Uzbeks are tough nuts to crack, real businessmen. No more Middle Eastern presents. Every deal is a struggle. It’s one big conspiracy. On the other hand, their businesses are designed to be bad. In Karimov’s dictatorship, as we learned, success means sharing with the government. This is why you cannot buy decent street food in Tashkent. And when one man starts selling motor oil next to the road, next week, all his neighbors are doing the same. For brooms, go to the next village. Creativity still suffers from the Soviet era.
Still traveling in our little group, socializing with the locals, gradually became harder. We ourselves were entertaining enough. Uzbek, and in general, Central-Asian conversations, don’t get far below the surface. Most of the people just want to label you. Atkuda? Where are you from? How old are you? How much is the bike? Why are you wearing a wig? As soon as you answer their limited list of questions, the dialogue is over. Devay. Great chat.
It felt like the people don’t know their identity. Once they were these traditional, Islamic people, whom you can still find in the countryside. Unconditional hospitality. Heaps of plov for breakfast, accompanied with a shot of vodka, the Russian touch to their cuisine . Apart from that, the Soviets demolished this whole tradition.
Tashkent is definitely the greyest city I’ve ever visited. Two million people, nothing to do. Policemen, checking your passport at every street corner, more likely out of boredom than duty. Cotton export, started in Soviet times, pays for this joke. This monoculture requires extreme amounts of water. All this water comes from the Amu Darya, the artery of the Uzbek economy, causing the famous drain of the Aral Sea. Combined with the overused pesticides, nowadays scattered by sandstorms, is this one of the biggest environmental disasters of the present time. Of course, the bulk of the population doesn’t ever get their hands on any of that money. Cotton pickers get paid a fraction of a dollar cent per kilo.
Oh, this all sounds very negative. Still, we’ve encountered much more hospitality in the villages, than you could imagine getting in Europe. In Tashkent, I met some old friends, Stas and Olga, who hosted us in between the mandatory hotel stays. They probably are the coolest citizens of Uzbekistan, trying to blow some life into their capital, with illegal photo exhibitions, and other projects. And of course there are the famous silk road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, a pleasure for the eye. We just suffered, from what we called the post-Iranian trauma.