the gownless evening strap

Where are you? Are you listening to the Backstreet Boys? Hopefully not. Peaceful internet use is very, very difficult to come by here [Tashkent]. At the moment I’m in the back corner of a shopping center where an impromptu internet center has been set up. On Friday I was forced out by the oh-so-hip computer geeks’ ability to blast Pink Floyd from their Samsung Syncmaster computers. It didn’t quite drown out Alanis Morisette on the Muzak piping behind. Could I think? I’m lucky the ingrate slurping on his pen next to me is not drooling over porn, like the pervert to my right on Monday.

Two computers away, there is a freak Texan yelling at two Uzbeks who stare blankly at the computer screen with him as he leads a thrilling campus tour.

“This is the weight room. And this? This is our football field. It’s, like, much bigger than this now because we are improving the goal lines (keep in mind that American football is not followed here in Uzbekistan and must be about as interesting to the uninitiated as Bridge. Hey, wait a second, doesn’t a football field have to be a standard 100 yards?) It’s awesome man! This new building is where you can take classes on real estate and retail sales and I, like, walk from here to here, man, it takes about 10 minutes. Now let’s go to the big 12 sports page!” Unbelievable. Who on earth sent him here and why?

This morning I woke at six to sneak off to Hotel Tsorbi across town. The manager there (Victor. I might as well introduce him now) lets me use the internet as I wish. The only problem is that there is always someone who wants to use the machine, and so sooner than later, there’s someone whistling and tapping behind me, in wait of a turn.

This is why I was up at six. I reached the hotel at 8:30 and the Victor’s car was smack in front (why? Shouldn’t he be readying for church with his wife and kids?) The key was in the office door but when I knocked, no one answered. On the second try a girl answered, clearly fresh off the fold out bed. Her female friend glared from behind and Victor, thank heavens, was nowhere in sight. I said in Russian, “Excuse me, I want internet” and gave them 15 minutes to clear out. I felt keenly entitled only because I’d begged permission from Vic the night before.

So, like girls accustomed to being told what to do, they cleared out and I had two beautiful hours of peaceful internet use. Victor left me wondering, once again, exactly to what extent the Hotel is used as a brothel. I’m certain all hotels here are (recall my notes on prostitution a few months back), but I’d love to think otherwise. The waitress and the cook in the restaurant are on 48 hour shifts; two days on and two days off. The services offered clearly extend beyond beef stroganoff and a smile-but I don’t want to believe it. I’ve become quite fond of the staff in the past few months and hope like hell they aren’t subjected to the monsters that stay there (my tourists are the least of them).

Around noon, an office employee showed up and sulked around until I got off the internet and came here. Sigh. At least the Backstreet Boys are the only offenders at the moment; the Texan left.

The tourists.

My worst were crammed onto one horrible two-week tour. I hated them. I don’t know what the trick is; I can’t make people (the tourists) like me. I’ve stopped trying (you doubt I tried? I tried). Some groups just love me. And others? Don’t. I do nothing differently. Guess I have to chalk it up to a personality thing. Better yet, chalk it up to their lack of personality. Thankfully I’ve had only one bad group, but my stomach still gurgles at the thought of them.

Before leaving Tashkent, where the women on the streets wear no clothes, to take my group to Ferghana, the most conservative, Islamic part of Uzbekistan, I asked them to take note and please cover up. When we arrived in Ferghana, we were greeted by two guides: the charismatic Anwar (whom you will hear more about later) and his trainee Victoria. The woman was about 20 and she wore what my group called a gownless evening strap. Appropriate garb for guiding us around the Islamic Valley in midday? No. I was quite taken aback; in Ferghana, this just isn’t done. In Ferghana, women wear clothes.

Later, I commented to Tourist Marcy, wasn’t it quite funny to be met by a young, naked tart after my pleas for decency from the group?

Marcy stared at me and said in a most stern, offended tone, “I really see nothing AT ALL funny about the treatment of women in Uzbekistan.”

Um, okay Marcy. I’ll just keep my mouth shut. This sort of charmless discourse went on for two weeks. Two weeks without relief.

Environment update: Titanic is on the Muzak. This takes me back to Bangkok in ’98 when I spent a week alone in a hotel room, suffering from giardia. I talked to no one; my only company was CNN, the only TV station in English. A Larry King Live interview with Celine Dion aired every six hours and is pretty much permanently engraved in my memory. She’s a nice girl, that Celine. Pretty name, too.

I think I’d best go!

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