a living room with tea, bread and sweets. Beer could not be avoided, even in the morning, but I successfully escaped the vodka -for now. It looked like many locals were as interested in me as I in them, and I generously shared my profound knowledge of Belgian agriculture.
Today, Thursday, me, my assistant, and a colleague who had organized the introduction, had an interview with a senior official at the BVO, the organization in charge of the whole Amy Darya basin, an international organization therefore, with its seat here in Urgench. The gentleman in question was very helpful, explaining the current issues in Central Asian water governance, and some aspects of the evolution from Soviet to Uzbek planning. One of the things I hadn't thought of before: deciding on the distribution of water at the international level is also planning, and crucial for that, because it determines everything else you can do in a region. With some slight changes at that level, the Soviets could have shaped Central Asia very differently.
In the meanwhile, at the guest house, the heat does not abate. I got a fan, thank God, but then the noise of the thing kept me awake. Next step in my process of innovation and adaptation: earplugs made of toilet paper. Even those couldn't block the silence after the loss of Germany...