Wednesday, August 11, 2010


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 bring 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.

On the plus side, I have been back two weeks and in that time 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). That point is not 3 am on a Thursday morning though.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 559

Tashkent this summer is all fountains and flowerbeds and sprinklers and slightly unfortunate new architecture, and I bought an old coke bottle of fresh mulberry juice from the bazaar and wandered through the parks and boulevards drinking it and thinking that the Peace Corps are right to do it for two years. I feel like I'm only beginning to get the hang of things here,that I'm balancing on the edge. And I'm going home tomorrow, and it's not enough time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Home from home.

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 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.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pamir highway post goes here.

If I ever finish writing it. Timely blogging is beyond me, apparently.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Famous 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.

Friday, July 2, 2010


We decided to risk the overland trip south through Osh to Tajikistan, as things seemed to have calmed down a lot. No trouble and the town centre is much the same as it was when I visited a year ago, but the approach roads are lined with burned-out shops and houses, the anti-Uzbek graffiti mostly painted over now, and there are fields filled with UNHCR tents in the outskirts. I don't know how this can be fixed.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Carpets that I love

Shyrdaks are Kyrygyz felt carpets, traditionally found adorning the walls and floors of yurts. As you can perhaps tell, the designers are fairly unconfined by any notions of matching colours or taste, so the dilemma for the discerning shyrdak shopper is whether to spend hours (days) hunting for a vaguely tasteful specimen that might fit into some pre-exisiting colour-scheme at home, or just embrace the madness and go for purple-and-orange piece that carries a risk of seizures if you look at it for too long. If I had my own house they would be my floor-covering of choice in every room.