Part I: Homeward Bound


It’s kind of strange thinking about going back to Uzbekistan this trip. So many of our friends have gone and moved on. Quite a few are working in Afghanistan right now for a variety of companies, but you’ve also got those who went to Russia, people who’ve gone to Dubai, and several who made it stateside. There are only a couple of people I can think of to visit with that are non-family at this point.

We get a bunch of gifts for various family members and her huge rolling suitcase is dedicated solely to that, so that once we distribute, it should be much easier to lug our stuff around. This is foreshadowing of the ironic sense, of course, and will return later.


Sharjah is Dubai’s little brother. Sharjah has a number of facilities of various types, but Dubai has made “bigger is better” it’s watchword and of course the glamorization of it’s marvels makes a big difference, too. I can’t figure how it successfully promotes itself as a shopping destination (it’s typically noticeably more expensive than American prices by a good third or more) and a tourism destination, since of course it’s a desert where there’s only so much to do and you’d want to avoid it close to 8-9 months of the year. Now I’m not trying to slam Dubai, just demonstrate it’s relation to Sharjah. Somehow Dubai has managed to put a nicer sheen up against the sand and does actually promote itself as a business and play center for the Gulf region. Good for them. Anyway, the point I’ve taken a long loop around getting to is that we flew out of Sharjah airport instead of it’s much larger, better equipped, and better staffed cousin in Dubai.

We are pleasantly surprised at the short flight. I was thinking it was about 4 hours, but it’s only about 2 ½ hours instead. Hardly long enough to get really bored with Tomb Raider II: Lara Croft and the Cradle of Boredom and Crappy Movies. Soon enough, we were landing in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


We flew into the airport, and for the second time in all my trips there, the plane went right up to the terminal instead of having to take the bus back and forth. We helped this little old babushka with huge heavy bags (as they always seem to have) but she was almost hard to keep up with. When we got close to Passport Control, she took her bags back and pushed her way to the front. Shortly thereafter, she was gone.

We got through passport control, got our bags, moved through customs, and made our way through the mass of humanity waiting to greet people. The problem with them of course is that they seem unable to get out of the way. We exit the airport into a city where it’s rained recently. OMIGOSH! Water falling from the sky! What a novel concept. We don’t see Katya, who is supposed to meet us. My phone isn’t getting a signal (the old Uzbek SIM card that I dug out of my wallet is not longer fully functional, but we don’t realize that yet) and we don’t have money changed yet so can’t use a pay phone. We can’t just take a taxi, because if they haven’t forgotten us, then they won’t be there to let us in at the apartment. Guli goes off to find change while explain to a persistent taxi guy that we’re ok for now. He still hangs around in semi-concerned fashion. Guli brings her sister back instead of change, so it’s all good in the end.

Madina, Katya’s daughter, is a really cute kid but too shy to be able to speak to me in any of the potential languages. Making faces is the best we can manage, though mainly she blushes and hides. I figure she’s too old for peek-a-boo, but that seems to be what we are left with. We decide to steal her and take her back with us. Once the suitcase full o’ presents is emptied we will have more than adequate room for her, since she’s small, and it’s a short flight.

We wake up the next morning to find several inches of snow on the ground. Snow, if you will recall, is semi-frozen water that falls from the sky. What a novel concept. It is like an old friend after a long absence. We take off on a documentation run for some school paperwork and then to update Guli’s passport. We still haven’t changed money yet, so we have to track down an exchange point first. We find one with a small crowd around it and expect to have a little wait, or to find a new one, but it turns out they have no dollars to sell. Luckily we need to sell dollars and buy soum so we go straight through. One of the militia guys looks at me and asks if I’m with Guli, which is kind of a stupid question as we came in together, are walking around together, and as a guy who sticks out like a sore thumb as being “not from here” no one would expect me to be able to do anything for myself anyway, so you’d expect a translator of some sort to be in tow. :)

Why does everything here have to be so much harder than it needs to be? It’s not even that the documentation translation and legalization process is necessarily complicated, it’s that so much doesn’t work. Go to change money, they don’t have any, though we got lucky there. For the passport update, we need a copy of the marriage certificate, even though the fact of our marriage is actually stamped in the passport itself. I have a scanned copy on our machine at home so all we need is an internet café and we can process. The first internet café has no working internet. The other one we go to isn’t actually there. The third one works but is slower than Christmas for a child. I finally get termed into our computer back home and send off via email the document we didn’t know we’d need, and it turns out the internet café doesn’t have Acrobat on the machines. I term back in, convert the scan to a series of images, and send it off again. Oops! Turns out that the printer connected to their server machine isn’t actually installed. Crap. Well, we’ll save the images to our flash drive and print them somewhere else. What? Flash drives are locked out? Later we find a working internet café with decent speed and a working printer, so all was not lost except for those several hours and my patience. My perfectionist streak doesn’t help matters, so I need to remain uninvolved in getting things done I guess.

Well, we jump through those hoops, but they won’t update her passport, because she’s registered with the consulate in Dubai, who’s supposed to do those things, but don’t. At least the notarization and legalization of her university diploma seems to have gone well. This is foreshadowing of the ironic sense, of course, and will return later.

Eating philosophy here is different. While in America, we want to finish our plates because of the starving Ethiopians (and Armenians for your older crowd), whereas they cook the huge feasts and want to have some of everything. That ends up in far too much food that I personally end up requested to eat. This is tough because while I have lost several kilos (about 5, or 10-12 pounds) post surgery, I am still a bit swollen around the stomach and I’m not currently buttoning my pants up top and am depending more on my belt. It’s quite sad, really.

I am kind of sad to find that “Broadway” is no longer a lively walking street full of eating places, drinking places, trinket shops and crapsellers. They’ve moved everyone out and it looks so sterile now. We did have a small encounter with a fortune teller wandering around the empty avenue though. She was pretty good, I must say. “You’re preparing documentation!” Really? Could you tell that because I am obviously a foreigner? “You’re preparing to take a long journey!” Really? You figure I’m not from here, and I’m going to leave at some point? It was kind of funny and I was willing to listen to the spiel at least, but frankly she took too long getting to the point and kept going over the same stuff, so I told her I was bored and we moved on.

An Empty Broadway in the Snow

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