Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Last week, I was sick most of the time. My assistant fell ill. (Today I finally found a new one.) My laptop decided to die on me. But things started to change Saturday night, when we hosted a cocktail party, with most cocktails consisting of vodka and one other, possibly irrelevant, ingredient. This, together with the latino, gypsy and eighties music, must have killed most of the germs, and the next day I was fit enough to explore the wild Amu Darya river, where the catfish roam, the river that made it all happen here.
The river was high, the backwaters overflowed and the backswamps were flooded. A fanatic of swamps, marshes and wetlands I may be, I was still quite impressed with the scale and variety of this area. Heavily used, with fishermen, huts, pipes, pumps, swimmers, gardens and rice paddies crammed in the most impossible corners, the result was nevertheless very impressive. It looked like every square inch that is not used right now, every morsel of unused land lining irrigation ditches, below dykes, along paths, and on the sandy river banks, turns lush in a few seconds. Sedges and reeds grow as high as I ever saw it, while dragonflies fill the air above the rice fields. Trees are strangely familiar: willows, poplars, some ash. A few hours north from here, closer to the Aral Sea, is a Soviet-era nature reserve, where this floodplain forest, the only type of woodland that occurred naturally in the wide region, can be found in a more pristine state.
In the meanwhile, we picked up the research again, and today we talked to a chief engineer at a fascinating organization, under the umbrella of the cadastre, but doing much more than the traditional land registration. The cadastre itself is new, but this particular organization dates from the Soviet era, when it monitored soil quality and advised on crop rotation. Since soil quality during and after socialism was/is the key to all other land use decisions here, they branched out into all areas of planning, and recently became a place that combined monitoring of correct land use with zoning, subdivision and site design, in other words, making it happen. In practice, they still have to deal with other players defending their turf, and they need to be asked.