Truth and slurpees: Why Iraq

by Nathan Hamm on 8/23/2003

Truth and slurpees: Why Iraq is (probably “was” now) better than Uzbekistan
Saturday story time!
About two or three times a year, Peace Corps Uzbekistan had in-service
trainings for people in different sectors (education, business, health,
etc.). For some, it was really the only chance to see a lot of
English-speakers at once. These things usually got out of hand, my
group had a reputation for liking the sauce, entirely deserved too. The
best site for these trainings was at a sanitorium (the rest and get
better kind, not the crazy kind) in the mountains north of Tashkent.
It’s absolutely beautiful up there and there were cabins rather than
dorm rooms, the police were a little too vigilant up there when it came
to telling the Americans to be quiet though. I would have to compare it
to a biker convention in a small town though, we could be a shock to
the locals who were used to peace and quiet. It was during the first
training we did up there that we had a revelation, “Peace Corps is like
war.” No one but those who have gone through it really understand it;
they think pushing gypsy kids away is callous, for example. What really
set this off though was what we saw on the television that night: the
famous footage of Saddam firing a shotgun into the air over a passing
what looked like a slurpee machine in a convenience store flashed onto
the screen.
You might not understand at first, but these two things made Iraq
worlds better than Uzbekistan in our vodka-pickled minds. Truth and
slurpees are two things you can’t find in Uzbekistan.
Saddam Hussein is a horrible guy and I wouldn’t wish that type of
leader on anyone, but at least he didn’t really hide the fact that he
was ruthless from anyone. How he acted pretty much summed him up; a guy
who fires a shotgun from a balcony over a parade as a salute probably
is the same kind of guy who will do countless, horrible things. Islam
Karimov, on the other hand, is the kind of guy who comes out and talks
about democracy and how rosy everthing is until he’s blue in the face.
His books and quotes are everywhere, you can buy inspirational type
photos of him in bookshops (if anyone goes to Uzbekistan soon, buy me
the one that has him standing in the cotton field, I think you can buy
it at the bookstore across from Hotel Tashkent by the USIS office).
Sure, Saddam probably did all that too, but then he’d go all nuts and
have people killed in public and get fanatical followers to rip dogs
apart with their teeth. Again, all this sucks, but I really value
truth. Hideous unspeakable things happen in Uzbek prisons, and everyone
there knows it but it’s all deep deep down under a fog of silence. The
closest I ever got to talking about it with an Uzbek was when I told my
student he had to take me on a tour of the local prison (I wanted a
prisoner to carve me a chess set–another PCV had a prison chess set
and it was pretty cool) because, well, I was an American teaching at no
cost to his country and his father was a Captain there. This normally
outgoing kid got really quiet and wouldn’t answer me. His friend said
“Only Uzbeks are allowed to see them.” If Karimov would do something
nutty in public just once, I’d be satisfied. Now for the slurpees…
What the hell excuse does Uzbekistan have? They have a goddamn Turkish
supermarket that rules in Tashkent (Bishkek has a much better Russian
one with 10 types of Fanta, three floors, and doritos) and NO
SANCTIONS. That means the slurpee deficit was entirely manufactured by
poor leadership. C’mon, I’m sure there’s something in slurpees that is
“dual-use,” but the Iraqis still had them. Why did they have to deny
their American guests this small pleasure? That really was the tipping
point for us even though none of us really wanted a slurpee. It was the
lack of choice that annoyed us (I came to find limited options
liberating…). It’s nice to know that you can buy a slurpee if you’re
so inclined. I have a 7-11 four blocks from me now and I’ve never
bought a slurpee there, but I can.
Truth in leadership and slurpees is the real measure of any state in my

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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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