Soviet style housing,
reflects the Communist mind set

Eastern Europe was the first place I encounter Soviet style apartment buildings, and on this trip to Central Asia I was reintroduced to big, ugly, unkept apartment blocks. In California tract homes and condo developments sprout like weeds. In the past I have affectionately called these developments “Tract and condo hell” respectively, because they pretty much look alike. But after checking out Soviet style apartment blocks, I have to say “God bless America.” In the United States, many developments incorporate some unique architectural elements to make the places seem more habitable, the exception being the public housing block projects in isolated areas (Chicago for instance). In the former USSR the large scale, run down, housing blocks are the norm.

Under the Communist system, the quantity of work (or the perception thereof) was more important than quality of work. For example, if one day the Communist leadership decreed housing be built for all citizens, the citizens were forced to build large scale public housing blocks. From a distance many of these apartment blocks would impressively seem to go on for miles (or should I say kilometers). Upon closer inspection having seen the interiors of many private apartments, I can say it is common to see leaky plumbing, drafty windows and crumbling exteriors.

In Nukus, I discovered the World Bank is funding a pilot project to introduce western plumbing infrastructure to residence of some of these big, ugly, run down apartment blocks. The project involved installing plumbing equipment, so that there was a constant water pressure throughout the pilot site. The benefits of westernizing the plumbing system in the buildings include, improving hygiene for the residence, saving water and indirectly saving money. The project sounded simple enough, improve the plumbing infrastructure, but this being the former USSR unforeseen problems needed to be dealt with.

Currently Uzbeks are billed a flat rate for water (whether they have running water 24/7 or as often the case running water for just a few hours a day). Therefore the first problem was changing the attitude of individuals who find it normal to expect to pay a set fee for water service (or lack thereof). The second problem was finding the right equipment and materials to properly build the plumbing infrastructure. The next problem was finding workers (who knew what the hell they were doing) to build the plumbing infrastructure to western specifications. Blab, Blab, Blab,....

Under the Communist system, individual initiative was not encouraged and decisions were made by corrupt and often times stupid Communist party officials. To discourage individual initiative and make sure orders of Communist party official were obeyed, a heavy handed police apparatus was used. What resulted after the breakup of the USSR was individuals not use to independent thought, former Communist party bosses wanting to keep the status quo and police officials use to heavy handed tactics. In other words a pretty wacked society and some idiots left in positions of power who are in need a serious attitude adjustment.

Speaking of attitude adjustment.....

Under the old Communist system, the KGB was damn suspicious of everyone, especially foreigners. In Nukus, I had a glimpse of how much a pain in the ass it can be for an independent traveler to deal with a KGB trained official. Since I was traveling via the Peace Corps underground railroad, I was crashing wherever PCVs lived. Because of my unique travel arrangements I ran afoul of the regulation which states tourists must check in with the OVIR (basically the idiots who keep track of individuals entering and leaving a region).

Most tourist will not have this problem because they are probably not adventurous enough to travel here. Those individuals who are adventurous enough to travel here, would stay at hotels and thus automatically register whenever they check in. The disconcerting issue I have is, in the past (before the disintegration of the USSR) some rooms in tourist hotels were especially equipped with bugs to listen in on conversations of anyone the KGB found suspicious.

Hiring a driver is not a problem in Uzbekistan, twenty dollars goes a long way. During the fall most resources go toward cotton production. Most markets and gas stations are closed, so knowing a solder helps in obtaining gas.

Just as I was ready to blow town, a friendly officer hauled me away to the OVIR office, so they could figure out what I was doing in their neck of the woods. At the OVIR office I had to write out a report, to formally state that I was just visiting. Being forced to write a report in the presence of those bureaucratic dilettantes, I felt tempted to confess that I was a CIA agent, but decided that sense of humor would not be appreciated. The real sucky part came when I was forced to pay a big bribe or be deported. Since I had traveled halfway around the world to bum around Uzbekistan, I reluctantly paid the damn bribe.

“Mysheniye voznya” which means “mice games” is a Russian expression which describes what the idiot OVIR in Nukus put me through. This particular OVIR seems to have taken lessons from the former KGB pecker-heads of the USSR, who tried to control and instill fear in the common people.

My advise, be careful in Nukus. The OVIR in Nukus seems like he is on a major power trip and he will hunt you down. It is a shame because Nukus has some interesting stuff to see.

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