No place like home – oh wait.

Look, it's probably a metaphor, ok.

“Here I am, safely returned over those peaks from a journey far more beautiful and strange than anything I had hoped for or imagined – how is it that this safe return brings such regret?”

BECAUSE, Peter Matthieson, your safe return involves a bunch of boring stuff like laundry and student loans and bank cards and having to work out what to do with that huge stash of (unexchangeable) Uzbek money the you cleverly hid in your toiletries bag and forgot about (note for any ladies travelling in Central Asia: tampons scare border guards, customs officials, policemen (but not Iranian policemen, sadly) and most other people who might conceivably dig through your belongings and thus it is good to conceal things in their vicinity; their strategic placement in the top of your bag also prevents many a search from going much further) and other things that make hanging out in embassy queues for hours on end seem posititively Bacchanalian.

I’ve been back for two weeks and in that time I have accomplished almost exactly nothing. As soon as I came home my body well and truly crashed, the combination of a gut parasite (a farewell gift from Uzbekistan, ever-thoughtful country that it is), summer cold and peculiarly persistent jet-lag knocking me flat for the best part of a week and leaving me feeling absolutely exhausted. The exhaustion has now given way to lethargy, which basically means extensive lying around reading Jasper Fforde novels and internetting and feeling bad about all of the things that I’m not doing. I miss the challenge and stimulation of travel (I never, ever thought I would think this, but I miss Russian) but apparently can’t bestir myself enough to find something to replace it.

Mainly I am bothered by how normal things feel. I am telling everyone how strange it is to be back, but the awful thing is that it isn’t at all. The past eighteen months are suddenly rolling up like a snap bracelet and it’s as though I never left, which has left me scared that I haven’t changed either, and what if everything I’ve done and seen has made no lasting impression? What if I’ve just let it drift past me? What if I’ve come back no different from when I left? Intellectually I know that this is silly and of course I’ve changed, but I think I had this idea that the person who came back would be confident and assertive and proactive and have her life sorted out immediately, and that hasn’t happened yet, and the fact that I am slotting so easily back into London and falling back into old, slothful habits is making me uneasy. I’m starting an MA in September (disaster response, global warming adaptation and flood management – fingers crossed it’ll be as good as it sounds) which should provide a catalyst to do new things and meet new people which is what I think I need right now. So I’ll hold off panicking until then, I think, but for the moment I am feeling discombobulated in the extreme, and my pleasure in being able to legitimately use that word is tempered by the fact that it is not an altogether pleasant state of mind to be in.

Goodness me, I can whinge with the best of them when I get going. Positives of being home include the happy fact that no one has tried to put jam or salt in my tea, which I have been drinking out of a mug instead of a tiny bowl. No one has tried to serve me vodka at breakfast, either. Decent wine and gin and tonic are all plentiful. There are restaurants offering eight different international cuisines witin ten minutes walk of my house, and the primary ingredient in none of the dishes is mutton fat.

At some point I will write about my long and fruitless quest in Tashkent airport to find the correct person to bribe in order to get my excess luggage onto my flight (you might think this would be a relatively simple matter in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but you would be wrong); the perils of bathing in holy springs along the Pamir highway; and why your next holiday should be in Georgia and/or Armenia (sneak preview: the wine has quite a lot to do with it. Also, pretty churches). But that all has to wait. It is 2.30 am, which means it is time to redecorate my bedroom.

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Xayr O’zbekiston, yakshi qo’ling

Tashkent, I will miss you and your inexplicable quantity of ferris wheels.

Tomorrow morning I’m leaving on what I hope will be a six month trip through Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and back to Uzbekistan. Getting the visas was such a performance that it became an end in itself, and now I have a passport full of stickers it’s begnning to sink in that oh crap, I’m leaving tomorrow. Now the thought is almost overwhelming: I have Persepolis and Isfahan and Kashgar and the Hindu Kush all before of me, and I am so excited and terrified that I can hardly breathe.

I’ve no idea what it’s going to be like; I’ve never travelled alone for such a long period before, and although I’m reasonably confident of my ability to handle most things these places may throw at me, I’m a little worried I may find it all too mentally exhausting and crash after a month or two. Except this is what I’ve been dreaming of for years, and I’ve lived on my own for a year in one of the most frustrating and ridiculous countries in the world (I love you, Uzbekistan, but good Lord, you don’t make it easy), and I’ve just spent a week in Afghanistan (this did seem like a sensible idea at the time), and now is not the time to wuss out. I can do this.

It is, however, a great shame that the buildup to epic journeys has to be ruined by bloody packing. Marco Polo was strangely silent on this point (mind you, things would be a lot easier if I had my own caravan of camels). My backpack capacity seems to decrease every time I use it.

Medrassas, marriage and mulberries: Bukhara

All thousand-year-old tombs need a bonus big wheel.

At the moment I am passing my time with my attempts to navigate my way through the forest of suffixes and particles which is the Uzbek language, picking up on the way jolly little sentences such as “Malika and Karima are silkworm breeders” and “Does your elder brother labour in the cotton fields today?”. I cannot but seriously respect a language which not only contains a “future tense of doubt” but also a “past tense of hearsay”. It is also full of sounds that English-speakers (well, me, anyway) appear to be quite incapable of producing (mostly extremely guttural variants of the letter K) that leave one with a very sore throat after a two-hour lesson. I am however in no position to complain to my friends here about the quirks of Uzbek, since they communicate with me primarily in English or French (now there’s a language the knowledge of which I did not think would come in handy in Uzbekistan, but the most plentiful breed of tourist here is indeed French, which make it popular for Uzbeks to learn) which in many cases is their fourth language (the other three generally being Uzbek, Tajik and Russian). Apparently I need to man up and reach for the strepsils.

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Tashkent

He pops up everywhere.

I have sat down on numerous occasions over the past few weeks to write, but have been thwarted by power cuts, painfully slow dialup connections, and internet cafes full of fourteen-year-old boys who would quite like the scary foreign girl to leave now please, so they can get back to blowing things up. However, I do now appear to have located a connection that moves at a speed slightly in excess of that of the average garden snail, which in combination with a keyboard that does not spontaneously switch from roman to Cyrillic characters at random intervals gives me great hope of finally achieving communication with the outside world.

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