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Published: October 7th 2004
On the road
I don't know, I just like this photo for some reason
Right. Well, I was travelling with my father for a while but now I'm on my own, and with my spare time I will come to internet cafes, when they are available, and write here. It really seems to make sense. I've been thinking about it though, and as far as writing goes, it's an interesting audience one writes to in a 'blog.' But I don't think I'll censor it, too much.
In Bishkek, there was a photo shop where you can transfer digital photos to CD, but Dushanbe is a little bit more backward, so I don't know if I'll be able to.
Ahhh, well what can I say. I guess this leg started in the Fergana valley, in Osh. The Fergana valley is the richest and most fertile part of Central Asia, and also the most strongly Islamic. The corporate media(CNN, BBC, etc.) likes to describe it as a hot spot, but obviously they're full of shit, and if you put any stock in what they say you are just an unwitting imperialist pawn. As long as they keep you afraid, those in the war business wil keep making money.
Anyway, we stopped for the
With some nice men in a Fergana Chaikhana
night in Kokand. Here we got lost because that town is a goddamn rat maze. At one point a bunch of drunk young men shouted at us and had a big political conversation with us, and gave us melon and tried to make us drink vodka and beer. By political conversation I mean 'Bush?' 'Um, no' and then someone would say 'Bush-FINISH' and make a throat slitting gesture. We finally got away from those guys and took a mashrutka to the park. Mashrutka are these vans that take the place of buses in Central Asia. They are unbelievaly shitty, and it's usually quite amazing that they run. They pack them, about the size of a dodge minivan, with 12 or 14 people at a time. Very cramped. So there was a gaudy palace in the park, and the caretaker let us in and let us walk around for a while. We were sure she was going to demand money, but she didn't. We left, and walked around the back alleys for a while. The way people react to you when you walk around is either to gawk at you, or look away uncomfortably, or try to engage you in conversation,
A Soviet classrom
This is my good friend Ramziyah and her English teacher, Gulia, in a Soviet classroom where they didn't bother to take down the huge Karl Marx quote above the blackboard. "A foreign language is a weapon in the struggle of life."
usually saying 'what is yo name' or 'where are you from' After a while, we stumbled on a medressah, just after sundown. A medressah is one of those Islamic schools you see on the news, where the kids where skullcaps and chant the Quran while rocking back and forth. Uzbekistan, our ally in the war on terror, is cracking down on Islamic fundamentalism, and most medressahs and mosques have been closed. Though 95% of the country is Islamic, only 5% are practicing, since people who go to mosques have been targeted for police harassment and such. This was one of the few medressahs that remained open. The care taker, damn, I can't remember his name, it was Abdul or Ackbar or something, was a really nice guy, with an excellent handshake. He gave us the special tour of the cemetery next door, and took us into the medressah, where there were some kids reading the Quran and rocking back and forth. When they saw us, they stopped reading and about 25 kids swarmed around us asking us questions in Russian and English. They were all really friendly and funny, but after about 15 minutes of joking around, the big leader
I'm so rugged
This me on the hard road to Khorog
man shooed them all back to their studies.
I can't really describe how beautiful the architecture in the Uzbeki medressahs is, it's at least on the scale of the Taj Mahal, at least in Samarkand, but that's another thing. They all have these teal tiled domes and minarets, and there's no use in describing so I'll just put some photos up soon.
From here we went across the street trying to find a bite to eat, to a chaikhana... chai means tea, everywhere but America, and khana must be some kind of house, because they are teahouses. A lot of them serve meals as well as tea, and they serve as kind of a social club for Central Asian men. They go there to play cards and talk and drink tea and sometimes vodka. This one we went into was filled with curious old men who carried on Russian conversation with us for a while and gave us tea for free. We were getting hungry though, so we left and got a taxi to take us to the restaurant.
Another nice thing about Uzbekistan, is that people almost never try to rip you off, and everyone is
A turbaned horsemen
On a busy street in Dushanbe
really honest. Someone told me a story about a man who was selling things on the street, and the wind came and blew all off his money away, and people chased down the street grabbing all the money in a free for all, and one by one came back and gave him all of his money back.
When we got to the restaurant, we were ordering some food and an English speaking Uzbek guy helped us order and ate dinner with us. He was a history professor, and we talked about history and many other things. He offered to hang out with us the next day but we were heading into Tajikistan, since our visas were valid starting the next day, and we left the following morning.
When we crossed the border into Tajikistan, the border guards who looked at our passports pointed to some ratty looking woman sitting on a chair in the back room of the border shack, and seemed to ask me if I wanted to have sex with her. I mulled it over for about ten minutes, and finally decided to give it a go. No, haha, just kidding. But really, that's really an odd thing and it kind of disturbed me. That was on the Uzbek side, but on the Tajik side there were a bunch of 15 year olds with machine guns running around in this really run down looking shack that was spray painted orange and lime green camoflauge. Everyone in Tajikistan is always surprised to find out I am a tourist, and these border guards were no exception. After exchanging handshakes with those friendly soldiers, we walked over to another mashrutka and rode to the nearest town, from which we caught another mashrutka to Khojan(pronounced ho-jan... kh always represents the russian X which is more of a guttural noise. It's the same in words like Genghis Khan... I realize that we mispronounce so many things... for example, look at it this way- they spell hot dog хот дог which anglicized would be khot dog... still pronounce close to the same. But we prounounce things like anton chekhov and genghis khan like chekov and kon when really it is closer to an h than a k... but I'm off the subject, sorry)
The people on the mashrutka to khojand were really friendly, and it was like a big social event, because there was one kid who spoke english and kept translating for us, and everyone seemed pretty interested and had a few good laughs at us.
In Khojand we stayed at a particularly ratty Soviet hotel, where the sink had been bent so that you had to turn it on full and send the stream shooting across the room into the tank of the toilet, and then reach in and pull the plug out to flush it. Khojand is still a very soviet town, with a gigantic red sickle and hammer next to the bus stop, big Lenin statues. The city used to be called Leninabad, but was changed in the mid nineties.
Well the next day we got a taxi to Dushanbe to go over what was designated on our map as 'a principle highway in bad condition.' It took 10 hours to go 300 kilometres over two 3000+ metre passes, and it was pretty spectacular. It is very common for herds of goats to block the road. As far as safety, the road was more treacherous and driven more recklessly than any I can remember in my years in Guatemala, and I thought that was bad. I am pretty much numb to insane driving now after being in India, Central America, and 3 car wrecks in China, and now I can fall asleep on some of the worst roads on the planet. The villages along this route were particularly picturesque, probably the same as they were hundreds and hundreds of years ago. We got to Dushanbe ahead of schedule and ate at some horrible Iranian restaurant, horrible in my opinion. Dushanbe is really a very modern and prospering city, but around the edges it's pretty grotty. My dad left for Moscow from here, and before he left we ate at the most bizarre place in Dushanbe, an Ecuadorian restaurant, great food, expensive, as in 20 dollars for a big meal for two with drinks, and packed with aid workers. Most aid workers annoy the hell out of me, but some are alright and actually do some good. Very few, in my opinion. Um, I can't really describe anything specific we did in Dushanbe, it's mostly just running around doing errands and soaking up the city. I've spent three days running all over town doing visas, passport extensions, air tickets, registration, planning, and all those other things you do in a capital before heading out into the country. I did make it to the Museum of Antiquities though, which has a very peaceful enormous 13m sleeping Buddha. Quite beautiful. While I was walking around town some girl started following me and talking to me. I thought she was a prostitute but she was dressed in fairly Islamic garb. After she exhausted my Russian, she just followed me in silence. I looked through my whole phrasebook trying to find 'Why are you following me?' or 'Don't you have anything better to do?' but she just said she wanted to be my friend. Now, I know that would sound weird in the states, but with limited Russian/English vocabulary it can be genuinely friendly. I was shocked when she got me where I was going and didnt try to get any money from me, but just gave me her phone number and told me to call her. Ah well, I might, but if the weather permits, I'm going to Khorog, in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast tomorrow. That flight was the only one in the entire Soviet Union that pilots got danger pay for. The plane has never crashed though, only one was brought down by Rocket fire from Afghanistan, which the route flies over. Yeah it makes me sound cool and adventurous, but it's really not dangerous at all, but it's supposed to be very beautiful. We'll see. I met a guy in the bazaar who was an English teacher for 7 years and now he sells knock offLouis Vuittons, since one day the government just stopped paying his salary without explanation. Alright, I feel I've written enough... that was the last 4 days I guess, with a few details left out, I can't write forever you know. I'll update what I am doing, as well as going back and describing what I did in the rest of Uzbekistan and Kyrgstan.
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