March 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uzbekistan: Johnson County Daily Journal: Brad Rateike has spent the past 14 months in Uzbekistan. He serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of about 26 million, north of Afghanistan

Peace Corps Online: State: Indiana: February 8, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Indiana : March 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uzbekistan: Johnson County Daily Journal: Brad Rateike has spent the past 14 months in Uzbekistan. He serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of about 26 million, north of Afghanistan

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Brad Rateike has spent the past 14 months in Uzbekistan. He serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of about 26 million, north of Afghanistan

Brad Rateike has spent the past 14 months in Uzbekistan. He serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of about 26 million, north of Afghanistan

Brad Rateike has spent the past 14 months in Uzbekistan. He serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of about 26 million, north of Afghanistan

Half a world from home
Daily Journal staff writer

March 23, 2005

He went to a meat market in Uzbekistan to buy ground beef but forgot the word for “ground.”

Trying to mime the word, he flailed his arms about, illustrating the grinding process.

Meat sellers laughed at him.

A Center Grove graduate, Brad Rateike has spent the past 14 months in Uzbekistan. He serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of about 26 million, north of Afghanistan.

Rateike finishes his service in April 2006.

He works at a 400-member student center in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, where he teaches English, helps plan development, assists with planning the center’s programs and helps write grants. He’s even taught a few of the country’s people how to play baseball.

The 23-year-old decided to join the Peace Corps during his senior year at Franklin College.

A trustee at the college asked Rateike what he planned to do with his English degree. He stammered the answer, not really sure what he was going to do after graduation.

The college trustee told him to look into joining the Peace Corps.

Rateike did not know much about the Peace Corps at the time.

“I thought it was digging a ditch somewhere in a Third World country,” Rateike said.

Later, he researched the Peace Corps online and read about its programs, which cover a broad range, including counseling teenagers in South America and opening a computer center in the Middle East.

The thought of traveling to a different country interested Rateike since he’d spent most of his life in the Midwest. He also wanted to give something back, since he felt like he had been given so much from friends and family during his life.

The Peace Corps helped Rateike find places to live when he first moved to Uzbekistan. He lived in eight different places during the past 14 months.

“Some might say I’ve lived like a nomad or gypsy,” he said.

He’s lived in an apartment a man used as a storage closet for laundry detergent and Vodka, a two-bedroom home with three people and with a family that sold eggs. He was able to sleep on a bed in some places, while at other places he had to sleep with blankets on the floor.

“It really keeps you grounded,” he said.

Rateike has had more humbling moments in Uzbekistan than he can count.

For example, he was ecstatic the first time he saw cheese for sale in the country. He ordered about a pound of the cheese and took it home to eat. He discovered his mistake when he started cutting the cheese with a knife.

“It was butter. I had bought a pound of butter,” he said.

The butter was hardened and wrapped in a way that made it look like cheese, he said.

Rateike learned to speak the Uzbek language after three months of intensive language training with the Peace Corps in the country. He now speaks the language fluently.

He said he was not scared about starting his training and going to Uzbekistan. He was just naive.

“I was 22, felt like I was invincible,” he said. “Then I get there and I don’t even know how to buy bread.”

He said his first day in Uzbekistan was surreal. He arrived at an airport in the country about 4:30 a.m.. Armed guards were on the jetway, no one else was around, and signs everywhere were written in a language he did not understand.

His luggage had been broken and was sealed with red caution tape to keep from spilling over.

Cabs were lined up outside the airport to give tourists and foreigners a ride. But before he could approach one of the cabs, a Peace Corps member grabbed him and told him to follow.

He was taken to a hotel with missing tiles, a rust-colored bathtub and a bath towel with a hole in it.

Now he is getting ready to move into an apartment of his own in Uzbekistan, where he will continue to work at the student center. Rateike returns to the country today after a three-week vacation at his Greenwood home.

Different age groups volunteer and attend the center, where they are only allowed to speak English. Rateike lays out magazines he is sent, such as Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone.

Seven days a week at work, he is asked questions such as how U.S. weddings work and if a person could eat a meal for $3 in the United States. Some magazines such as Rolling Stone can spark questions too complicated to explain.

“There are some things about American pop culture I can’t even explain in America, let alone in Uzbekistan,” he said.

Many people in Bukhara are interested in U.S. culture and want to go to the United States, Rateike said. The center’s attendance has grown 20 percent since he arrived in the country.

One of the first things he is typically asked by people in Uzbekistan is how much money he makes. People assume he is rich since he is from the United States, and they don’t always believe he is an unpaid volunteer.

The Peace Corps leases space within the city for the center, but they are looking for a building of their own. So far, they have raised $3,500 in Uzbekistan to buy their own building.

While at the center, Rateike tries to teach kids how to “think outside the box,” but without trying to get them to change their way of life.

For example, they have a type of food called somsa, which is like a Hot Pocket stuffed with fat, meat and onions. Rateike does not like somsa but loves a different type of food made of rice fried in oil with shredded vegetables.

Rateike asked a group of kids why no one ever made a somsa stuffed with the rice, but they were adamantly opposed to the idea. One cannot make a somsa with rice, they insisted. Such a thing was unheard of.

Then one day a girl brought Rateike a tray of somsa stuffed with the rice.

“Not only were they delicious, but I had gotten through to her,” he said. “Just because something is done a certain way for (years) doesn’t mean you can’t try new things.”

Rateike quickly learned about cultural differences between Uzbekistan and the United States.

For instance, the youngest son lives with his parents his entire life. Rateike’s first host family was in a two-bedroom home with a man, the man’s wife and his mother. He lived with the family for his first three months in the country, and they cried when he left.

Even the zoo proved a learning experience about Uzbekistan.

A monkey was tied on a leash to a bench in the zoo. People were walking up and petting the monkey, which seemed friendly to most.

But Rateike saw the monkey slap the face of a 5-year-old.

If a monkey at a zoo in the United States slapped a boy, lawsuits would ensue and the media would cover the story like mad, Rateike.

In Uzbekistan, people just wondered why the woman let the boy get slapped by the monkey and left it at that.

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Johnson County Daily Journal

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