West Asheville. Hank Williams, Jr., David Allen Coe and Waylon Jennings.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hunt's Oysters, Uzbeks & Galileo Moments

I read some news other day about the significant decline of the oyster harvests in Apalachicola Bay in Florida.  Apalachicola is the place that supplies raw oysters to Hunt's, one of my favorite stops in Dothan, Alabama.  I was also very disappointed to discover that a big part of the problem is the feud between Georgia and Florida over the amount of fresh water that's spilling into the bay.   Hopefully this political sparring can be resolved soon and the oyster industry can begin to rebound and flourish once again.  Here's the story, Fighting to Save an Oyster Industry.

In the late 90s, a friend of mine from Uzbekistan - Kobil - came to visit me in the Wiregrass.  He was actually one of my English students in Tashkent in 1994.  By the late 90s he was enrolled at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.   He drove down to Headland for a visit, and met my family, and even went to the Espy Cousins Christmas party.  The whole visit was surreal, both for him and me.  I just remember having good conversations with him, and I remember reminiscing about my time in Tashkent - the perceptions I had going in, and how they had changed over the course of the year living there and how they continued to evolve.  He too shared a lot, and gave his initial thoughts about Andy and me, and then went on to share how his interaction with us influenced him in positive ways.  One thing's for sure: Kobil's Wiregrass visit was a refreshing jolt from everyday life. 

Oh, and one thing I recall is that Kobil brought his prayer rug - he is Muslim - and used it in my guest bedroom for his daily prayers.  Out of all the students I had in Tashkent, he and maybe one other person were about as devout and committed to their faith as evangelicals in America are.  Overall, after years of Russification and Soviet Education, which involved a deliberate marginalization of Islam (and all other faiths), the Uzbeks I knew - of course, university students - were very nominal in their beliefs, and perhaps saw faith as merely a historical part of themselves as opposed to something they seriously follow.  But after the breakup of the USSR, the Central Asian states - and other republics too, including Russia - were experiencing a spiritual revival of sorts.  In Uzbekistan, this naturally was Islamic.  At the same time, outside faith groups (Christians from the West, Muslims from neighboring countries) were coming into Uzbekistan to proselytize.  I just remember Kobil - and one or two others - being very proud of their Islamic heritage, and having a sincere belief that would have fit right in at Samford, where I went to university, and where a lot of people are evangelicals. 

At Hunt's Oyster Bar in Dothan, Alabama.  Kobil shucking an oyster!
Henry County Auburn Experiment Station - Headland, Alabama. 

A year earlier, in 1998, for my vacation from the bank, I returned to Uzbekistan simply to see the students (friends) I had taught four years earlier.  My direct flight to Tashkent was out of NYC, so I got to see The Big Apple for the first time and visit (and stay with) my cousin, who was working for an investment bank there.  Anyway, when I got off the plane in Tashkent, I had a Galileo Moment, where I instantly felt I was in my element - being overseas, being in a different and stimulating environment.  One of the first things that happened when I got there was a surprise "Welcome Back" party.  Look closely and you will see Kobil seated to my left.  For the party, they brought all traditional Uzbek foods.  The Uzbeks, like Southern Americans and Northeastern Thais, have a reputation for being very hospitable.  Incidentally, they are also known for their watermelons and cotton!  Sound familiar?!?!?
1994.  Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  One of my classes of students.  Kobil is second from the left.

To get a fairly new update on Kobil, go here.
And for more of my Uzbek memories (w/ videos and photos), click here.

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