Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Uzbekistan - Where have all the vowels gone?

I felt the need to give you a closing update on Uzbekistan as I shortly head into Kyrgyzstan, a name where the first vowel is the second last letter and I still have to look it up to spell it, so don't worry if you can't pronounce it.

We have been hanging around Uzbekistan a bit. Due to the deep forests of bureaucracy that runs this area I haven't been able to enter Kyrgyzstan until the date on my visa. The borders in Central Asia are extremely absurd, they look like there were drawn by someone having an violent fit. A number of times when we have moved between major cities of Uzbekistan the road or train line crossed into another country. This can some times involve getting transit visas! We actually entered Turkmenistan for about 20 minutes, the time it took to sign us out and back in again was longer than the trip. Uzbekistan even has little "islands" of territory nestled in Kyrgyzstan. The paperwork must keep some logging industry going; we are registered in every town we enter, and it seriously took about 10 forms, and three different desks, to get my travellers cheques changed into US cash at the National Bank.

The shape of Uzbekistan

For the main reason of killing time, we have been hanging around the Fergana Valley for the past few days. This area has been a hot bed of issues and violet outbursts, mostly due to the spaghetti borders I am guessing. However, even though some people still seem scared of it, the only trouble I have had are the local crazies.

I will tell you a story of my one hour walk around pleasant and leafy Fergana City yesterday. I tracked down my favorite local dish (we know them all by heart now) in the bazaar and read my book in peace. No worries. In the park I became a tourist attraction myself as two boys, I think Russian tourists, asked to have their photo taken with me. Now I know what the locals think when we take photos of them in their funky skull caps: "What the hell for!?".

Anyway, walking back to the bazaar a lady passed making a keening / wailing racket and promptly striped off her dress (the mu-mu style thing Uzbek women wear). Now in nothing but her big undies she then proceeded to rip up her dress. Other women were starting as much as I.

That is ok, she didn't affect me as much as the little old women who rushed me and proceeded to claw my backpack, ranting and raving. Have you ever tried to get a little old lady off your back? They are surprisingly tough. Instantly I had a crowd of onlookers as I really tried hard to shove her off and even managed to drag her a few metres. Everyone was pissing themselves laughing and she seriously seemed to think something deadly or extremely offensive was in my backpack. Kindly people were trying to get her off too, to no avail. One man indicated I should just show her was is in my bag. Not a good feeling, but I didn't have much choice and somehow managed to not have everything thrown across the street. With me a bit shaken, she finally let me go with a look of bewilderment on her face. Some people even managed to apologise to me in English, I appreciated that. I wonder what had her so upset and ultimately so confused?

Jim was in bed due to very bad guts inflicted by our night on the town on rank vodka (we ended up in a nightclub called Hollywood that only had vodka, not a mixer to be seen). At least I could go and tell him about the ordeal. But, alas, he heads back to Blighty soon and I will continue into the sea of strangers myself. Really, they are generally very friendly people, but they had better lock those grannies up in future.

Anyway, enough crapping on. I hope this email doesn't give the wrong idea, I have enjoyed and been pleasantly surprised by Uzbekistan in many ways. Better get off now to dinner and the every day task of not getting run over by a Daewoo. They are mad drivers and there is an overt war against seat belts; they are all taken out, and in brand new cars never even installed. Lots of things to not understand here.