Friday, March 6, 2009

Heading home...

Well, it is our last night and we are all packed and ready to go. Not so eagerly awaiting our 2:15am wake-up call :( We have definitely enjoyed our vacation time - full of relaxation, leisurely breakfasts, lots of walking, tons of good food and plenty of calls to prayer! We are both so glad to have had a few extra days to enjoy after a busy few weeks in Uzbekistan.

Istanbul is an interesting city - full of so much history. But an odd mix of Christian and Islamic ties. Early March is definitely not an ideal weather time to come, but great for less tourists. Shoot it was much like Oregon - overcast skies and rain much of the time. We had a great experience, but we did not get used to being harassed by EVERY merchant/restaurant we went past. Every time...."Yes, please" or "Excuse me, let me spend your money" or "Lady you drop something" - it got to be kind of funny waiting for the next line they would use to try to get us to stop...funny it never worked. Needless to say we weren't huge fans of The Grand Bazaar and preferred the more quiet streets where we could shop in peace.

We hit all the main sites - Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia (church/mosque/museum), Archeological museum, Topkapi palace, Chora church, Istiklal street, Galata Tower, the old city walls, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Galata Bridge and of course a Turkish Bath. One of the most surprising things was that many of the "churches" had been converted to mosques at some point in history - so it was a strange mix of both religions. We definitely appreciated Turkish cuisine - we had grilled fish (the whole thing head, bones, tail and all), turkish tea/coffee, baklava, turkish delights; however we did opt out of trying the water pipe.

Let us tell you a bit about a Turkish bath. Torri was the most nervous about this part - as she doesn't like her face wet or "dead" body parts (aka hair, nails, skin, etc.). But we went to a bath that was recommended in serval books and was known for serving us tourists :) It was...lets just say an interesting experience. It definitely deserves a full description in person. Our biggest surprise came from the lack of modesty that exists - not among us bathers but among the attendants who are washing you. Oh the memories made....

We are both glad to have all 3 suitcases coming home with us - I think we are shocked at how many things we bought...especially food items! Hopefully our bags are not too overweight :)

Thank you all so much for your support before and during this trip. Hope you enjoyed some of the stories and pictures that we were able to share. Pray for a safe flight and see you all back in Oregon :)

Steph & Torri

Monday, March 2, 2009

The vacation begins....

So now that we no longer have to come home everyday to our dreaded hotel in Tashkent - we thought that we'd share some of the annoying/comical and daily happenings! We mentioned earlier that this hotel used to be occupied by communist leaders - I'm truthfully not sure it has really been cleaned since that time...or at least the shower hasn't. Every morning was a new never knew when the water would actually heat up, but if you let the water run for more than 2-3 minutes you run the risk of the water overflowing onto the floor. The backed up water conveniently also brought up more dirt than it washed down. Plus it was a hand held shower that couldn't be hooked up to the wall - so you had to quickly spray yourself down before the next flood....Then as you finally finished showering you got the grab the hard, air dried towel that barely fit your body - stepping onto the cold (semi-clean) tile floor. Oh and did you need to use the toilet?!? Don't forget to use the paper towel/sand paper/corrugated cardboard textured toilet paper and then place it in the trashcan, which got emptied (hopefully) every other day. That pretty much sums up the bathroom drama - but don't forget to use your bottled water to brush your teeth need to get extra bacteria :)
Onto the maid service - an experience in and of itself. Let's just clarify that no one speaks English in the entire hotel! So when they come down the hall speaking Russian and trying to explain something in the room that they did - we just smile and nod and say spasibo ("thank you"). Then we enter the room and become detectives.....first it was the missing cookies (half the container mysteriously disappeared while we were out)....we gave up the hunt for our roll of cherry day they decided to clean up after us - moving all our suitcases, folding our clothes and putting everything away in drawers rather than our organized piles. And probably the most annoying of them all.....our final 3 days went sports free because somehow we lost our Russian sports channel (after our remote had been reprogrammed) and every other channel was still functional. english speaking people around!

Not that we want to totally rant - but it's so comical to look back at now. How about our breakfast experience at the hotel??? First, I'm pretty sure that 90% of the time we were the only females in the entire room. We were watched the entire time. And if we were lucky we got our food within 30 minutes of sitting down while everyone else was served around us (and finished their meals). But we learned to appreciate our rice cereal, bread and cheese and hot black tea!

OK - we really are done complaining! Our last few days in Tashkent were nice - time to fit in the last things and say good-bye to the friends we made. Stephanie unfortunately caught a bit of a cold (which everyone thought was because of drinking cold beverages or being outside - not that there were many cold beverages to be found). Saturday we were able to tour the main "highlights" of Tashkent - into many of the parks, down broadway (their walking/shopping street), through their freedom square, capital building and WWII memorial. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we enjoyed walking around with no coats and soaking in some sun! In the afternoon we went to the big local bizarre/market - both goods to buy and consume! Fortunately two of the young girls who helped translate for us accompanied us and bargain for good prices! We bought many souveniers (and gifts). It was pretty nuts - picture Saturday market meets Walmart. Crazy! But also a lot of fun - especially getting to sample the foods :)

Monday started very early - 1:30AM to be exact. Who knew that planes actually left at 4:30 in the morning...but we got to the airport 2 hours early and had no problems getting through all the passport control. Our Turkish Airlines flight was uneventful (thankfully) and we safely arrived in Istanbul at 6:40AM local time (5 hour flight, with a 3 hour time difference from Tashkent to here). We had a few hours to kill with such an early arrival, enjoying a wonderful breakfast at our hotel rooftop cafe that looks out over the Marmara Sea - with classical music (rather than the techno of the past 2 weeks), FRUIT and Coffee! Heavenly! Our Hotel let us check in early, which was really great so we could freshen up before exploring a bit of the town. There is definitely sooooo much to see here! Our next few days will be plenty busy on Rick Steve's & Lonely Planet walking tours :)

We are quite excited and relieved to be in a more western society - where although we do stand out as tourist...we have already met other Americans and there are tourists from all over!!! (with plenty of tour buses to prove it). Our hotel is great - with working shower and all :) Today was just a simple day of exploring - even finding a Starbucks for a nice afternoon latte (and an Istanbul mug for Stephanie)! We're loving wifi internet don't be surprised to see us online more :)

Torri & Steph

Wait...that's ME on TV!!!!

Oleshka is the cutie in the middle who is holding the plastic animals and talking most with the slightly deformed cheek. We fell in love with him!!! He is so smart. He is the one who we taught many signs to during our last few days. Earlier we had recorded him and showed him the video - but didn't get a chance to record his first viewing. We just had to try to capture the excitement and fascination when the kids see a recording of themselves!!!

Orphanage pictures....

A few pictures of the kids....

The caregivers and staff we worked with!
He just wanted to snuggle!

Working on a little core exercise with the staff

Orphanage #1

Friday, February 27, 2009

The end of our time at the Orphanage

This morning was our last time in the Orphanage - no lecture at all, but time for final questions and pictures! The last few days have gone quickly. Torri finished up her portion of the lecture on behavior and play - many of the women really soaked up the behavior information, but are frustrated by lack of progress - especially because of the standards that are imposed on them. The women understand the importance of play, but are unable to focus on it because the emphasis is on developmental progress - difficult with teens who have significant cognitive delays. But Torri was able to be a sounding board for these women and helped to brainstorm many ideas of things they can work on - they seemed to be encouraged by the end of the afternoon.

While Torri was busy working with the behavior kids - Stephanie had a behavior problem of her a grown man, who happens to be in charge of all the therapists. What a disaster! I will say that we had been warned that he searches for ways to argue and dispute anything and everything we say - especially new information. But I was not prepared for what was coming. I was working with a little girl who has hydrocephalus - she is able to roll, but has difficulty sitting on her own. So I was showing the women the importance of building abdominal strength through sitting and transitions. Lets just review what he had to say....
* That the weight of her head may break her neck if we put her in ANY other position than on the floor
* They are unable to work with her leg joints because she does not have proper fluid in the joints since it is all in her head
* She has low hemoglobin levels - they fix this problem by taking her outside where there is more oxygen. However, on rainy, cloudy days there is less oxygen so they let the children play rather than work hard. This is why we are all much more tired on these days as well - not enough oxygen for our bodies.
Those are probably the best of the arguments...but it all went on for almost 45 minutes! For all of you non-science people...all of those points above are totally FALSE!!! I was so frustrated and the worst part, is when I started to discuss with him therapy ideas (ignoring the incorrect information he had stated earlier) - he stood up, walked out of the room and left for the day. Unbelievable!

Although happy hour would have been the perfect ending to this day, instead we decided to culture ourselves by attending a ballet. Not even in the states do I do this...oh well. We saw the ballet "Giselle," not necessarily one I would recommend. Storyline was to say the least crazy. But the theater was beautiful and the orchestra was fun to listen to...Stephanie loved hearing the oboe!

By Thursday we had finished all our prepared material, but by request we put together some last minute lectures on two topics. We taught some basic signs for functional use with kids who are nonverbal - true it was ASL, but as long as they all use it...who cares, right?!? :) The best part was bringing down two kids and teaching them sign in front of all the women. Olishka (the cutie you will see in many of our pics) is so smart! He already has created some signs, but we were able to teach him: more, ball, thank you, shoes, want, all done, and please! All these in just a short amount of time and he even used some of them again today! Elkrin, the second boy who was brought down, is lower functioning and doesn't really use any functional communication. By the end of our time he did demonstrate 2-3 attempts at independently signing "more." It was very exciting not only for us, but also for all the caregivers to see.

The second impromptu lecture was on body mechanics, proper lifting (so hard for them to get) and some exercises for the caregivers to do for their own body. They loved hearing all this information and were shocked by some of the exercises! We provided them with a handout that included 8 exercises - with stick figures and descriptions in Russian. Not to shabby with just a little prep time.

Our cultural experience didn't end with the ballet - Thursday night we went to Tashkent City Bowling! Wow! Torri and I got to wear pink velcro shoes and decided not to wear the socks provided. Apparently learning bowlining in PE really did us good, because I think we were the best bowlers in the entire alley. Stephanie won with a whopping 95!!!

Leaving the orphanage today was definitely bittersweet. We are ready for some true relaxation next week, but were sad to leave the kids and caregivers! The staff was so appreciative of our work - apparently it was one of the first times that a group had taught at their level. So they could really understand and apply the information. We had so much fun teaching them and working with them! Today we were presented with Russian certificates (hopefully we'll find out what they say) along with framed artwork made by the kids! Absolutely beautiful. One last walk through taking lots of pictures and saying goodbye.

This weekend we will tour Tashkent and hopefully do a little shopping. No museums hopefully - we had our fill this afternoon! Our flight leaves Tashkent at 4:20AM on Monday - we have to be there 2 hours early. So not much sleep again for us! We will be flying Turkish airlines from here to Istanbul - so a few extra prayers would be appreciated....for our safety and our nerves! No wonder people clapped when we landed in Tashkent! No internet between now and Istanbul, but we should have wifi and hope to get lots of pictures uploaded! Till then...

Steph & Torri

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More pictures

Samarkand & the start of week 2

Our weekend started very early - good thing for us our bodies have no idea what time zone we're 5am was no big deal. We rode the train from Tashkent southwest to Samarkand - a 4 hour ride, full of reading, ipods and cross stitch. Unfortunately there wasn't much to look at out the window - some snow covered mountains in the distance and lots of dry, flat land in between. Natalia (our interpreter) and her husband Jon came with us on the trip - thank goodness! Natalia negotiated all over the place...starting with our taxi driver. Apparantely negotiation in Samarkand is even more necessary than in Tashkent!

Our hotel room was luxurious in comparison to where we are staying now - you can tell it was a tourist destination! Large room, intricate wood work, soft toilet paper and English TV channels - paradise! The only problem being that we never could figure out how to switch the shower on from faucet to overhead! Dang!

Our weekend was full of lots of great food - we had plofv (sp?) for the first time...a rice, carrott, meat dish which is very traditional Uzbek food. Stephanie had a lot of lamb...all very good! And Torri had lots of potatoes and bread :) It was nice to finally be able to walk around more and explore the city. We were staying in a very central location and Saturday was beautiful - lots of sun and clear blue skies. Honestly, we really didn't know what to expect as far as tourist stops in Samarkand - but what we found out is that most of the destinations were masoleums...a tomb for random people who apparently were important back in the day. But no one really knew most of them. Truthfully - they all began to run together at some point.

One of the more famous places is Registan - an old Muslim boarding house for young boys to learn koran, astronomy and math. It is a huge facility (hoping to get a picture uploaded for you of this), although most of it has been rebuilt over the years. The highlight was paying 3000 sul ($2) to climb up to the top of one of the towers - you climb a small spiral staircase, with tall steps and no more room than one person at a time. At the top you squeeze your way by wires that hold the tin roof in place and pop your head out the hole in the tin roof. There is only room for one person and it is a little nerve racking to try to turn and take pictures of the view on a small little step that you can't see. While at Registan - we also were apparently celebrities. Took our picture with The Oregonian travel section and our Blazer hat....then a few young boys who wanted their picture taken with us. Quite a comical situation :)

This week at the orphanage - it is Torri's turn to lecture on sensory processing, behavior management, and play skills. A challenging topic to explain in a short amount of time, with limited prior knowledge/experience. They all really loved the joint compression and distraction and seemed to really understand this. Not sure how that will translate into working with the kids though. They continue to bring us pretty challenging kids, mostly so that we can show them how to get response and developmental progress from kids that otherwise would be ignored. One of the biggest challenges has been as a child is brought in - especially behavior kiddos when EVERY caregiver needs to add an explanation or additional information, making translation and keeping up with the problems/needs very difficult. But we seem to be making progress - so we'll keep up the hard work!

Stephanie's wonderful mom is helping us upload pictures as we email them to her and she posts them to the blog. Apparently blogspot hasn't added the picture application in Uzbekistan...go figure! So hopefully we'll have some pics of the kids soon....Thanks Mom!!!!

Steph & Torri