November 23 , 2001- Providence Journal Bulletin: Assignment: Uzbekistan

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2001: 11 November 2001 Peace Corps Headlines: November 23 , 2001- Providence Journal Bulletin: Assignment: Uzbekistan

By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, November 26, 2001 - 10:10 am: Edit Post

Read the story from the Providence Journal Bulletin on a returned volunteer who was evacuated from Uzbekistan at:

Assignment: Uzbekistan

Assignment: Uzbekistan

Nov 23, 2001 - Providence Journal Bulletin Author(s): Bryan Rourke, Journal Staff Writer

NEWPORT - Adam Donaldson was about to sit down to dinner, a bowl of soup, or shorva as they say in Uzbekistan. Don't ask what kind it was.

There's only one kind of soup, Donaldson said. It has a hunk of mutton, a carrot and potatoes.

The phone rang.

It was Donaldson's mother-in-law. It was Sept. 11.

She sounded kind of nervous, Donaldson said.

Soon, the 24-year-old Jamestown man, who was serving in the Peace Corps, understood why. American airplanes, not just one or two, but four of them had crashed within two hours, killing thousands of people in what was the worst terrorist attack in history.

Two days later, on the Internet, Donaldson, his wife, Jessy, and a few other Peace Corps workers read President Bush's speech to Congress and his reference to Uzbekistan.

We knew then we were going to leave, Donaldson said.

Ten days later, on Sept. 24, it was official. Donaldson and his wife, among 160 other Peace Corps volunteers in Uzbekistan, were evacuated, returning to the United States, first to Maryland for debriefing, and then, on Oct. 4, home to Rhode Island.

Last week, Donaldson returned to his 1991 grade school alma mater, St. Michael's Country Day School. There, he talked to about 100 middle school students about Uzbekistan, its history, people, language and culture.

He answered the students' questions, too, such as why do all the countries of that region Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. end in 'stan'?

Stan means land in Turkish, Donaldson said.

The Peace Corps evacuated Uzbekistan as a precaution, Donaldson said. The organization didn't know whether unrest would result as eventually happened in Pakistan, where there is some support for the Taliban. But Uzbekistan, Donaldson said, is different. There's no public support for the Taliban, just an underground network of al- Qaida members, who don't represent the people of Uzbekistan.

They were embarrassed to think that someone would think a Muslim would do this, Donaldson said. They were worried. It looked bad for them.

Uzbekistan, which gained its independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, has supported America's war on terrorism. It's allowing U.S. military planes use of an airfield in America's assault on the Taliban.

Living in the eastern Uzbekistan city of Ferghana, the Donaldsons were hundreds of miles from the country's border with Afghanistan, and as Peace Corps workers were far removed from military matters.

It was pretty tense, not because of what happened in America, Donaldson said. We knew we were going home and had an extremely close relationship with our [host] family.

The Donaldsons lived with the Kamiljanov family, who had five children, ages 3 to 20. The Kamiljanovs assisted the Donaldsons with shelter, food and directions.

We needed them, Donaldson said. We were like their children.

And Uzbekistan is not like Afghanistan under the Taliban, Donaldson said. Women are allowed to drive, walk outside and attend school, and don't wear veils over their faces, although many do wear kerchiefs, or rumals over their hair.

Leaving Uzbekistan, Donaldson said, was heart wrenching.

Donaldson arrived for a 27-month assignment in Uzbekistan in January. After graduating from St. Michael's in 1991, then Portsmouth Abbey School in 1995 and Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, in 1999, where he was an English major, Donaldson decided to join the Peace Corps.

He requested placement in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, but because of political unrest there, couldn't go. The only other opening was for Uzbekistan.

I knew the country existed and it was a Muslim country, Donaldson said, who learned a little about the country in a college religion course. No one in my family and none of my friends had ever heard of it. Now, everyone knows.

In Uzbekistan, Donaldson taught English to elementary school students. The country, he said, is encouraging its citizens to learn English, on top of their Uzbek and Russian. In fact, Donaldson said, Uzbekistan has begun officially converting from a Cyrillic alphabet to a Latin one.

It's pure economics, Donaldson said.

The Peace Corps won't place workers in Uzbekistan again unless the situation is settled in Afghanistan, according to Donaldson. So he's looking to perform Peace Corps work elsewhere. He said he plans to rejoin the organization next summer, when he plans to go to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

Until then, he'll be sharing his Uzbekistan experience with others around Rhode Island. And part of that experience was coming back.

I didn't understand Sept. 11 until I came back and I saw all the patriotism, Donaldson said. At first I questioned how sincere it was. I quickly realized how Americans had changed and come together.


MEMORIES: Adam Donaldson, below, speaks to students at St. Michael's Country Day School, his grade school alma mater, about his experiences in Uzbekistan, where he was a Peace Corps worker. Above, he and his wife, Jessy, are shown in the old section of Buhkara in this family photo.


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