Okay, I’d hoped I was done. But it seems I won’t be until I go through all these scans. Scancafe claims to “clean, color correct and scan each one by hand.” Check out the thumbprint on the top left of this scan. (Photo: changing rail gauge on border of Lithuania and Poland.) This is the kind of thing you don’t notice until you see the images large, working with them one at a time.
Uzbekistan reminded me of Lithuania, which is troublesome on humanitarian grounds (the Soviet Union managed to concretize what seems a quarter of the globe) but comforting emotionally. I felt at home in Soviet-flat studded Vilnius and that hinted at comfort here. Indeed, I settled in quickly. (Soviet-style flats in Kaunas, at right.)
In no less time things soured between Mario and me. He took to long periods of counting his numbers (minding the books) and wandering around Tashkent in search of new hotels, possible acquaintances, or some non-existent exotic Uzbek melon he’d heard a tourist telling stories about. I filled the time with Russian studies, photography, and counting numbers of my own, which drove Mario to pouting fits. Instead of confronting him directly, I drew up a calendar biding the days until he left for Pakistan and devised break-up scenarios to ease the dull, annoying pain. Outwardly, I indulged some pouting fits of my own. Meanwhile lovely Uzbek and Tajik men were edging in on my fantasies; their chivalry amused me and I ached for the attention.
Eventually I did confront Mario and he let my unhappiness roll off his back. It wasn’t a surprise when he announced an earlier departure for Pakistan, but it halted my scheming. I flapjacked one-eighty and felt intensely abandoned, as the orphaned sixteen year old sprang up to relive the pain of dad’s death just one more time. Is this all that drew me to him? It did seem to be Mario’s main attraction for me—his particular penchant for going away. I batted the girl down and forced myself back to logic, scratching the superfluous days off my countdown, relieved that the charade would be over soon.
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.
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.]