Friday, September 12, 2003

Political conversations in Uzbekistan

These are the closest I have come to talking politics with the locals here so far:

#1: Tea in Tashkent
It’s my first full day in this country. I am wandering the capital city between various sites in my guide book, occasionally taking detours to neighborhoods to look around. I have picked up rustam, a 20 year old uzbek who is studying English and wants to practice with me. As we walk through this neighborhood, a local invites us in for tea. Rustam translates as we chat over tea with our host.

The host asks “what do you think of our president in Uzbekistan?” I play dumb and say I don’t know much about him. Then I ask our host, “what do you think of your president?” the host’s eyes dart quickly to the side in a sort of nervous way and he says, “Uzbeks like peace.” At least two different (and opposite) ways to interpret his remark pop into my head, but I do not ask what he means.

#2: In the Taxi from Nukus to Urgench
I’m in a shared taxi with 4 uzbeks (the driver and 3 other passengers). Within the first 2 minutes we establish that I have no languages in common with any of them, but that does not stop them from trying. They ask me things in Russian over and over again, apparently to make sure that I have not suddenly acquired the language in the 2 seconds since the prior time he asked. As we cross the amu darya river over a pontoon bridge, one passenger turns to me and says “Bush?” giving a thumbs up sign. I grab his fist and turn it upside down. “bush,” I say. The Uzbeks are surprised. “Reagan?” one says with another thumbs up. “Reagan,” I reply moving his thumb downward. “Clinton?” the first one says. I turn his thumb so it is horizontal, pointing sideways. “Clinton.”

#3: on my walk through bukhara last night.
I meet madina, a bukhari tajik. She invites me to her house for tea. On our way there, she asks me how I like living in the u.s., so I ask her how she likes living in Uzbekistan. “It was better during the soviet union,” she replies. “Then, we could buy food and our money was worth something. I would rather be in the u.s.s.r. the government at least tried to care for us then. Things are getting worse here.”

I think I will leave for samarkand tomorrow. Bukhara is great, but I am already starting to have that feeling that I am ready to move on. I am considering a day trip to Tajikistan after samarkand. My guide book says it is possible without a visa. At this pace, I might also be able to make it to the fergana valley. We will see how much time I have left when I make it back to Tashkent.