Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Good Day in Uzbekistan

We had many great experience in Uzbekistan and it would be hard (and dull for readers) to describe them all in detail. Instead, I'm going to describe one wonderful day to give a sense of what this quirky little country is like.

Lara and I decided that we wanted to catch a Sunday market at a little town near Samarkand that was described in our guidebook. We woke up and had a breakfast of freshly-baked bread, tea, jam, cheese, and oatmeal at our B&B and then walked 20 minutes to the Registan shared-taxi stand. We easily found a van that was going where we wanted and after a few minutes of waiting it filled with passengers and departed. It cost $1.00 each for the 90 minute drive.

Most of the passengers were muslim women wearing their colorful dresses and headscarves. The lady ahead of us had a beautiful daughter in a pink dress. She was about six years old and kept smiling and sticking her tongue out at me. In Uzbekistan you can still look at people's children and even talk to them and play with them without everyone thinking you are a pedophile!

We arrived at the market and were blown away by the scale of it. It was a teeming mix of fruit, clothing, food vendors, textiles, brooms, coal, carpets, nails, and any other thing you can imagine. We saw maybe 4 other tourists there in the entire day. Everyone was dressed in their traditional clothing, except that for them it wasn't traditional clothing. It is simply what they wear every day to go about their business: Uzbek hats and often suits for men, colorful "pajamas" for the women.

Everyone wanted to talk to us. People gave us samples of different foods to try. Everyone wanted to know where we were from and how we liked Uzbekistan. Nobody was at all pushy or rude. "Welcome to my country" was what we were told both by people's actions, and a few times in those very words.

The market had a huge selection of old textiles although we decided not to buy any in the end because we didn't find anything that really struck us. The craftsmanship of the local weavers is incredible, but Lara and I just couldn't decide on a pattern that we both loved.

Several people wanted to practice their English with us, and we gave one young man some advice on what he needed to do to work abroad ( a common question). Then a youth with fairly decent English came up to us and offered to take us to a nearby old mosque.

We accepted the offer and he and a friend hopped in a bus with us and drove to the edge of town, from where we walked uphill for about 20 minutes to a lovely old Mosque. It was in a park of 1000 year old trees which line a small river that came out of natural spring. Two old men in white beards were sitting in front of the Mosque. One of the trees had such big roots that you could pay $1.00 to sit in a little room that had been built underneath it.

We walked to the source of the spring, a pool of incredibly clear water filled with fish. A group of girls were playing there when we arrived and they all wanted to have their photos taken. When we walked back into town the kids insisted on buying us an ice-cream (an example of how the hospitality can really get crazy here). Then they helped us find a shared taxi and we drove back to Samarkand.

We went for dinner at a nice little BBQ place near a flower market. I actually considered buying a flower for Lara but thought it logical not to buy one since she would have to carry it around all evening. Apparently logic isn't called for on these occasions as Lara kindly explained to me afterwards. The flower vendors know this apparently. When we walked back out of the market we stopped to smell the flowers and one of the vendors gave her one. Luckily I was better looking!

To finish the night we went for a beer a little pub where we had met a local business owner last time we were in town. He didn't speak any English but we (Lara) managed to communicate incredibly well with a paper, pencil and sign language. He has just finished planning an English menu and we proof-read it for him. It was pretty good for having been done using the Internet. (In China by contrast we were offered "Flesh" and "Baked hairtail" on one train menu). We fixed a few minor mistakes and gave him some suggestions to help attract tourists.

He insisted on paying for our beers.

We walked back in the dark, feeling very safe even though we were in a big city and obviously had lots of money. All in all, a good day in Uzbekistan.

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