Home from home

I genuinely missed the trams.

Crossing the border to Uzbekistan felt like coming home. I had a stupid grin on my face all the way to Tashkent, and I rode the metro to my hotel which stopped at all the most bizarrely-decorated stations (astronauts and chandeliers forever) and I bought samosas in the bazaar and when I walked into the hotel one of my best Tashkent friends was there fixing somebody’s bike, and all was right with the world.

Then I went to look for things and found out that the main Uzbekistan Airways booking office has moved the cafe with decent wifi (cafe. singular. Freaking Dushanbe has more wifi hotspots than Tashkent, which is at least three times the size) had closed and my UCell sim card, worth its weight in diamonds now tourists are forbidden to buy one at all, had been blocked and my taxi driver tried to grope me and I would’ve bought a flight ticket to leave this evening were it not for the fact that no one knows where the bloody ticket office has gone.

And then I bought a drink and received a single teabag and a piece of bubblegum as part of my change, which is possibly my favourite Uzbekistan quirk of all (I have wrangled thirteen-odd currencies in the past six months and the Uzbek sum is still the most inept I have to encounter; guys, your biggest bank note is now worth less than fifty cents, suck it up and print bigger ones already) and I’m reluctantly forced to admit that I still kind of love this stupid place.

I do really need to find that ticket office though.


A person of interest in Tajikistan

I spent this afternoon being interviewed by a magazine called “Women of Tajikistan” after being ambushed by a couple of journalists outside the Uzbek embassy. For some reason (possibly my expression of beatific joy – exiting a Central Asian embassy, visa in hand, often provokes this) I stood out as a Person Of Interest and so I spent two hours in the office of this publication (which must have a remarkably broad editorial scope if it is interested in the thoughts of random tourists) being quizzed over the weekly circulation of newspapers in the UK, the London public’s reaction to the burqa ban in France and what my message was to the Women of Tajikistan. The interview took place partially in Russian so heaven knows how it turned out; when a translator finally turned up (“Why are there no women like Margaret Thatcher in the British parliament at the moment?” was giving me difficulties, not just because of the language) we got sidetracked into an extensive argument over whether global warming exists so I’m not sure how much that helped. At the end of the interview, the journalist apologised profusely that editorial policy didn’t allow them to put foreigners on the front cover, otherwise I would, he assured me, be there like a shot (I have never, ever been so grateful for editorial policy). I still have zero idea as to what I did to excite so much interest, as foreign tourists aren’t exactly uncommon here – OK, so Paris Dushanbe ain’t, but it’s not Mogadishu either), but I am extremely pleased that Central Asia continues right to the end to be a Bit Odd.