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.