Woke up at Baha’s flat wondering if anybody got the number of the truck that hit me before stumbling back to Fred’s. Her mate in Samakand (down south) had just split up from her better half and so Fred planned to head down there to give her some moral support. This meant that I had to find a new place to stay. Luckily, Tristan, the French guy I met last night agreed to take me under his wing. Even more luckily, he lived in the flat directly above Fred’s so it’s not like I had to walk very far.
These flats are so typically soviet it’s almost hilarious – the exact same flats that I experienced in Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. To give them a veil of individuality some are covered in big blocky geometric shapes – no wonder it was a Russian who came up with Tetris. You know what, though? I’d rather live in a mud hut. That’s just me I guess, but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about the lift not working.
So I settled in and Tristan pretty much left me to my own devices, allowing me to write up a ton of blog and make a big dent in my increasingly hilarious backlog of videos. The only problem is that despite my Herculean efforts to get a bunch of new vids edited, the internet here is comedically slow and to upload just one of them would take longer than it took Deep Thought to discover the answer to Life, The Universe and – you know – Everything.
Maybe now is a good time to discuss why you’ve never heard of all these countries I am now trying to visit. I mean Kyrgyzstan? Turkmenistan? Tajikistan? Where the hell ARE they? And why do they exist? It would be a bloody tricky pub quiz that asked you to name the capitals of all the Stans (I don’t actually know and I’ve been here!). Well to put you out of your misery, it’s no wonder you haven’t heard of them – before 1991 they didn’t exist. There were only two Stans, Pakistan and Afghanistan and above that was the jolly old USSR. Then after the break up of the USSR, the Stalin-engineered ‘autonomous regions’ (read: puppet regimes) of Central Asia suddenly became independent states, much to the surprise of those in charge who, without the retraining influence of the Russians, all went a little mad. And they don’t come much madder than Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan. Anyone who renames the month of April after his mum and commissions a 20 foot gold statue of himself to stand on top of an arch and revolve with the sun must be a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
The borders of these countries were all drawn up by Stalin in one of his (many) less lucid moments and quite frankly make no sense whatsoever. A ton of ethnic Tajiks live in Uzbekistan, there are more Uzbeks in Osh than Kyrgyzs, even though Osh is in Kyrgyzstan and there are Uzbeks all over the Stan show. Nowhere is this more clear than in the Fergana valley were the borders of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan overlap, underlap, disintegrate, have a nervous breakdown, change their names to Dorothy, flees society, strips naked and hides in a cave.
Unfortunately for all concerned (not least me) the borders such as they were in 1991 have stuck. It’s a bit like all the counties of England becoming separate countries all needing border posts, customs and visas. No wonder nobody’s ever heard of these places – even Brits would be hard pushed to point out Northamptonshire or Worcestershire on a map of the UK.
At least Kazakhstan had Borat to put them on the map, but did you know that Tajikistan suffered a extremely violent civil war in the 90s? No? Neither did I. I guess the western press doesn’t just ignore conflicts in Africa, it ignores conflicts in any part of the world that us geographically-challenged mooks haven’t heard of.
Anyway, Tristan lives with a Uzbek family and the mum of the clan really looked after me, making sure I was well fed (with plov) and watered (with tea). Sunday passed by in pretty much the same fashion, only the latter half of the day was preoccupied with drawing up battle plans for tomorrow’s bout of The Great Visa Game.