It’s late June in Tashkent, 11am, 32° in the shade (90°F), UV index off the charts, 24% humidity. A really nice day for this time of year. We walk to Café Breadly from our house through the mahalla where the workers from the regions have been busy on on all the various house construction/remodel projects since sunrise (4:53am on the 28th of June). Ladas roll past, an absolutely flawless classic 1950s GAZ “Volga” sits parked on the side of the main road right next to a brand new Mercedes G-Class owned by some oligarch. Meanwhile, scores of white Chevrolets speed down Novomoskovskaya and at least two slow-down and gesture to us assuming we’re crossing the road just to get a taxi on the other side. Neoclassical Stalin-era apartment blocks line both sides of the street, and a vendor is selling fresh melons on the corner.
Our driver Sultan, he’s cool, calm, and collected. This guy seems to know everyone. We might be on the opposite side of town in Chilinzar district and he’ll recognize someone on the side of road, the other guy is always happy to see him. To and from work every day, small talk in broken Russian/English, a few Uzbek words thrown in for good measure. “Ashgabat, Moscow, Bishkek, Samarkand, Sultan please, go! No problem!” Grocery runs, picking up water or our dry-cleaning, bringing us plov on special occasions (don’t forget to return the dishes with a homemade treat!). Him and his whole family live just a few doors down from us. We’re really going to miss his kindness, putting up with us, our ridiculous schedule. Our last two years here wouldn’t have been the same. We wish him all the best.
The sky is gray, wind howling, it must be only a few degrees above freezing. Khiva in March they said. Navruz is a beautiful holiday! The Central Asian festival with Zoroastrian roots symbolizes the arrival of spring. Maybe yesterday when it was sunny and warm. Today the cold desert steppe had other plans for us. The clunky Daewoo Nexia and driver arranged by the guest house had arrived and we were en route to Bukhara via the Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezem. Our travel buddy Mike from Belgium is along for the ride, but none of us are quite prepared for this weather. Toprak Qala, 1st century BC, the palace of the kings of Khorezem for 500 years. Our fingers are numb, eyes watering, but the desolation is beautiful. We all know this is an experience none of us will ever forget.
A park like campus, gorgeous trees, amazing fall colors, an oasis in the capital city. The Elementary Choir brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. Activities gathering time was the best part of every single day. Shenanigans in the office were memorable to say the least. Tashkent International School is a home away from home, and home is where the heart is. A piece of it left behind with each and every one of the lovely students, faculty, staff, those who we are privileged to have met and are now considered friends. It’s not goodbye, but see you later… well that’s what everyone says. It is a very small world, so to our friends and colleagues, until we meet again.
Soviet era apartment blocks are made of concrete. Mass produced in panel factories at Yangiobod. After the 1966 earthquake, the epic rebuilding effort provided homes for tens of thousands of displaced residents, and for an imported workforce that decided to stick around and call Tashkent home. That was our first housing experience in Uzbekistan. Fourth floor, elevator with 10 buttons, and numbers written with a permanent marker only up to 9 (because that was the top floor). The renovation looked nice on the surface, but after moving in it was the little things that bothered us. The unsealed gap between the wall and floor tiles in the bathroom. A drain installed backwards. The giant hole in the toilet pipe leaking raw sewage onto our downstairs neighbors. We only stayed six months.
Alexandria (turn on dramatic voice…) Oxiana! Our tour of Termez was a once in a lifetime experience. Sergey, our guide, is self taught, every single tiny detail explained in depth, and with such passion. History permeates every corner of this area, every hill it seems is some ancient wonder of a long lost civilization. June maybe wasn’t the best time to fly down here, but if you enjoy putting your head in an oven, Termez might be just the place for you. It’s windy, so I guess that helps, and the sweat instantly evaporates in the 15% humidity which does have a pleasant cooling effect. Wear sunscreen, wear a hat, drink lots of water. Out on the frontier, in the border zone, Afghanistan is just right there across the water of the Amu Darya. We’re looking over at farms on the other side of the river the Greeks called the Oxus, the land we’re standing on was known as Bactria, and Alexander the Great walked down the same street we’re walking on now, 2,500 years later.
This house was built in the 1940s. Stalin was in power. The Soviet Union’s heavy industry was relocated to Tashkent, well out of reach of the Luftwaffe, and new homes were required for the workers. It’s a typical Uzbek house, with a gate/garage entrance that has a separate smaller door built in. The garage leads to a back garden, the tapchan is next to the pool (filtered, which is rare), fruit trees provide shade, and the grass is great for a picnic. Three large wooden pane windows look out into the garden from the dining-room/kitchen, and the 6 inch wide original wood floor planks are gorgeous. The walls are 2 feet thick, solid. The house survived the 1966 earthquake. Four rooms, maybe 90 square meters. If we could pick up this house and take it with us, we would. We both agree this is the favorite house either of us have ever lived in.
Sultan meets me outside at 6:30am. We park the car on the street and mingle for twenty minutes with about 200 other men who are all here for the same reason. It’s time for the wedding plov. No ladies allowed. Someone in the mahalla is getting married, and I’ve been asked to join in the festivities. Everyone files in, our host greets each and every person. It’s 12 to a table. The place is packed. A band plays traditional Uzbek music and everyone munches on candies and small pastries. Someone important looking talks for a full 10 minutes, then an imam says a prayer. Servers bring 6 plates of plov to every table, so everyone shares with the person sitting next to them. Lepyoshka bread to push the rice onto a spoon, wipe up the oil, drink many cups of green tea. Plov finished, the experience is over as quickly as it started. We’re back home by 8:00am.
Tashkent is a city of 2.5 million people, but still a small town. The airport is never more than 15 minutes away, especially at 2 in the morning. Our flight leaves at a more reasonable hour. Bags are packed. House is empty. Cat has no clue what’s coming. So many memories, and it hasn’t even been that long. Central Asia will change you. Our world-view is expanded. The lens through which we see the world is clearer. Our flight leaves in less than 8 hours. Maybe we should get some sleep? Dresden will be different. East Germany was within the sphere of Soviet influence, which we can’t seem to escape. Uzbekistan has been a fascinating place to live. Some of it difficult. All of it interesting. In Europe the grass is literally greener, but we’ve never let expectations define our experience, and we won’t this time. It took three years for us to feel truly settled, and to find our place, and now we’re moving on, but a little bit of Uzbekistan will always be within us.