I was fortunate when I arrived here in Tashkent last month that the consular officers and local staff already working in the section facilitated a great orientation training and familiarization period for me. This helped me quickly learn what consular work looks like relevant to conditions in Uzbekistan; it was a specific and fine-tuned addendum to my ConGen training that took place in this spring.
And what is consular work about, exactly, for the uninitiated? In my opinion, it is very important work – protecting the borders of our great nation, while facilitating legitimate travel, study and even immigration to the United States, as well as serving the needs of our fellow American citizens traveling through or living in Uzbekistan.
I’ll likely never go into much more detail than that in this public space for what I hope are obvious reasons. I got some joking requests from people I like and respect to discuss visa interview questions, funny applicant stories, and things of that nature. Obviously, they were kidding, but just to be clear: discussing specifics of my work here is not appropriate, just like I choose to keep the majority of details about my personal and familial relationships to myself. However, if you are curious about consular work, there is a ton of publicly available information from the State Department. You can read about non-immigrant visas, immigrant visas, and American Citizen Services by referencing the U.S. Embassy Tashkent website.
I had a chance to observe processes here without the pressure to make decisions for the first few weeks, and for that I am truly grateful. I watched applicants wait their turn for an interview, and I walked through all of the checkpoints into the waiting room to imagine how it feels to be in their shoes. (I even checked out the bathrooms, which are gloriously clean!) I watched fee collection, intake, interviews in English, Russian and Uzbek, visa adjudication, printing and even passback, the process where successful applicants come to retrieve their passports with their newly minted visas inside. I also had a chance on the fly to see some special American Citizen Services cases, like notary requests and passport renewals.
And then a few weeks after my arrival, after much internal angst, ConGen note review and mental ramping up, one morning I arrived at work and said to my colleague, literally: “There’s no time like the present,” as I logged into my station and raised the mini-blinds on my window with a rapid whir. I encountered my first applicant on the other side of the glass, and asked in Russian, “Do you speak Russian or Uzbek?” He replied, “I can speak in Russian.” Then the actual consular work that I am responsible for over the next two years of my tour here began.
With more than two weeks on the visa window line, I am by no means an expert (let alone proficient), and the learning curve is very steep. Maybe the learning curve is steep in most new jobs, but especially here; some of my 178th colleagues went to posts where they may only have the opportunity to conduct one aspect of consular work during their tours. I work at what can be considered a small consular post, and what this means is that each officer kind of needs to know how to do everything, or at least have better than a working familiarity with everything we may encounter.
I also think when working hard and/or living overseas that an important component of resilience is having fun. And so, I have been trying to have some fun in my free time!
On Friday, June 12, I went to the Tashkent State Conservatory of Music with a few colleagues to hear Tchaikovsky’s symphony No. 5 and Concerto No. 1 for piano. It was sweltering inside the auditorium, and I immediately noticed that most of the women in the room had lovely, colorful handheld fans. (Note to self: Purchase silk or paper fan ASAP!)
I will also take my humor where I can get it. Consider the case of two images on my kitchen wall:
I don’t mean to be snide about these gaffes in any way. My landlord would probably be mortified – like in the Balkans, it seems that things written in English somehow convey a status or sophistication irrespective of what sense the phrases make. I simply find these photos hilarious and whenever my mood is a little down, just one look at these templates and I burst into out-loud laughter all alone in my house.
And also…grocery shopping!
Yesterday was a Sunday, but I joined some of my colleagues at the embassy to help catch up from the backlog caused by the State Department’s recent systems crash that caused significant delays for embassies and consulates issuing visas and other services worldwide. Since my car arrived in Belgium only a few days ago by sea freight, and is yet to be trucked over to Central Asia, I am still on foot or using taxis when needed.
Sunday morning I walked to the embassy, and after work, the temperatures had cooled to the mid-90s Fahrenheit so I decided to take a stroll to a mall called MegaPlanet to visit a grocery store I’d never been to. It took me roughly half an hour to get there, an hour or more inside, and then another hour to stubbornly walk home loaded down with bags (mostly inside my backpack) to get some exercise. By the time I walked in the door, it was eight o’clock in the evening and about time to relax with a glass of wine and my feet in a bucket of ice water.
Imagine my delight to find one of my most beloved products here in the embassy commissary for cheaper than in the States:
Right into the freezer that went!
And here’s something from MegaPlanet that I didn’t buy, because it was 12,490 soms (or about $4.89) as opposed to the buck I’m used to paying at Safeway in northern Virginia:
I picked up a Russian brand instead for probably 3,500 soms. I cannot wait for my sea freight to arrive with so much glorious food from our Costco run inside!
I realize that I literally have posted no pictures taken outside my house. I have been trying in these early weeks to maintain a low profile and anyway, am mostly at the embassy where no photography is allowed. I will try to post some pictures of my neighborhood and other scenes readers may find interesting in my next post.