Monthly Archives: April 2000

how i ended up a tour guide in central asia and iran: an honest explanation

Your lynx-eyes, Asia,
spy on my discontent;
they lure into the light
my buried self,
something the silence spawned,
no more to be endured
than the noonday heat of Termez.
It is as if into my consciousness
all of pre-memory
Like molten lava pours,
As if I were drinking my own tears
From the cupped palms of a stranger’s hands.

Anna Akhmatova
Tashkent

I was twenty-seven and a photographer. I’d just finished shooting a guide book (below) which required over one hundred and fifty shoots in only six weeks.

Exhausted, I made deadline, packed up my Queens apartment, and took off for Tashkent to start work as a tour guide in Central Asia.

Unhappy with freelance work in New York, I wanted to build my travel photography portfolio, and what better way to do that than all-expense paid travel as a guide? There are better ways.

How an American woman lands a job in Uzbekistan with an Australian travel firm is quite simple. I’d worked in Lithuania and traveled extensively in the European ex-Soviet Union; I’d also traveled and photographed a good deal in India and Pakistan. These regions are perfect preparation for Central Asia.

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the tourists, not even my inconsistent Australian boyfriend, Mario.

Mario got me the job, of course. We know that in our world a person does not get a job on merit alone. Mario worked as a guide and recommended me to his boss. He would meet my flight in Tashkent, and show me around. Luckily, we would not work much together, but might see each other every few months. He was to train me, and then take off for a tour into Pakistan. At that time on the plane, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that—or about him for that matter. I knew on a very deep, quiet level that I was still unwilling to heed, that our relationship had ended a year earlier, not long after it began. On a very loud and demanding level, I knew that I was tired of freelancing and the super-trendy city life I never went in for, which was too much a part of my photo assignments. Clearly, I wanted this Uzbekistan job. And so, after months apart, when Mario suggested we get back together, I shut down the quiet little voice and agreed.

It does sound obnoxious, but I wasn’t consciously so mercenary; I did want to love him and make the relationship work.

[This was written in retrospect in 2004, but is posted here in chronological order of events.]

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how i ended up a tour guide in central asia and iran: the simplest explanation

PersepolisFor years I’ve traveled, and all the while I’ve tried to figure out how get paid for it, while photographing and building up a portfolio. That’s the simplest explanation of how I became a tour guide in Uzbekistan and Iran.

It became clear early on in the tour season that leading later-middle-aged Australian tourists around Central Asia was not my calling, and perhaps not a great idea at all, but that was not going to prevent me from finishing the season. No way. I would persevere, suffer, and complain because if nothing else, I’d learn what I did want through what I didn’t.

What saved me wasn’t taking photos, but writing bulk emails (and many people along the way, but that’s part of the story), which came to be known as “the bulks.” I’d scribble into a journal when I had time, and turn the notes into big emails about my tours when I hit a town with internet access. The next time I checked my email, I was delighted to see that my friends forgave the impersonality of the bulks and sent me lines of encouragement and appreciation, as well as updates from their own lives.

I’ve posted them here, interspersed with more recent recollections, because they are a fun, light way of learning a little bit about the area I was in, places no one much heard about until 2001. Enjoy!

[This was written retrospectively in 2004, but is posted here as an introduction.]

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