July 26, 2019
Getting off the train, I ran the usual gauntlet of taxi drivers. The backpack may scream “tourist” but fending them off is simple. A couple of words of Tajik and they just write me off and turn to other potential customers. Unable to remember most of the Uzbek I had learned four years ago, I have fallen back on Tajik. The past few weeks of brandishing my Farsi-camouflaged-as Dari in Afghanistan has made switching to a similar language easier. Or perhaps I have just become mentally lazy.
Asking random strangers about buses, I found again the open welcome that characterizes this part of the world. No sooner did I board, but a woman offered her seat, saying she was getting off soon. And yet another paid for my ticket without my knowing it. Protests were overruled by the entire crowd in the bus as they welcomed me to Termez.
The welcome at the guesthouse was even more effusive. In a large house where members of extended family live in separate apartment, I spent the better part of an afternoon and evening chatting. Once a month or more frequently, most of the four generations gather here over a lavish meal. The inner courtyard is spacious and spread with takhts, draped with grape vines. I was bid to sit down, and a plate piled high with home-cooked plov appeared before me, cooked by one of the men.
Grandfather is ninety but looks decades younger. He has a twinkle in his eye as he tells us stories. Of his five children, four are here today along with some of their children. Grandfather proudly tells me that he has fifteen great-grandchildren. They run amok while we sit in the inner courtyard, eat and chat. The patter is a mix of Uzbek, Tajik, English and Russian but with plenty of translators at the table, talk flows easily.