Monthly Archives: August 2000

guerillas in uz

Hi.

It’s Saturday night, the last of my tour with Maeve, Group of One. We had dinner with another tour group that is here in Tashkent and watching her in a group was weird and refreshing. Some of the steam that built up this tour was exhausted and part of my question, “In the end, I wonder how will I fit into the stories she tells (that annoy me so much)? ” was answered.

Emotions are running high at the moment. There are problems on the southern border here and I’m quite upset by them. In a nutshell, Uzbekistan has had a pretty stable time of it since independence. This is partly because the president, Islam Karimov, was also in charge during the Soviet period and, for better or worse, he has a strong hold on things.

This week a group of Tajik- and Afghan-trained Uzbek rebels, called Wuhabis by the Uzbeks, are infiltrating the southern border. They want the Ferghana Valley (the most fertile and populated part of Uzbekistan) as an independent Muslim state and Uzbeks support them in droves, only because of the repressive regime run by President Karimov. Over 100 Uzbeks and 60 Kyrgyz soldiers are dead and the Tajik guerillas are roaming about. Ferghana (home of Anwar, Victoria and the gownless evening strap if you recall) is now closed to everyone who isn’t registered there (i.e. doesn’t live there) as well as most roads other than the most heavily traveled tourist route from Khiva to Tashkent. The military is moving south at night, as not to upset anyone. Our tours to Ferghana are obviously off and we’re moving to what has ridiculously been termed as “Emergency Plan 3” or some such rot.

Tajikistan? It’s southeast of Uzbekistan and significantly smaller. Since independence from the USSR in 1991, Tajikistan has suffered from civil war between the current government and the more militant Islamic separatist groups. It’s somewhat war torn and life there, from what I can gather (I’ve only been through a bit three times on the train in the middle of the night), is much more difficult than in the other Central Asian republics. Particularly if you are a woman.

The Wuhabis are one of these guerilla groups. Actually, the Wuhabis are the name of a militant sect of Islam that originates in Saudi Arabia. The Uzbek government is against practicing Muslims, and they tend to call anyone who wears a beard or scarf and goes to the mosque a Wuhabi, which is not at all the case. More accurately, these miliants are called the I.M.U.—the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and what makes them so alarming is that they are quite similar to the Taliban of Afghanistan. And, like the Taliban, they are supported and funded by Osama Bin Laden.

“Oh God,” is the appropriate reaction here.

It’s been rumored by an unfortunately reliable source that the guerillas are moving into Uzbekistan now and hope to launch an all out offensive in the spring.

There are more than a few things I can’t get over. I can’t believe it’s so close and such a threat. I can’t believe that this country and these excellent people could be so close to war. Most bizarre to me is that there is no word of this in the west whatsoever. I don’t have great access to western media, but I’ll bet that the news is saturated with the Russian submarine crisis and not a word is said about Uzbekistan, a place that Putin has very good reason to pay close attention to and even protect. Even BBC world news, which seems to cover every conflict in every unknown country on the planet, hasn’t mentioned it. It’s a bit surreal.

Don’t worry about me though. I only have a week left in Uzbekistan (I know, just when it gets exiting); then I’m off to Iran.

Post tour update: I’m tired and a little dizzy. Without a doubt I could use a break. This trip was such a doozy I forgot all about computerland bliss and wrote freehand. All the characters and lifesavers running around Uzbekistan are beautiful beautiful and I have captured them in my barely decipherable script in no less than three different notebooks and heaven knows how many lists.

Not to mention Maeve the Group. If only I could figure out how to do this job without the tourists…

No rest. No, no no, no. I have to do the normal end of trip reports, then worry about the logistics (visas, itineraries, $$, chadors) of the next trip: Journey to Tehran. It begins Wednesday.

On Journey to Tehran I’ll take my group of two overland from Tashkent to Tehran. This involves leaving my beloved Uzbekistan, passing through Turkmenistan, then to Iran, where I’ll work until mid-October. I’m excited about this.

The group of two promises so much. They’re also booked on my following tour (with eight people!) so I’ll spend a month with them. John Jones arrives. At sixty-four he’s the spring chicken of the group. His roommate (thank heavens not me) is eighty-three year old Captain Clegg. Together, the three of us will make our way to Iran.

I don’t make this stuff up, not a thing. I’m tempted to attach the passenger list to prove it.

It reads:

Title: Cpt
Surname: Clegg
Birthdate: June 7, 1917

Really.

So, when do I come home? What am I doing then? Ahhh, questions I love. Questions that have begun to dance in my head because of the recent troubles with my current employer. These are too numerous to explain properly (though I’d love to) so I’ll summarize in three points. They sent me off on my last tour without money to run it. They also forgot to pre-book it. If you think this makes for a lot more work on my end, you are right. It’s incompetent and inexcusable-things are difficult enough on this end as it is. Speaking of which, today I received a revised itinerary for my next tour. It describes the transport booked from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to Mashad, Iran, a distance of at least 200 miles, quite simply: Walk.

So, I’ve considered quitting more than a few times, though never seriously. I want to get to Iran, so I’m hanging on. I’ll admit that my sorry lack of a home in NYC and the thought of looking for one right now makes a walk through the Turkmen desert with Captain Clegg not seem so bad.

Not even a camel for transport? A donkey? Don’t worry, we won’t walk. But it seems I have to figure out the transport. Not so fun. Oh well. There are worse jobs. More on that later, you can be sure.

a low on the silk road circuit

From: Anna Kirtiklis
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2000 11:44:49 -0700 (PDT)
Note: this was one of my low points. It’s not one of the better bulks, so it might be worth a miss. Just posted for continuity.
I’m at my favorite guesthouse in Bukhara and the screensaver is of Cleveland. I swear to you, it is a photo of Cleveland. I asked Laziz, a son of the owner, “Where is this???!” and he said, “I don’t know.” I know those bridges! I know that Terminal Tower! I know the BP building. how funny.
I hate this women like the devil (the lone tourist from a previous bulk).
She talks like you wouldn’t believe. Usually about her vast life experiences. I especially love when she tells me about everything she’s seen in the last two hours (I send her out with local guides and on her own. If I spend more than 8 hours a day with her I’ll throw myself in the canal) and describes it as if she’s telling me about something I could only dream of seeing, rather than something not all that spectacular that I have seen 10 times now. And she goes on and on. And she does this ALL THE TIME. It’s so unbelievable.
She’s reduced me to the point where I swear like a sailor.
She can’t help it. It’s the only conversation she can make, as her friends are just so befuddled and impressed by her “wild and wonderful travels” that she must tell everyone about them constantly. “oooooh,I’ll dine out on this for WEEKS!” she said after one event.
Please shoot me if I do that. And if only a little, please tell me kindly rather than shun me as most normal people would.
I take that back—about her conversation skills I mean. I’ve heard about her best friend whose lovely husband turned into a child-beating alcoholic and killed himself. (She’s the one who left her neslatte behind). And her other best friend who was a beautiful girl who died at 42 and she just knew something had happened without being told and started vomiting at the precise moment of her death.
I interrupted her at that point to talk to the busdriver about a pressing check point. I’m in love with that driver for being another being in the vehicle on that 9 hour drive through the desert. I owe him my life.
I interrupt her constantly now as it’s the only way to shut her up—often by literally walking away. She’s only now kind of sort of beginning to figure out that i am not that impressed by her.
Valery: bus driver/hero
She announced in her let-me-tell-you-something-you-will-never-experience-or- figure-out-for-yourself-voice this morning, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Really. As is she’d thought it up right there. She was refering to one of her beautious point-and-shoot shots of an obsure indonesian tribe dancing or some such rot I only half listened to.
I know a lot of people who travel and let me tell you I have never met anyone quite like this in my life.
My beautiful friends at this guesthouse with a Cleveland panorama screen saver have given me, free of charge, my own room.I have mentioned I share a room with her, right? Bless them!
I’m more than sure that this is what it would be like to have a mother-in-law.
next> y’impash

Note: this was one of my low points. It’s not one of the better bulks, so it might be worth a miss. Just posted for continuity.

I’m at my favorite guesthouse in Bukhara and the screensaver is of Cleveland. I swear to you, it is a photo of Cleveland. I asked Laziz, a son of the owner, “Where is this???!” and he said, “I don’t know.” I know those bridges! I know that Terminal Tower! I know the BP building. how funny.

I hate this women like the devil (the lone tourist from a previous bulk).

She talks like you wouldn’t believe. Usually about her vast life experiences. I especially love when she tells me about everything she’s seen in the last two hours (I send her out with local guides and on her own. If I spend more than 8 hours a day with her I’ll throw myself in the canal) and describes it as if she’s telling me about something I could only dream of seeing, rather than something not all that spectacular that I have seen 10 times now. And she goes on and on. And she does this ALL THE TIME. It’s so unbelievable.

She’s reduced me to the point where I swear like a sailor.

She can’t help it. It’s the only conversation she can make, as her friends are just so befuddled and impressed by her “wild and wonderful travels” that she must tell everyone about them constantly. “oooooh,I’ll dine out on this for WEEKS!” she said after one event.

Please shoot me if I do that. And if only a little, please tell me kindly rather than shun me as most normal people would.

I take that back—about her conversation skills I mean. I’ve heard about her best friend whose lovely husband turned into a child-beating alcoholic and killed himself. (She’s the one who left her neslatte behind). And her other best friend who was a beautiful girl who died at 42 and she just knew something had happened without being told and started vomiting at the precise moment of her death.

I interrupted her at that point to talk to the busdriver about a pressing check point. I’m in love with that driver for being another being in the vehicle on that 9 hour drive through the desert. I owe him my life (photo at right: Valery: bus driver/hero).

I interrupt her constantly now as it’s the only way to shut her up—often by literally walking away. She’s only now kind of sort of beginning to figure out that i am not that impressed by her.

She announced in her let-me-tell-you-something-you-will-never-experience-or- figure-out-for-yourself-voice this morning, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Really. As is she’d thought it up right there. She was referring to one of her beautious point-and-shoot shots of an obsure indonesian tribe dancing or some such rot I only half listened to.

I know a lot of people who travel and let me tell you I have never met anyone quite like this in my life.

My beautiful friends at this guesthouse with a Cleveland panorama screen saver have given me, free of charge, my own room. I have mentioned I share a room with her (a bed in the next town) on this tour, right? Bless them!

I’m more than sure that this is what it would be like to have a mother-in-law.

victor’s femininst cause

I wrote most of this a few weeks ago but wasn’t able to send it.

Like it or not, I am a city girl. I love to travel and get out of town, but too long away from a metropolis and I freak out a little. Or too many times around Uzbekistan in a circle (eight now) and I freak out a little. I really must figure how many miles it’s been. I love to mile drop.

What I’m saying is that it’s oh-s0-good to be back in Tashkent. I’m at Hotel Tsorbi now using a computer in an air-conditioned office all to myself. The chair is even reasonably comfortable. It’s quiet! I’ve even been room-serviced a piping hot cup of Nescafé.

And all free of charge, thanks to Victor. He complained that I criticize him too much last night, as he pulled out a bracelet for me to inspect, a birthday gift he bought for some twenty-seven year old colleague. His generosity is boundless, really.

It is. I come here every night to use the office and I am more than welcome, even though I’m not staying at the hotel (I’m at Gulnara’s while off tour). Though I am tough on Victor, I do quite like him. He entertains me to no end.

I take him out to dinner once in awhile to thank him, though it’s a constant struggle to convince him I that will pay. He’s fond of Taj, the best Indian restaurant in town, which only wins him points with me.

At our last Taj meal, quite awhile ago, Victor came clean about the whole Natalya mail order bride debacle. This is also when he reassured me of his concern for women’s rights (you should have known I wasn’t going to let this go).

I must have been sitting there with a very skeptical look on my face because he said, exasperated, “Why don’t you believe I am sincere about this problem!”

Oh Victor, thank you for the beautiful entree!

“Victor, did you not tell Mario that you have four American girlfriends?” I asked.

“Yes.” Victor replied unabashedly, not quite getting the connection.

I was thrown. How to explain that in America, if you have a wife and children, it is not acceptable to have four girlfriends, American or otherwise? And that somehow this in itself is very obviously an insult to womankind? AND that if he wants to help women, he should start at home with his wife and daughter?

“Um, Victor,” I asked, “Is there any concept of male monogamy here in Uzbekistan?”

Victor took a drag on his Davidoff cigarette, furled his brow as if confused by the idiocy of the question, and said simply, “No.”

Okay, new tactic. And your wife. If she allowed to have other lovers?”

Another (perhaps creative?) pause. Then he leaned toward me and confided, Well, yes. But we have a special arrangement because she lived with the kids in Samarkand for a year before I brought them to Tashkent. She knows I have girlfriends. I don’t tell her everything only because I don’t want to hurt her, but she knows enough.”

And then, recalling my question, added, “And she is allowed other men.”

“Yes, you say that, but does she? And if she did, would you still approve?” I responded, knowing full well that he says ‘go ahead’ only because she doesn’t and won’t.

So I was wrong.

“Yes, she has. Once. But it wasn’t very good for her. It wasn’t a good experience,” he said, shaking his head sadly at the thought his little wife subjecting herself to a lesser man.

I laughed like a madwoman. Haven’t I heard this line from Victor before?

“Okay Victor, so if your wife had an affair and it was good for her, would you still approve?”

Victor laughed, only slightly embarrassed, and swiveled the subject back to Uzbeks, “But this is definitely not normal here in Uzbekistan. Wives here are not allowed other men.”

Okay, Victor. That I believe.

On the drive back to the hotel we passed Bar Emir, an ex-pat and mafia hangout with outrageous prices for the same mediocre food and drinks as any other western-style bar/restaurant.

“That’s my favorite place to get a coffee and sit,” Victor said, then quickly added, “Outside, outside I mean,” so that I wasn’t inclined to think that he went to watch the women stripping and pole dancing inside.

Of course he wouldn’t do that.

He will, however, call my male colleagues over to appreciate the pornographic ‘newsletters’ that he receives in his email every day. I try not to take being left out personally.

Shucks I’m hard on him.

View his rebuttal.

More very soon.

oyvind & gunda

Silk Caravan 220700 is over; Gunda and Oyvind leave for Oslo tonight. My next tour begins Wednesday but the group is already here. All one of her. Sigh.

I commend your decision to stay home and enjoy the beauty of indulgence in personal habit and fancy, the semblance of control. While you travel vicariously through me, I try like hell to routine, socialize, and drink a decent cup of coffee vicariously through you. Your email is very appreciated.

My last group provided a strange turn of events. If you recall, it was only the two Norwegians. On the first night at dinner, Oyvind announced sheepishly that, “We do not speak English well.”

They understood enough to enjoy the trip, but after 45 meals together trying to converse, we are all tired. Sitting at a dinner table in Khiva with a wife and husband chatting away in Norwegian is strangely lonely, I learned.

They grew weary of English about a week into the tour and, happily, darted off on their own quite a bit. This left me with some unexpected time on my hands. Delighted, I was, but also very frustrated.

It’s impossible to write long-hand. I tried and tried, because I have so much nonsense to catch up on and the stories multiply by the moment, only to stare down in confusion at the scratches and scribbles that would only be rewritten when I eventually typed it. Alas, the beauty of instant editing possible on a computer cannot be verbalized.

So I took notes and wished for a laptop. And read. And longed for Tashkent.

Now I am home (Tashkent, I mean) and seated uncomfortably but delightedly at a computer where it has come to my attention that although I have been here for four months, you may not know quite where Uzbekistan is. I won’t take this personally—I will lecture.

Uzbekistan is smack in the middle of the five Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, & Uzbekistan) which were, until 1991, part of the Soviet Union. This, if you have been wondering, is why everyone speaks Russian. And Uzbek. And Tajik. (Except the Russians, who usually only speak Russian for the same reason that Americans usually only speak English.)

Central Asia is just north of Afghanistan, south of Russia, east of Iran, and west of China. “Hmm. Bet that there are lots of spies and tanks and drugs and controversial US military men running around there,” you might think. You are right. But they don’t care about tourists or malcontent group leaders, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. [Note: this was written pre-9/11/01.]

Maeve, my new group, just came in for some travel advice.

“Sorry, Mae, the tour doesn’t start until Wednesday,” I explained.

Just kidding. I kept my mouth shut.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you again, but my friend is leaving Wednesday and she has this leftover,” she said as she thrust a bottle of Neslatte (a drink even more hideous, I will guess, than regular Nescafe) into my face, “Should we take it along with us?”

I have known Maeve for thirty minutes now and I know very well that she likes milk in her coffee, which is very seldom an option in Uzbekistan. Not that coffee is an option here—unless you consider Nescafe coffee.

“Um, yes, that seems like good idea,” I advised.

“Thanks. Then I will pack it in my bag!” and with that she was off. Have I mentioned that not only is Maeve my sole guest on the next tour, but that we will share a room? Very cozy.

The next day (Monday):

I slept outside on the homtakhta at Gulara’s last night because she is booked full of tourists. It’s high season again. You should know what a homtakhta is because I should have explained in the Gulnara and Nasibulla message. I’m sure I didn’t because I hate describing furniture. But because a homtakhta is an integral part of the Gulnara experience (and the Uzbek experience in general), I will do so now.

It’s like an outdoor daybed of sorts, usually made of wood, about two feet off the ground, with a small table in the middle (photo above). Every chaikhana (tea house) and Uzbek courtyard (many old-town homes have courtyards like Gulnara’s) has at least one. Uzbeks sit, usually Indian-style, at the low table and enjoy shashlik, p’lov, non, and tea. Lots of green tea. Tourists hate homtakhtas and insist on tables and chairs (also available); I think they are fabulously comfortable and want one at my house (not that I have a house, much less a courtyard).The fancier ones have canopies, also usually made of wood.

At night or at nap time, the table is moved aside and little mattresses come out. Gulnara stacked up about four of them last night (and two pillows), laid me down on them, and tied a mosquito net to the frame around me while Nasibulla sang, “Princess Annushka, Princess Annushka!” as he helped Gulnara out. Annushka is a Russian diminutive form of Anna, and Gulnara and Nasibulla call me nothing else. It’s very sweet.

Ooh, I slept well! And woke to a glorious breakfast of fresh bread, lepyoshka (bread), yogurt, and jam. Too many tourists around though.