DWTVT_website-cover_600x900Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

The title alone, Dancing with the Vodka Terrorists: Misadventures in the ‘Stans, made me want to learn more about this book. Rob Ferguson was a communications specialist and he was contracted to go to central Asia to try and help raise awareness of the catastrophic water shortage that was threatening the entire region. This was the first I remember hearing about the ‘Aral Sea Disaster’.

The seeds for this disaster were planted almost 100 years ago. The Aral sea was considered an aberration and ‘unnatural’ so exploiting it was not considered a problem. Then the Soviets came along, conquered the entire region and wanted to turn the area into a cotton belt. Turning a near desert region into a cotton producing gold mine requires a LOT of water. Two large rivers in the region fed the Aral Sea crossing borders and many miles. Hundreds of miles of canals were built off these rivers to supply the farmers with the water they needed for cotton and rice.

At the time the canals were built they were not very efficient and certainly water conservation was not an issue. In the 40-60 intervening years since, maintenance and upkeep has been poor to nonexistent.

Villages that used to be on the banks of the sea and were supported by fishing are now in some cases 30 miles away from the shore line. The list of problems goes on and on. Five different countries have a stake in the economic and ecologic survival of the watershed. Five countries not long out from under control of the USSR and its propaganda machine. This is the environment that Rob was tossed into.

Rob gets to experience first hand the expectations of powerful bureaucrats and the games they play. Ferguson tells his story of his trials as a foreigner and it is an interesting one, almost impossible to believe. His primary contact and most of those he was tasked to work with remind me of Boris & Natasha from Rocky & Bullwinkle. It was funny and very tragic all at the same time.

I enjoyed reading this book very much. Rob provided information on the events that took place and then followed up with a bit of history about the country, place or people that were relevant. I learned a lot about central Asia both from the history lessons and from this real life account of dealing with dirty bureaucrats. I think this book would appeal to a wide range of readers. It is definitely worth the read.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amature woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Iguana Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.