Note: This is a guest post from AwarenessProjects.org
Summer days of Samarkand countryside… A river that stretches like snake from one village to the other… It attracts many youngsters who like combining the fun of swimming with shepherding. Every morning, the village boys take their cows and sheep out to the fields and the riverside. A random passer-by would see great number of cows creating a line along the banks of the river. My friend Azamat and I, ten-year olds, are among the children. He tries to teach me how to swim, rather unsuccessfully, because every time I go to a water level higher than my nose, he has to come and “resave” me! We take turns in going to look if his cows are doing ok. As the Sun gets ready to set, we head back home. We travel barefoot, munching home-baked bread and non-ripe apples.
I come visiting my grandparents in summertime, as soon as school goes on vacation. I like school, but I like my time in village more! You can lay at night outside with your best friend, and count the stars, talk about becoming an astronaut when you grow up and visiting that Moon, and may be even moving there with your friends and families! That’s a lot of fun!
Azamat and I are getting ready for our state exams to enter university. He wants to become a lawyer. I, on the other hand, still don’t know what I want to do with my life; chose to enter English Language Interpreters department, as it was the easiest way to go.
As two friends grew, our interest to reading and debates grew a lot. He was a real bookworm. Being the same bookworm myself, I had no idea how one could read and DIGEST so much information. Most of it was out of school program though: we read philosophy, history, and A LOT OF fiction. We loved the works of authors that write about life with humor, in a creative way, about heroes and epic deeds. We did a good job at school; I used to take pride in being an “almost-straight-A” student, and being better than Azamat in that. Yet, I never understood why Azamat did not study as well, being actually smarter than me.
Last year, upon his father’s death, I stood by my friend at the funeral. I suddenly remembered and realized that Azamat’s father was sick with heart disease for years, and lately could hardly walk and was almost tied to his bed. That’s when it finally hit me… Muscular strength Azamat gained in just one year period, his lag with schoolwork… He had been doing construction works afterschool. He had to support his family, and make money for his father’s medical treatments… And was too proud to tell about it all to me, his friend! Idiot!…
Now, right after finishing up with school, I came to my grandparent’s home. Azamat and I decided to prepare together. We only need to pass three subjects – History, Uzbek Language and Literature, and English. I’m pretty sure we can do it.
It’s been six years since that day. August 13th, the day when I got disappointed with everything that was related to the educational system in the country…
Azamat failed his exam. No, he aced the tests; but failed to get accepted. He got 30, 32, 15 right out of 36 questions in three subjects respectively. Except for English language (which he had no good access to in the village), he scored 83% on History and 89% on Uzbek Language! I only got 28, 20, 31, and got accepted…
It was unbelievable. Because the 36-question system was the only one to evaluate a student for admission, Azamat’s results must have gotten him into university for free. Unfortunately, a fresh school graduate had to know each subject on the level of a university professor to get admitted into university. As I found out later, those subjects were RETAUGHT from first to last years of university life… The impossibility of climbing this “wall” of incredible standards actually results in people looking for “ladders” – bribery that helps their children to get into university.
I got transferred to another university overseas after having experienced too much of established “university culture” in Uzbekistan. I was not the victim of it, but rather got to be one of the actors. Uzbekistan has a unified group system (something like a high-school system where you get assigned to a certain group of students studying together); I became the group leader, and on my second year, the leader of students in my faculty who entered the university in 2006. Of course, I quickly realized that, apart from the official responsibilities like making reports and organizing the student for different events, I also had more important responsibilities undercover. Those included informing the students how much money they needed to pay to the professor (through me) to get a good or passing grade; and the other way around, I had to “pamper” the professors into giving a certain student a passing grade for never attending their lectures and seminars, and get the price quotes. That was a real business, where I got to receive my cut as well; usually, they were in the form of not paying anything for classes I did not like attending anyway.
Azamat never could get in, even after his third try. I told him to buy the admission, and even offered him my “former contacts”. What I did not consider was the fact that he was not rich enough to afford this “luxury”.
I knew a boy. My childhood friend. A boy who wanted to become a lawyer, and protect the rights and lives of those in need and those who cannot stand-up for their own. A strong boy with a tan that results from summer days spent on village riverside. One with clear eyes that are used to watching the starry nights and harvested fields of wheat in midsummer.
I knew a boy who failed his university exams because they were too tough to pass (for a guy who was one of the finest students of his village school)
I knew a boy who went to work in Russia, to earn money for the well-being of his family – to support his mother who worked as a cleaning-lady in a factory, a sister who dreamt of becoming a doctor, a two little brothers who were two young to realize the hardships their brother was facing. He went to work for a year, promising to come back in 8 month and reapply for the university. He failed to come back that next year And the next.. He returned two years later, having missed two state exams for the university he dreamt to study in. Then he went to do construction works in Kazakhstan; he meant to be closer to his family, in case they needed him for any reason.
What I see today is not the boy with a dream anymore. I see a young man with no thoughts of his past. A man with his eyes only on his family. A man with responsibility of being the oldest son. The responsibility of taking good care of his family.
I talk to Azamat about how he is doing. He says GREAT! And starts recounting all the achievements that his family attained over the years he was not home. His sister studies at the medical school to become a cardiologist. Two brothers are attending the same school he went to, and getting excellent marks; the little brothers have a competition in who makes Mommy smile, who gets more marks in one week. The younger one is ahead with fifteen “5”s and three “4”s. The elder brother is ready for revenge…
I don’t know if it’s a tragedy of man’s unfulfilled hopes, or the heroic deed of a son, a brother, and a friend. All I know is that I am proud to be his friend.
The author of this essay wishes to remain anonymous.
Please contact Dmitriy Nurullayev at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit AwarenessProjects.org for copyright information. This material belongs to AwarenessProjects.org and is provided exclusively to Registan