20 October 2013
Left Termez on a long shared taxi ride again. This time I had car mates with whom I speak no common language. “Govoryat na russki?” “Nyet” (Russian is a common second language, owing to Soviet influence).
Yet that didn’t prevent the driver and the rest of the passengers from finding out from me: How Old Are You (I’m 33). Do You Have Children (No). Are You Married (No – to a chorus of sighs or disapproval, I couldn’t tell). You Should Take Down His Number (laughs).
Like I said many times before, I wish I can speak many languages! The dusty bumpy ride to Qarshi was interminable. I was lucky to have some wonderful car mates though. Again, we passed through Boysun and Derbend, where the police was overzealous in taking down my passport details. This happened at the exact same three checkpoints I passed through 2 days ago, with the same officers hovering about, recording in the exact same notebooks!
6 hours later arriving in Qarshi, the taxi driver collected brick wads of money from each passenger: in Uzbekistan, the largest note is the 5000 som which is rare. More often than not, people pay in 1000 som notes, or even 500 or 200 som notes. To put things in perspective, the black market (thus better) rate for the US$1 is about 2600 som. So say, paying in 200 som notes (8 cents) for a US$20 car ride, you could knock out the driver silly with the stacks of money and drive off with his car. Took a sneak peek at the car boot where the driver stashed his earnings from the trip: it was littered with bundles of notes bunched up with rubber bands.
In Qarshi, two of my car mates were also making a transfer to another taxi to Bukhara. But one man was hungry so we sat down for a late lunch together. In the cool autumn air, eating out of a shack. Comfort in my own silence, surrounded by a flurry of languages I don’t understand, and feeling very included to be invited to share a meal. After all, food is food, tea is tea. Nothing binds strangers together as much as satiation from a shared meal.
After lunch, the next taxi driver promptly started the car and off we were on the roads to Bukhara. The roads are much better. And flatter. The vast plains stretch out as far as the eyes could see. Hitchhiking is common amongst locals, and the taxi stopped to pick up others. Here, it is common courtesy for the hitchhiker to pay the driver a token sum. But as the driver took what I thought looked like a detour, I wondered – weren’t we the paying customers first?
The setting sun set the arid lands ablaze with unadulterated sunshine under the cloudless skies. In the distance, goat herders led their flock. Further in the distance, a boy on a donkey journeying into the vast horizon of nothing but flat plains.
Finally arrived at Bukhara and at the guesthouse. After riding the dust for 9 hours, I was glad to stretch my legs walking around this old rich Bukharan house that has been converted into a guesthouse. I stumbled into the dining hall, just to be greeted by stunning ghanch work. I don’t know whether it was because I was more susceptible after a long tiring ride, but this was the first time on this trip that I was moved by something that felt very beautiful and that put me in a very regal mood. Decided to shower, put on a dress and have dinner in this divine looking room even though I didn’t feel very hungry. Relished in roasted aubergines, fresh figs and melons and finally, being able to have a nice conversation after a whole day of not being able to converse with anyone properly. Enjoyed the conversation too much that little did I realise how a lone gal in a nice dress could stir a young heart.
What a day it has been!