Monday, November 12, 2012

I know. It's been about two months since I last posted. Forgive me. We are now in Falls Church, Virginia just outside Wahington D.C. We have started our German language training, albeit late due to Hurricane Sandy.

I wanted to write a nice closing post for Back to the Desert. I kept coming up blank. I'm still pretty empty. Partly because my mind has been on (in this order) leaving Tashkent and returning to the States, visiting all my friends and relations, Doug's and my road trip to Virginia and starting German language training. Maybe I didn't want to close the blog because I realized that living in and writing about Tashkent was just a small chapter in this new life (it still feels new, by the way) so it's really not over. Perhaps I've just been lazy. Take your pick.

Doug and I were given a very nice send off from Tashkent. The Ambassador offered to host a farewell party at his residence. We invted as many people as we could. In attendance was our music teacher, Mahmurjon, and some musician friends of his. We gave a farewell concert that included most of the songs Douglas and I had learned plus some wonderful instrumental pieces.

One of the guards at our housing compound with whom Doug and I became quite friendly wanted to give us a farewell dinner. We showed up at the guard shack after hours and found that he had grilled shashlik (shish kebabs). These were the best shashlik we had eaten in Tashkent. We practically didn't need our teeth, the meat was so tender. They must have marinated for a week, they were so flavorful. Thank you, Kudrat.

Kudrat and I enjoying the shashlik.

I went on a final hike the Sunday before we left (which was early Monday morning). The hike was a good one, which I had hoped. I wanted to be worn out for the 16 or so hours I had to sit on the plane. All told, it took us about 22 hours to get home.

What was the first thing we did, you may wonder? Well, I had to go out and buy underwear. All our baggage arrived except the one with all my underwear in it. Yes. That's what I wanted to do first back in the states. Try on bras.

Then I went to Taco Bell.

We enjoyed home leave, but it was exhausting. In my past, I remember being so jealous of the popular girls in school. So many people wanted to sit by them. They got invited places. After the few weeks Doug and I spent being the center of attention, I wish I could go back and tell my young self, "You don't want to be the popular girl, Laura." I loved seeing everyone. I wanted to spend time with them. And it was mentally trying. We gave a couple of presentations to two groups about our travels and I went to my friend Lulu's school to talk with her 8th grade Geography class about my time in Uzbekistan. Fun.

And we shopped. We need to get used to spending lots of money all at once rather than spread out over the years. For example, we stocked up on clothing and consumables for our two years in Uzbekistan. Having arrived home, we realize that much of that needs to be replaced. Already, I have spent over $1000. on clothes as has Doug. We both need new computers (his isn't working well and mine is 12 years old). We had to buy a car to use the year we are in the states. (Our has been shipped to Antwerp to await our arrival in Munich.) Ka-CHING! I think that if we had never left home and bought all this, we wouldn't notice as much. We hear Munich is expensive, so we are going to want to bring enough clothing and things with us so we don't need to buy it there. It hurts to spend it all at once.

We had a lovely road trip from St. Paul to Falls Church. We went to many of the Lincoln sights - his childhood home, another of his homes, the courthouse where he worked and a museum. We arrived in Virginia just about three days before Hurricane Sandy.

That catches you up in a nutshell. I hope you enjoy my new blog, As I Rise which you can find at:

Monday, September 3, 2012

20 Years of US-Uzbek Relations

The countdown continues: only one more Marine house happy hour, 9 more work days for Douglas, one more book club meeting for me and two more hikes. Here's another old post that I never published. I hope you enjoy it.

Ambassador Krol hosted a reception at his home on Monday the 20th of February in honor of 20 years of relations between the United States and Uzbekistan.

Briefly, Uzbekistan was part of the former Soviet Republic which broke up in 1991 (when Doug was in Moscow!). We recognized it as an independent country and are working to keep good relations with it.

Ambassador Krol came to Douglas and I a few weeks earlier and asked us if we would perform some of the Uzbek folk music we've been learning at this reception. Doug, sadly, had to decline as he would be in India on a yoga retreat. Ambassador Krol still wanted me to sing. I started working intensely with my teacher, Mahmurjon, to perfect a few songs I've learned. My goal was to memorize them, but, as they are in Uzbek and learning Russian is hard enough, that didn't happen. I did, however, learn them well enough to not have to stare at the music and lyrics.

We were asked to perform four songs - two with vocals and two strictly instrumental. There were to be four instrumentalists at the performance. My teacher plays a violin held like in his lap like a cello called a gidjak (sounds like "geed-jock"). A gentleman from the Embassy, Fatakh, plays the dutar - a two-stringed long-necked instrument. Ilyoz, a long-time friend of my teacher who often attends our lessons, also plays the dutar. And a gentleman named Bakhodir plays the Uzbek folk drum that Doug is learning, the doira.

Other than practicing in lesson, we arranged for one full rehearsal the afternoon of the day of the performance. Fate stepped in and I came down with my first bout of what the Americans call, not affectionately, Tashkent Tummy. I was stricken Saturday morning and was up all Saturday night. I've never been so glad that Doug was out of town. I got lucky Sunday and our Medical Officer was at the Embassy and told me to come see him. He put me on antibiotics and I think they sped my recovery. But I still didn't know if I could perform. My voice was fine. It was my body I was worried about. It would all come down to timing . . . if you know what I mean.

We rehearsed at our house Sunday afternoon and all went well except that I sweat profusely.  The men were in suit coats and not at all hot. Not a good sign. We agreed on song order and even chose two alternates in case we brought the house down; we would be ready with encores.

When I arrived at the Ambassador's residence I felt fine. There were some amazing people in attendance. I was introduced to the widow of the first Uzbek Ambassador. She was a true lady. She was nicely dressed, pretty, intelligent and charming. She studied Indian Literature and got her PhD while living in India.

This picture was taken at our house, not at the party at the Ambassador's house. These are the same men who played with me that evening, however. I'll try to get a picture from that party. There are security issues . . . Our teacher, Mahmurjon, is seated at the far right.

The performance went well. We played our encores, not because people were screaming for them (most were obliviously chatting), but because we wanted to. This was one of those opportunities where I felt priviledged to be in the company performing with such talented musicians.

I got very good compliments from a few people. There is a man who works in the Ambassador's house whom I've met before. He heard the music begin and thought, 'Oh, they've hired an Uzbek singer.' Then he realized it was me. Apparently my voice lends well to this style of singing. In attendance that evening was Minister Kamilov who, in rank, is equal to Hillary Clinton's position in the States. He approached me with our Ambassador to tell me that he not only enjoyed the singing, but that my diction was excellent. That made me feel good. My biggest fear of singing in Uzbek is mispronouncing something so that it comes out rude.

A few weekends later, Douglas and I had lunch with our music teacher, Mahmurjon, and some other Uzbek musicians. Ilyoz was there as was Bakhodir who brought his doira. Douglas got to jam with Bakhodir and held his own well. Bakhodir gave Doug a base rhythm to keep while he played various rhythms and sounds. Two young women were there one of who sings with a local opera company and the other in a local choir. They sang in trio with a young man whom we've met before. They sang in English, "Love Me Tender" in barbershop quartet style harmonies and "The Way You Look Tonight" in jazzier harmonies. Doug and I sang the Scottish songs we sang at the Robert Burns' night and I sang one of my newer Uzbek folksongs plus an old favorite. It was fun sharing music in an almost "Battle of the Bands" style afternoon. A very loud thunderstorm moved through as we ate and sang, but it was cozy in the restaurant with our new friends.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I Swear, it's True

It's countdown time here in Uzbekistan. Doug has 17 more work days unless the government calls another surprise holiday like they did last Monday. I have seven more Russian classes, four more hikes and two more Marine house happy hours. I'm looking over old blog posts I've written, but never posted. I hope you enjoy this one. Mother, you may not want to read this one.

I have fallen into the unfortunate habit of swearing. I am grateful that it is only when I'm alone. Well, sometimes poor Douglas is within earshot. I'm not sure how or why I wound up here. I have never liked hearing it except when used smartly and sparingly, which seems rare. Sometimes, I admit, I feel better after letting a few words fly, but I honestly believe that it's just the outlet that I need and not the words themselves.

I'm glad you cannot hear me as I sit here editing this post for publication. As I mentioned, I have a few unpublished drafts, so first I looked at another post for potential publication. It consisted of one short paragraph that was poorly written so I selected to return to the previous page where I could delete it. I clicked on the back arrow key, a message came up telling me that I had unsaved changes (wrong) that would be lost if I navigated back to the previous page. Did I really want to go back? Yes, I answered. It gave me that question four times before I finally exed out of the entire
f&%*#ing blog site. Then, while working on this posting, I highlighted a paragraph then attempted to drag it to relocate it. Instead of relocating it this sh#($$)y box highlighted everything in its path. (Yes, I released the highlighting function before I attempted to drag it. Duh.) It's a good thing I rarely drive here in Tashkent, that's another swearing trigger for me.

Okay, that's all the steam I'll allow myself to let off. All this happened in the space of two minutes. This is a typical computer encounter for me. This is why I'll (I'm typing this sentence for the second time as somehow it disappeared while I was typing below) NEVER join Facebook or any new site the techno torture masters come up with. I was dragged kicking and screaming this far. I've drawn my line.

Frankly, when I think of the definition of the few popular swear words we use in English in America, why would anyone want to say most of them?

Let's start with the one that rhymes with 'duck'. Consider what it means. To have sex. (In checking the etomology, it also has carried he definition of strike or push.) How did our society get from "to have sex" (f*ck) to "I'm so ticked, I can't think straight" (F*CK!!!)? Sex is pleasant (usually); being aggravated to the point of verbal assault isn't. Where's the connection? I try to resort to the olde verson, fie.

Now let's look at shit. Not literally, though Dr. Oz would be proud of us. Shit, excrement, bowel excretions - have I written enough? Yuck. This word matches the mood of the situation, granted. But to shout it in anger (particularly in front of innocents) just perpetuates the situation. And it's just plain ugly.

I do understand exclaiming God and all titles referring to God and Jesus. I don't like it or condone it (especially when He's on a crutch), but I understand it. We believe God can solve everything and prevent everything so we call out in want, need and frustration. I'm not sure it does any good. I know I'm more responsive when someone calls my name nice and gentle like. But that's me.

Of our choices, I like good ol' damn. That says it, unless you're directing it at a person, then I think that's taking it too far. To damn things to hell feels good and, in the case of this box with the keys sitting before me into which I'm putting these words, appropriate. (Note: It's already on strike two today. One more and I'm not going to post today. No sir. Won't happen.) I do believe that we need to leave the damning of people up to The Almighty. Which brings me to . . .

. . . the ever satisfying primal scream. One that starts in the depths of my soul works it's way past my diaphram, through the lungs and up and out the throat. Ahhh, yes, that's satisfying in the most tense moments. It satisfies physicall and emotionally. It wakes me up out of my anger stupor. I'm ready to act after a good primal scream.

I also like, "A pox on you." An oldie, but goodie. It can also defuse a tense situation, it's so outlandish. One of my friends favors, "Mother pussbucket." Watch Craig Ferguson for some creative editing of their guests verbal choices. An ex appears over the mouth of the offender (for you lip readers out there - you know who you are) and you'll hear a cartoon-like voice exclaim, "Juicy Fruits" "Ay Caramba" and a variety of others. Send me your personal favorites, please.

I don't think swearing should be eliminated, I just think we need to use it like we use perfume, spice, bright colors or clashing harmonies in music: thoughtfully and sparingly for effect. I love music that splashes in the tightest harmonies - non harmonic, really. In the context of the other notes and full melody it's enticing. It makes me listen. I can't stand atonal pieces. They don't make sense to me. I'm sure we've all been around someone who swears so freely to the point that they don't make sense. That  is like taking delicious garlic and smothering the dish to the point that you practically burn your tongue. I loved the movie, "The Princess Bride" for many reasons. One is there is a single swear word in the entire movie and it is well placed. Inigo Montoya has been searching for the five-fingered man to avenge his father's murder. When he finds him at the end of the movie, the five-fingered man pleads for his life. "I'll give you anything" he says. "I want my father back you son of a bitch."

I just don't like seeing potent words lose their effect. Doug and I had a funny conversation the other night. I saw a "Trespassers will be prosecuted" sign on television. I said, "If they really want to keep people away, they should post, "Trespassers will be vomited on." He did me one better. "Trespassers will be shat upon." Now that's effective.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Full Circle

Doug and I have packed out (except unaccompanied baggage, which is what will be awaiting us in Virginia) so it’s countdown time for us to leave Uzbekistan. Things have been happening lately
that make me feel like I’ve come full circle with my stay here. This will be a long one, so settle in.

A friend of Doug's, Liz, visited us to see some museums. We went to Samarkand for two days. I told our guide that I'd like to find a suzani (hand embroidered fabric) with animals on it. More popular are flowers and pomegranates. When I first arrived in Uzbekistan I went to an art bazaar and met a vendor who spoke good English. He sold suzanis and was telling me all about the symbolism of the different animals. If I remember correctly, the snake symbolized fertility and the scorpian kept you safe from the Evil Eye. I didn't buy anything from him, though I wanted to. I was new to Uzbekistan and didn't know what else I'd see to buy, I didn't know what a fair price was, etc. I never forgot that man and all his enthusiasm. I also never saw animals on suzanis again.

In our wanderings, I found a suzank with animals around the edges and was able to dicker a fair price with the woman who was selling it. I was so happy. Later that day a man called us into his shop to show us his suzanis. I declined saying I had what I wanted and I'd wait ourside and admire the madrasah. After a few minutes our guide came out and told me that I may want to come in and listen because the man was talkng about animals and their symbolism - he remembered that that interested me. Reluctantly (because I was not in the mood for a sales pitch) I went inside. The more I listened, I realized that this was the man I had met over a year and a half ago in Tashkent.

I asked him if he had been in Tashkent. He answered yes and told me that he remembered meeting me at the TWIG bazaar (he remembered the name of the bazaar where we met). I didn't have the heart to tell him I had bought someone else's animal suzani.

After a while, he pulled out a bedspread sized suzani stitched with flowers and vines. It was gorgeous. My eyes and face must have said it all because Doug was digging in the backpack counting our money preparing to dicker with him. Back and forth they went for fifteen or so minutes. Doug bought it and I was so touched by it all, I cried. The man saw my tears and came over and hugged me (rare for an Uzbek man to a strange woman). He gave us all a gift before we left.

July 22nd I climbed Big Chimgon, one of the (or the highest point in the area). On almost every hike Boris, our hike guide, points out Big Chimgon. It hovers over at us from a distance looking ominous. I have wanted to climb it and was glad to get the chance before we left Uzbekistan. I was also nervous. I was so nervous that I spent most of Friday and Saturday before the hike worrying and psyching myself out of it. (Alas, I was never destined for the Olympics.) The above picture was taken about two thirds of the way up to the summit of Big Chimgon.

I’ve heard some stories about hiking Big Chimgon. One group of hikers was still ascending as the day was growing short. They voiced their concerns to Boris and suggested they turn around to be sure that they didn’t get caught on the mountain after dark. Boris refused, as the story goes and on they went. And they got caught descending after dark. Most people climb Big Chimgon in two days
enjoying a night out in the mountains.

We arrived at the starting point and I posed with the rest of the hikers (with my flashlight in my backpack) for a ‘before’ picture. We started with a gentle climb. Within five minutes I was light-headed. This rarely happens to me; very few times while pushing myself on the elliptical, but never while hiking. I wondered if this was my red flag telling me to turn back to the van (while it was still there) and skip the hike, but no way was I going to sit in a van all day with the driver smoking away, so on I plodded. The light-headed feeling hit me a few more times and I dismissed it. Eventually
it quit. It was replaced with my heart pounding - much harder than on normal hikes, I was certain. Usually my heart pounds only when steeply ascending for a while, but we were still in the foothills of Big Chimgon. I took comfort in the fact that Boris told us that, at a certain point, we could split up. Group One could go on to the summit; group two could stay behind and wait. That’s what I’d to. No
problem. I’d still be climbing Big Chimgon, just not to the top.

Often (too often for my sanity) I have a song running relentlessly through my head. I found it amusing that, as I climbed Big Chimgon, Bruce Springsteen’s “One Step Up and Two Steps Back”was in my head. Probably inspired by the loose rock we were trying to progress over. When I
reached the summit, I was further amused that this song was immediately
replaced with “Pomp and Circumstance”.

One thing that helped the climb was the variety of terrain we hiked on. It began bushy with a small trail carved for us to follow. When we left the foothills and began the steeper ascent, it changed from a dusty path, to the dreaded loose shale-like rock, then to small pebbly stones to rich, dark soil surrounded by some of the lushest greenery I’ve seen in these mountains. I kept thinking I should be
taking pictures, but I was too tired to stop and take out my camera and didn’t want to fall behind as I was already toward the end. At times we had to literally climb over large boulders and rocks. At one point, we were climbing like this and came to a five or so inch shelf (think the balance beam in the Olympics) on which we had to walk avoiding a drop to get to the other side. Maxim (Boris's asistant) stood on something underneath us and held out feet in place. I noticed that we rested more often on this hike which was fine with me. One of our rests was in the shelter of a rock overhang - not quite a cave, but almost. We noticed a plaque hanging outside it with names and writing in Uzbek. We guessed that it was names of those who forged this trail. Nope. It was the names of those who died attempting to climb Big Chimgon. Not very encouraging for Laura.

This hike was different in so many ways. I drank more, ate less and ate later. Usually I’m into my sandwich by 10AM. I didn’t eat until around 2:00. I also sat down every time we took a break. I usually don’t do that until toward the end of the hike.

I talked with Tom who works with General Motors here in Tashkent. I think we kind of supported each other. We were tired, we were working hard and we were determined to make it. At one point, during a rest, I was sitting on a rock and his hand came into view, “Come on. Let’s go.” He said. And up we went. That hand felt so good, like an energy transfer. A little peer pressure is a good
thing sometimes.

At one point I was a little concerned about the dark floaties before my eyes. One of them was particularly dark and not floating around very fast. And I couldn’t see through it like I could all the others. Turns out a ladybug was strolling across my sunglasses.

Naturally, we whined a little on the way up. Not the, “Are we there yet?” whining. We were more creative. “How high do you think we are?” “I don’t know, but those clouds sure look like they’re hanging low.” Some were finding it more difficult to breathe. We wound up ascending over a mile.
It took us five hours to make the ascent. It was at this point that Boris told us (as I lay flat on my back) that group two could stay here while group one made one last 20 minute climb to a higher point. Twenty minute climb? That was the splitting of the groups he earlier referred to? I stayed right where I was. Rocks never felt as comfortable as after a long, steep ascent. A few of the men stayed
behind “to protect the women.”

As we relaxed at the top enjoying the view, dark storm clouds were moving in. After a while, as much as it pained me (literally) I suggested that we not rest too long so we could beat the storm. Trying to maneuver that 5 inch ledge in the rain would be quite dangerous. About an hour into our descent we heard the thunder. Grant, a friend from the embassy, was in the lead. “Go faster, Grant!” I hollered. We heard thunder a few more times, but never got caught in the rain and made it down well before sunset. Boris was very happy. We did have a good group. As I said, on the ascent, I was in the rear of the group. We could usually see the people ahead of us, though, and I don’t think they ever had to wait more than 15 or so minutes for us. On the descent, I was in the front of the group. We
also didn’t have to wait much for those in the rear. We have had to wait up to 45 minutes for slower hikers. No fun.

Now when I hike and Boris points out ominous Big Chimgon, I can look at it and say, "I've stood there!" or "I've collapsed there!"

I'll leave you with a picture of me and Boris:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

50 and counting

I turned 50 in Tashkent! I was very excited about this. I'm still pretty much a kid when it comes to my birthdays. I looked forward to my 10th birthday (two digits in my age!), my 13th (teenager!) 18th (legal) 20th (a nice round number), 21st (legal in more ways) 25th (quarter century) 30th (nice round number) . . . well, you get it.

I don't respect the attitude that some people have about bemoaning their age. It feeds the farce that we should all be young or strive to be young. I would not want to be 20, 30 or 40 ever again. No sir. The - how can I put this politely? - crap I went through taught me well, mostly like a cautionary tale. Relive it? You've got to be kidding me.

Now, if you offered me nine lives like the allergen ridden cat, you'd have my attention. If I had nine lives I think I know just how I'd live each one of them.

Life number one would be lived completely differently than the one I am currently living. I'd live independently. I'd live in the mountains away from all civlization. I'd travel the road alone. I'd take on odd jobs to support this lifestyle for a time. You know, sing for my supper. I'd be savvy. I'd be able to handle myself in any situation. I'd be street wise. Quit laughing, this is my fantasy. I'd love to hear yours, by the way. I'd have a string of lovers I'd never forget and some I'd never give another thought to. I'd always want God in my life. I just fear that God would be more disappointed in me in some lives than in others.

Life number two I'd spend devoted to psychiatry or psychology. I'd want to try to understand us. I'd want to try to help us. I'd want to study and learn all that is out there then research and add to it. I'd want to be the person at the party who told you what you really didn't want to know about yourself, but needed to know. I'd want to be the person at the party to whom people would approach, "I know you're not at work, but . . ." and they'd proceed to tell me their most intimate issues and problems. Or those of others at the party. Either way.

Life number three would be spent in the entertainment industry on some level. I have performed more than most people I know, but I'd love that to be my entire life. I'd go to Broadway and audition. I love the stage. I'd go to L.A. and audition for films. I'd sing in jazz clubs for nothing if it would get me in front of an audience on a regular basis. Heck, I'd travel the Renaissance Festival circuit.

Life number four would be spent writing. I know I have something to say, it's finishing what I have to say that I have a problem with. I'm not sure if I'd write for children, which I have, or adults, which I also have. Both can be tough crowds. Some days I think I'm better at fiction. I stay off my soapbox that way. Other days I can pen a pretty good, inspiring thought and think it needs to be shared.

Life number five would be spent in hardship. Perhaps I'd live in a war torn country, one that never knows peace. Perhaps I'd be a member of an aborignal tribe living remotely from 'civilization'. I may live in the inner city surrounded by drugs, gangs and crime. I'd fall victim to addiction for several years. I'd have illegitimate children of different fathers and rapes taken away from me. I'd certainly be money poor. I'd be homeless. I'd be ignored.

Life number six would be spent filthy rich. I'd love to know what it would be like to live with lack of money never being an issue. I'd travel. I'd eat out. I'd hire domestic help. I'D HIRE A DRIVER. I'd have a personal assistant. I'd give money away every day. I'd own a Rolls Royce and a good hybrid and use them according to my mood. I'd spend a year living on a cruise ship. I'd buy an island and have a house on it to escape to. I'd sail around the world on a yacht. I'd go into space as far as I could. I'd take friends with me on all these excursions.

Life number seven would be spent learning about and experiencing alternative healing, dream research, yoga, astral projection, tarot, intuitiveness, meditation, astrology and more and more. I'd spend part of this life as a vegetarian, a vegan, I'd live in a commune of some sort, I'd live in an ashram, I'd renounce all worldly goods for a time, I'd protest, write letters to those with power. Above all I'd do this peacefully and as non-judgementally as I could so as to have respect from both sides of an issue. Without respect, I don't think I'd have much of a voice.

Life number eight would be spent studying world philosophies. Just as my previous life was lived in various way at various times, so would I live according to philosophies about which I don't know enough in this life to offer details here.

Life number nine would be spent in spiritual service. I'd study the world's religions, eventually committing myself to my own personal religion. I'd spend time living in a convent and other places where the focus is on the spirit. I'd worship God and I'd serve people.

An interesting thought occurs to me as I write out my many fantasy lives. In each life I'd have the same soul. In other words, I'd still be basically who I am. Some of you who would ignore and judge me as the homeless addict with a fly-covered baby in my lap would seek my company in another of my lives. Interesting, isn't it. Perhaps a lesson for us all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Over Memorial Day weekend Doug and I went to Lake Issyk Kul in neighboring Kyrgistan.

Lake Issyk Kul is the second largest saltwater lake in the world (second to the Caspian Sea), the second largest mountain lake (second to Lake Titicaca on the Peru/Bolivia border) and the tenth largest lake in the world. Lake Issyk Kul has a length of 182 kilometres (113 mi), a width of up to 60 kilometres (37 mi), and covers an area of 6,236 square kilometres (2,408 sq mi). (Thank you, Wikipedia.) The mountains you see in the background stretch as far as you can see and border Kazakhstan and China.

It was too cold to swim (for this Phoenician, at least) but there were people in the clear, blue water. I walked the beach barefoot and sat and stared at the lake and mountain. We went on a boat ride that gave us a good view of a nearby glacier.

We drove to a gorge to walk around and came upon some men and boys on horses. Two of them had eagles with them. They ran after our van on horseback, laughing and smiling, and kept up until we stopped. I'm sure it was a tourist trap, but it was one I gladly walked into: I got to hold an eagle for the first time.

At first, the eagle flew away from me. Thank God I'm a relatively calm person. FLAP-FLAP-FLAP  Doug got winged in the head. The owner put it back on my arm and it stayed. It was amazing being that near one of these birds. It is quite heavy as you would expect. After I held it for a while the owner raised my arm and turned my hand a little which was the eagle's signal to spread its wings.

The picture of me with the eagle and the following were taken in a gorge that was so scenic it reminded me of the cinematography in old westerns and the best pictures in hunting and fishing magazines. We walked along a road that ran alongside a gushing river. Mountain music. There was even a small falls.

We saw some petroglyphs that had been restored at a place called Cholpon-Ata (dating from the II millennium BC upto the Middle Ages upto the VI century AD - thank you, Advantour). It was kind of interesting, but they just didn't seem genuine to me. While, in America, things like that would be protected from people, these are just out in the open for all to handle. They were in a large boulder field. Anyone could have climbed all over them.

Those were the highlights of the trip. It's very different traveling in Central Asia than in America. Our liason for tours told us the drive from the airport to our hotel would be about three hours. It took five. It was a strange feeling sitting in a van in itch black not knowing where we were going or how long it would take to get there. The road conditions ranged from just fine to God Save Us. And these drivers knew these roads and drove fast. Our hotel and room were both very nice looking. The temperature in the room, however, was about 90 degrees. No exaggeration. The heat came from the floor which was so hot that Doug couldn't stand on it in bare feet. The bed was boxsprings with no mattress. Doug had bruises on his hips after the second night. Behind the reception desk were two pretty young women with nice smiles who were very good at apologizing for everything. On our first full day there, our travel guide didn't show up until around 4:00 so we lost almost an entire day of excursions. I tried to keep a good attitude which wasn't too hard since the lake was so beautiful. We sat there and read. Later, after lunch, I offered to tell stories to the ten children who were with us hoping that would diffuse the situation a little. It did. Just before I told stories, however, I needed a little something to calm down so I went to the store to buy chocolate. It was closed. It was supposed to be open. Grrr. Me. Chocolate. Barrier in between. GRRRR . . . I went to the cute smiley girls and told them that someone needed to open the store now and SELL ME CHOCOLATE! I waited another 15 (long) minutes, but they finally roused the storekeeper and she opened shop. On the second day the accountant didn't show up on time leaving us unable to exchange money before our excursion. I finally went to the desk and told the cute smiley girls that someone needed to find someone now to exchange our money. They finally did it from their own purses. The hotel advertised a gym which was unavailable to us. The food and food service at the hotel was very good. The food was disappointing in that it was not Kyrgiz food. We were actually served hotdogs and hamburgers for breakfast!

Overall, the trip was enjoyable and worthwhile. I'm trying to have few expectations in life. I think the Buddhists say that to live without expectations is to live without disappointment. Makes sense. I'm also careful to not travel around here and expect things to be like in America. However, when someone promises something then smiles and says "Well, in actuality . . ." or "Our website doesn't say that" (when it, indeed, does say that) or "That's unavailable right now (and the rest of the time you're here)" I'm upset. I'd rather have no expectations and be happy. I was not upset about the meals, just disappointed. I didn't complain. I did complain about the staff not showing up on time to help us. Any Buddhists or wanna-be Buddhists out there with suggestions for my attitude?

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Doug and I flew to Bukhara, a city in central Uzbekistan with some friends from the Embassy a couple of weekends ago. This trip is my favorite trip so far. Samarkand is much more popular a city, but I liked Bukhara much more. We had a little more time to spend there - we stayed two nights - which helped. Bukhara is a mix of the old which has been restored and the old which stands in partial ruin. It's interesting to see the difference.

Bukhara is much cleaner than Tashkent. My housekeeper, Irina, noticed this when I was showing her pictures. She has never been there. The people were so friendly. We were often greeted by children and students. Doug and I both had a rock star moment. He was practically accosted (I was watching his backpack!) by a group of students who wanted their picture taken with him. The same thing happened to me, though a little rambunctiously. This picture is of a kindly old man offering candy to a little girl and her brother (off camera) who were traveling with us.

Shopping was much more comfortable here than in Samarkand or Khiva. The vendors were not in our face pushing things at us. They were helpful and patient. Many spoke some English. We were working with one young woman who switched from Uzbek to English to French while we were in her shop. Someone asked her how many languages she knew. She laughed and said she didn't know.

We had a dinner and entertainment on our first night. The weather was perfect as we sat outside and enjoyed front and center seats for traditional Uzbek music and a presentation of traditional dance mixed with a fashion show.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to a puppet workshop. They hand make puppets using paper mache, sticks and paint. They demonstrate the process while your there, give you a short showing of what the puppets can do then tell you to wander the store and play with any puppet you want. No pressure to buy! The adults had as much fun as the children. A friend of mine gave me a puppet from Bukhara which I wasn't sure what to think of at first. Now I have quite an appreciation for it.

Our hotel was nice. We had airconditioning! They even had cold Pepsi when we arrived which I managed to resist. The staff was friendly and cared that we enjoy Bukhara. It was within walking distance of many bazaars where we shopped. Across the street is the former walled in town center so, again, old meets new. Here are pictures of the courtyard in the hotel followed by the view across the street and the road leading to the bazaars:

Our next trip will be over Memorial weekend to Lake Issyk Kul in neighboring Kyrgistan.