(written October 29th)
it’s strange to think that I am starting my fourth week in Tashkent. Although there is so much more to learn and see, there are also a lot of things that feel familiar as if I have been doing them for much longer than that. Home feels awkwardly far away, and even more strange is the thought that 4 weeks ago I was still studying for my final exam at Uni. I don’t think I have completely digested that I am actually done with Uni, probably because there was so little time between my exam, my party and – finally –my departure. While I do miss home, friends family and my little routines, being here feels like starting a new life, meaning that I can create my own structures rather than trying to fit into a pre-existing structure, and being completely cut off from everything I have done the years before that. If I had to make a comparison, going to Tashkent feels like diving. You take a deep breath before going underwater because you are scared and excited what to expect. As soon as you are surrounded by water, you are in an entirely different world where nothing except small noises from the old world can reach you. You feel cut off, but also strangely comfortable.
I am happy here. My friends here are great, teaching is great, and the theatre project is going well. Obviously things are never perfect, and there are a lot of things that I cannot share here (hello, censorship) that have me rethink my own idea of freedom, the state of my own country and also the importance of education. Obviously there are so many things I still need to learn and understand, so even if – for whatever reason – the next few months are going to be shit, it will be worth having come here for the few insights I have got so far. Writing obviously helps me to express some of the things I experience and see day by day, but as time passes I also find it increasingly hard to decide what CAN I write down, what shall I write down and how do I find the appropriate words for the impressions I have of Uzbekistan so far? I suppose I should try to capture everything I feel like saying, but if I don’t, you know that the reason I haven’t posted anything in a little while is not because I am lazy, but rather because I haven’t found the time to sit down and properly reflect on what to make of experiences.
The past weekend did not only involve travelling, but also getting to know a different face of Uzbekistan. Matthias, Felix, Romy, Saskia, Mark and his wife and I (i.e. a group of four Germans, one Swiss, one Filipino and one Austrian) decided to make use of this last weekend of good weather in Uzbekistan and to go away for the weekend. To be more precise, we decided to go to the Nurota mountains (near Samarkand). This involved a 4-hour car ride, for which we rented a very charming Uzbek driver with a questionable but funny taste of music, as reflected in his playlists including the Backstreets Boys, Celine Dion and Lambada. We arrived at our guesthouse on Friday afternoon, where the owners of the guesthouses were already waiting for us with a wonderful but massive load of plov in a little valley that you could compare to paradise. The landscape surrounding us was mainly mountainous vast land, but the guesthouse was located in a valley where the tree’s leaves were in a bright yellow, with a small stream adding to its beauty. Nurota is an important place for Uzbek tourism development, as a UN eco-tourism project has helped this area to attract tourists by converting family homes into incredibly charming and rustic guesthouses. This was felt, as the guesthouses were homely and the people hospitable, trying to do anything to help us make the best of our stay. (cf. http://nuratau.com/new/)
Our afternoon program was quickly decided as soon as we saw the owner’s donkeys. I was never a big fan of horses, but donkeys are awesome and cute, so that Felix and I went for a little stroll around the mountains – on donkeys. One of the guys from the guesthouse walked with us and helped us to deal with the donkeys, but we were also taught the most important words in “Eselisch” as we named it so that we could at least communicate to them if we wanted to stop or keep on riding. We obviously treated our long-eared new friends with apples and bananas afterwards.
After having spent the night listening and dancing to Uzbek music with the guesthouse owners, the next morning we left the guesthouse at about 9.30am with a local guide to walk through the mountains with us. Although Uzbekistan’s landscape looks appallingly brown this time of the year, we were all stunned by its beauty, peacefulness and the country’s constrasts characterized by endless steppe and breathtaking mountains. We passed through a few tiny villages, where the locals were happy to see some new faces. One woman would not stop taking my hand and smiled at me with her big, golden-teeth (common for a lot of people here) smile, telling me what a “красивая девушка” (beautiful girl) I was. Hospitality despite communication barriers is common around here, particularly because people speak neither Uzbek nor Russian, but Tajik. Also, going to Uzbekistan’s countryside made me realize that the vast differences between Tashkent as a representative and fairly cosmopolitan capital and its rural counterpart are not only reflected in its physical appearance, but also in the way people are.
The guesthouse where we arrived after our hiking tour was different but equally lovely and we spent the night playing UNO with the super cute guesthouse owner’s son (we were in the middle of nowhere between some mountains, so there wasn’t anything else to do). The next day was already Sunday and it was time to say goodbye to our new-made friends. Before telling you some more of our trip, let me give you a brief illustration how lovely the people were: Our group was joking around that we would find Felix an Uzbek wife from the area, so every time we ran into young women we said that one of them might be the one. A guy from the guesthouse who had accompanied us when we decided to explore the area around the guesthouse realized this and suggested to Felix to say some words in Tajik to them, namely “How are you”. As soon as Felix said that to a group of girls, they started giggling and blushed and all of us thought that that was quite cute. However, the next day, the guy told us that what Felix had said to them actually meant “I love you”…. cheeky guy! Let us hope that Felix didn’t get the girls’ hopes up to actually marry one of them.. :)
On our way back we stopped at Uzbekistan’s biggest lake, namely the Aydarko’l. The journey there was incredible, as we had to pass through Uzbekistan’s desert called Kysylkum to reach the shore. We encountered some fishers as we got there who weren’t too pleased when we asked them if we could do a small boat tour. They did it nevertheless, and Matthias, Felix and I got on the boat, only to realize that the boat was filled with dead fish… namely in the moment when I accidentally stepped on several of them. Beautiful feeling, I’m telling you…! (surely, the fishers’d be happy to eat some fish with my shoeprint on it!)
Anyway, the lake was stunning and in no way comparable to any lake I have seen before. It’s massive, it is surrounded by desert, it’s salty and it’s scarily quiet there.
The weekend was incredible in numerous ways and made me realize how glad I am to have chosen Uzbekistan as the place for my internship.