Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Day 164 – Melons, shashliks and a revolution. (Uzbekistan)

We’re staying at the delightful Bahodir B&B in the centre of Samarqand. It’s a charming affair; a leafy central courtyard draped in a series of rugs and quilts serves as the relaxing communal area, and a selection of doors, staircases and corridors lead from it to the haphazard variety of guest rooms in the surrounding array of buildings. The staff are very quiet, but the service has been impeccable – on arrival we were ushered to the courtyard and served tea and melon. Quite amusingly, there are melons (watermelons and a type I’m not familiar with which is white and oblong and resembles cantaloupe) all over the place. To get the car into their front entranceway, they had to move some chairs, a desk, and about a dozen melons that were lined up at the edge of the ground.
Uzbekistan is the first country we’ve been to since Australia where we’re paying what we refer to as “real money” for things like accommodation. We’re staying at the very cheapest place we could find and we’re paying $11 pp for a four person room. This is a far cry from the $2 or $3 pp for single or double rooms in South East Asia. Compared to the competition though, it is phenomenal value. Not only are there melons lining each corridor and filling every nook and cranny, but we also get a breakfast of eggs, meat, cheese, bread, rice pudding, fresh yoghurt, tea and coffee included. And every evening they offer a hearty dinner for about $3, which so far we have failed miserably at being a part of.
On our first night we arrived after dinner time, but with all the melon and tea, we weren’t too bothered. On our second night we decided to check out the surrounding areas and ended up searching the streets of Samarqand for what seemed to be a non-existent meal. There isn’t a clear hub and we just couldn’t find any cafe/restaurants.
It happened to be the National Day (September 1st) and the streets were packed. There were a lot more sparkly hats and decadent dresses than you’d find on a usual evening, and there were umpteen ice cream stalls around the city, each one with a queue extending far down the street. It seemed that every single person in Samarqand was dressed in sequins and eating ice cream.
Last night we decided just to eat at the B&B, but when we got there and approached the kitchen to ask for dinner, we were told it was all finished. Another frustrating walk followed and we found ourselves at what turned out to be quite a nice shashlik joint.
So there we were enjoying our shashliks and nan, when a man from another table came to ours and addressed Ben.
“Something something something in probably Russian, blabla etc Amerikansi, blablabla,” and thrust a bowl of grapes at him, bowing respectfully as he retreated.
“No, no, not American...” Ben tried to shake off the usual assumption that we were American, but the man cut him off, finished what he was saying and returned to his own table.
Usually we’re treated with disdain until they realise we’re not American, so this was new. It was a shame we’d been fed so many grapes at the B&B in the afternoon so we were a bit graped out, but we managed to get a few down for the sake of politeness.
We continued with our shashliks and as far as we were aware were being left alone. Then as part of usual, jovial conversation, Ben inadvertently made a hitting my face gesture. The man who had so kindly gifted Ben with grapes 15 minutes before, now turned around and quite ferociously told Ben, using very flamboyant hand gestures, that he should not be hitting his woman, and should instead be blowing kisses and hugging me. Ben apologised profusely and we tried not to do any more to draw attention to ourselves.
After our interesting meal of shashliks and grapes we got back to the B&B, and there we were in our room minding our own business when we heard a ruckus on the street. At first we assumed it was some sort of party that was conveniently assembling 20m from our window, but then as the yelling became louder and the torch became brighter, we considered the fact that we might have found ourselves in the middle of a revolution. Not sure exactly what one does when you may or may not be in the midst of a Central Asian revolution, we looked out the window for a bit and then Ben decided he’d go down to the front door and see if he could figure out what the story was. I watched him out the window, assuming that he’d have a quick look, maybe ask someone something, and then come back up. Instead though he had a quick look, then started walking in the direction of the noise. After a few minutes I decided he’d probably got caught up in some trouble so I went to rescue him.
I followed the noise down an alleyway, hoping that’s where Ben had gone. Clumps of residents were peering out of doors and windows, congregating at the side of the unlit street. As I got closer to the noise I saw that the road was on fire and there was a large group with torches shouting and dancing. A couple of cars were following the crowd, honking their horns and revving their engines.
It was only as I got right up to the crowd and found Ben with some other people from our B&B watching intently from the edge, that I realised for sure that this wasn’t a revolution, but was in fact some sort of party. As it turns out this thing that we thought was a violent revolution, was in fact just a harmless wedding. Funnily enough we’d been discussing earlier that afternoon how we couldn’t get away from weddings in Kyrgyzstan; they were at every site we visited, we passed the cars on the roads, squares in the cities were usually hosting at least one or two, country towns were often decorated for one. Yet we hadn’t seen a single one in Uzbekistan up until this point.
The men were processing with torches, dancing wildly and singing enthusiastically. One of the torches had fallen off its pole, providing a brilliant ball of fire on the road which was now the centre of attention. It was an eerie scene, the long shadows from the flame casting on the sides of the mud brick houses, the fire the only real source of light. It was difficult to tell what was shouting and what was singing, and some of the dancing looked like brawling.
While the men were enjoying their loud fire party, the bride was couped up in the back seat of one of the following cars. We watched the proceedings until the fire started getting out of hand and was put out by the perturbed resident of an adjacent house. The procession continued down the alleyway.
Because I’d left the B&B expecting to be rescuing Ben from a revolution, I hadn’t taken anything with me. Frustratingly this means it was one of the very few times I wasn’t carrying my camera. But on the bright side, we weren’t stuck in a revolution and got to witness an Uzbek wedding. 

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