Dear family and friends,
I am currently in Uzbekistan working on coverage of the war on terrorism. I am travelling with our Cuba bureau writer Tracey Eaton, a wonderful guy with whom I worked last year on our story about Hidden Wars in Guatemala.
So far Uzbekistan is a lot more developed than I thought it would be. It apparently was the wealthiest and most developed of Russia's republics in Central Asia. The young people are very fashionable. The women wear these black tight pants with a little flair on the end and high heels. They are always in heels! The people here are beautiful. The mix of Asian, Middle Eastern and Caucasian has created a blend that is stunning. There are lots of people that would be great models.
We are currently staying at a really nice hotel. We moved because we couldn't get a good satellite signal from our other hotel. This one is deluxe! Feather pillows and feather blankets. It is really clean and well staffed. I used one of the bell boys for a translator for a day or so and he was so great. I paid him $5 an hour and he's ecstatic. The driver that Tracey found wanted $15 an hour including the vehicle. But truly, every car on the road practically will pick up passengers and it costs a pittance when the translator arranges the ride. On average a taxi ride costs $.40 cents. Whenever I'm with Tracey the price goes up. He's such a gringo!!!
I really love the food here. It's a blend of East and West. It's hard to describe. But it is so flavorful. One of the big things here is rice pilaf, a delicious dish of rice, raisins, beef, and some other vegetables I'm not familiar with. The other big thing here is nan bread, similar to the kind you get in an Indian restaurant in the U.S., but thicker. Uzbeks eat it with every meal. Oh, and the last real strong tradition here is tea, chai, as they call it. They are always inviting me for chai.
This was probably my downfall yesterday when I visited with one lovely family in Tashkent's old town. Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan. Chai always come with a huge table prepared with candy, salted tomatoes, raisins, nuts, nan, etc. Well yesterday I dared a potato meat dish that the wife heated for me and when I bit into the meat it was some type of liver, brain or some such thing and I nearly couldn't get it down. Later last night I experienced my first violence in this country. I am still recuperating today.
People here are so kind. I am very charmed by this country. I wish I could understand them a little. It's such a different language from any that I know.
I'm lusting for a carpet and hope that I might be able to buy one on our way back through here. A silk one that is supposedly 70 years old, I'm not so sure about the validity of that claim, was $500. And that's negotiable. So $300 might do it. A wool one is less, $250 starting price, with a claim that it's 40 years old. The silk one didn't lie flat but that was just an initial investigation. I'm sure with a little looking, a good deal would surface. The carpets are around 4x6 feet. Really pretty. I'm just drooling to have one. I guess the large ones are all machine made, wool, but just factory made. Our driver was telling us that locals are not interested in small expensive carpets. They want large ones that fit a whole room. It makes sense, but what a pity that visitors are buying these treasures. A silk one doesn't take up too much room, they're thinner than the wool ones. Who knows, maybe I'll afford two. When will I ever be in this part of the world again?
Tracey, my partner in crime, has been transmitting via videophone the past couple of nights. We stay up until 2 am or so every morning because the TV stations don't call in until 1 am. Needless to say, it's pretty tiring. There is very little going on in Tashkent that relates to the war on terrorism so we are getting very creative. We've been transmitting from the balcony of our hotel room and we are thinking that maybe some fireworks might add some excitement to our news coverage. I could go down to the first floor and let off a few while Tracey is being interviewed and he can jump up and start talking about how we are escaping the scud missiles. Maybe we'd look a little more heroic than the impression of us in a high end hotel in the city center where nothing is happening. We're getting a little punchy.
Tomorrow we will be flying to the border town of Termez, which overlooks Afghanistan. The whole border is lined by a river and there is only one bridge that connects Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and it is closed. The Russians built it for their troops travelling to and from Russia, but since all the violence in Afghanistan, the bridge has been closed for years. In any case there is nothing going on there either, despite threats from Afghanistan that it will send 10,000 troops to attack Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan wants nothing to do with Afghanistan, despite being 80% Muslim. They don't want the instability and violence. In 1999 there were several terrorist bomb attacks simultaneouly throughout the city of Tashkent, the president was nearly killed. He keeps the place pretty clamped down to keep it safe, of course that also impedes on people's freedom. Because of it, the country is very safe.
We will be travelling to Tajikistan in several days. It is and was the poorest of the Soviet republics in Central Asia. It should be an interesting contrast to Uzbekistan.
I hope to write regularly to keep you updated with my experiences.