November 7, 2001 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Couple's time in Uzbekistan ends

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2001: 11 November 2001 Peace Corps Headlines: November 7, 2001 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Couple's time in Uzbekistan ends

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Read the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a couple that was serving in Uzbekistan at:

Couple's time in Uzbekistan ends

Couple's time in Uzbekistan ends

Nov 7, 2001 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Author(s): Peter Maller

Couple's time in Uzbekistan ends

Peace Corps volunteers return to Wisconsin


of the Journal Sentinel staff

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

West Bend -- Even before the events of Sept. 11, Rogelio and Tracy Quintanar, former social workers from Waukesha, attracted lots of attention on the streets of Uzbekistan, where they taught English as Peace Corps volunteers.

Crowds shouted "Americans!" as the Quintanars shopped for rice and vegetables in bazaars near their home in Chirchik, a small city north of Uzbekistan's border with Afghanistan.

Being so conspicuous was unnerving, yet the Quintanars, both 31, felt safe and welcome in the former Soviet republic. The real danger seemed hidden in the snow-capped mountains surrounding the city. Islamic terrorists were thought to be hiding in the hills, the Quintanars had been told.

Then came the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, recalled the Quintanars, who recently were evacuated from the Central Asian country and now are staying in West Bend.

In Uzbekistan, when they heard news of the attacks over their shortwave radio, the Quintanars became extremely anxious, uncertain what it would mean for them.

"It seemed surreal," remembers Tracy Quintanar. However, they also felt unsettled about returning to America while it was in such turmoil.

This marked the beginning of many mood swings they would experience before federal officials evacuated them Sept. 25.

"When they told us that our plane would be landing in Washington, we said, 'What? D.C.?' " Rogelio Quintanar said. "We actually felt safer in Uzbekistan at that point."

Before the couple left Uzbekistan, where they had been based one year and had expected to stay for two, citizens stopped them on the streets to express sorrow for what happened in America.

"They lived with terrorists who want to create an Islamic state inside their own borders," Tracy Quintanar said. "They could sympathize with what happened."

The Quintanars left the country in the dead of night, warned by Peace Corps staff members not to tell anyone they were leaving. The officials feared that a plane loaded with Americans might make a target for terrorists. All 150 Peace Corps workers in Uzbekistan slipped out under similar circumstances.

Days later, American troops arrived in Uzbekistan to stage the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida network in Afghanistan.

Tracy Quintanar said she told "two or three of her closest friends -- people I could trust" about the evacuation. But she felt guilty about leaving without telling all of her neighbors and acquaintances.

"I felt like we were sneaking out of the country, Quintanar said. "It was hard. We couldn't say goodbye to our friends or students."

Belongings left behind

The Quintanars received just 24 hours notice of the evacuation. They were each allowed one backpack and one carry-on piece of luggage. They left behind nine boxes of their belongings and another backpack that the Peace Corps promised to ship them.

They packed some of their possessions right after the Sept. 11 attacks. After a Peace Corps official put them on a "stand-fast" alert, they suspected that an evacuation might soon follow.

"We were told, "Don't go anywhere. Be vigilant of any suspicious activity,' " Tracy Quintanar said.

In Wisconsin, the Quintanars have been living with Tracy Quintanar's mother, Linda Schuster, an ophthalmologist's assistant. The couple feel like their lives are in limbo. They have no jobs and are living on their severance pay, about $3,000 for each.

In Uzbekistan, the Quintanars earned $60 a month for teaching in public schools and developing a resource center for local teachers. Native Uzbekistan teachers in the same schools earned $7 to $10 a month.

Life is scrubby for most people in the nation. About 25% to 30% of the population in Chirchik, a city of 250,000, is unemployed, the Quintanars said. Most jobs are provided by two factories, one producing shoes, the other fertilizer.

Chirchik is in a cotton-growing region. Everyone, including teachers and students, spends two weeks each fall harvesting the crop, the Quintanars said.

Uzbekistan is largely a Muslim country, but most people live secular lives. During the Soviet era, they lost touch with their religion.

"They're like most Catholics are in this country, who go to church mainly at Christmas and Easter," Rogelio Quintanar said.

The Quintanars' friends in Waukesha collected textbooks for an education resource center that the Wisconsin couple planned to start in Chirchik. But two boxes with donated books were still in transit and had not arrived when the Quintanars were forced to leave.

"The resource center was supposed to open the day we left," Tracy Quintanar said.

Home in America, the Quintanars are searching for jobs with an international development agency. They want to do something significant to help people in Third World countries, they said.

"I think now, even more than ever, it's important for people outside the United States to learn more about Americans."

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