An Erasmus+ Fellowship in Quarantine: Productivity in Captivity
Jaimee Comstock-Skipp, PhD candidate at Leiden University
I was supposed to spend three months conducting research in Tashkent, Uzbekistan while having joint affiliation with Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies and the the Al-Beruni Institute for Oriental Studies. The first two months went smoothly but hectically, as I shuttled back and forth through the gorgeous metro stations built in the Soviet period and rushed between these two institutions. I somehow balanced carrying out my own research on 16th-century illustrated Persian manuscripts held in the Al-Beruni archives, giving bi-weekly lectures on the topics of my dissertation chapter drafts to the scholars and researchers there, and then incorporating this material to present in Farsi three times a week (including a session at 8:30am on Saturdays) for undergraduates in the Department of Iranian and Afghan Philology at the university!
That all came to a standstill when Coronavirus infiltrated Uzbekistan. The dormitory where I was staying was quickly emptied of its lively undergraduates, and I was one of a handful of international instructors and researchers caught within the closed borders brought about by the pandemic. The immediate calm was a shock, more so than the soldiers armed with Kalishnikovs patrolling outside the building at the start of quarantine measures. But I quickly adjusted to my surroundings and made the most of my dormitory detention. It has been over two months now in this arrangement, with more to come, and I have forced myself to keep intellectually and physically fit and adhere to a routine. I discovered the study room at the end of a corridor closer to the unreliable wi-fi router that beams decent internet when it chooses. I make use of the track outside on a daily basis, jogging laps and doing squat lunges and jumping rope, and doing countless repetitions lifting refilled plastic bottles that originally contained kefir.
Overall during my time in Tashkent, extended due to unforeseen circumstances, I have drafted two fresh chapter drafts to my dissertation, edited another, and have recorded lectures to distribute to students at Tashkent State University and given one live for a research institute in Istanbul (thank goodness the internet worked properly that evening!). I have written up two articles using previously assembled material to publish in local journals here, and another one is getting reviewed to be included in a book on the arts of Central Asia published by Cambridge University in the UK. Although my heart goes out to all those affected by this pandemic, Coronavirus has personally hit at an opportune time for me!