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  • Jerome Kocher

62. Short and Sweet

This morning I found a French Bakery in Uzbekistan. Yumm! Almond croissants on the Silk Road? A match made in heaven! It's raining, so I walk close to the buildings to avoid the extended drain spouts dumping even more water onto the middle of the sidewalk. I arrived and ordered one with the help of a Russian translator! The cappuchino's foam design reminded me of yet another version of the tree of life. This time a tree of croissants, instead of apples or pomegranates. Yes, Paradise is real.

So here I was, an American in a French Bakery with Uzbecks communicating in Russian. I asked the young woman prepping all the baked goods in the showcase if I could take a photo of her working. Nyet. No way! Another young male waiter came over and explained that she said her husband would be very upset. I understand, but how would he know. I'm not posting my pics on Facebook. Who would tell him? And Yes, I'm being humorous. The other waiter had learned his English from cartoons and movies. A very common method, especially in Mexico. He was going to University here in Samarkand. And he had no problem showing off the pastries. And he was an Uzbek with a French name, Emil.

But her response was one sign that I am in a more Muslim practicing culture. There's more hijabs or scarves used by the women here in Uzbekistan than in Almaty, Kazakhstan. And here are also more "abayas," long dresses, a head to foot covering worn over other clothing. Actually a group of four such women just sat down in the Cafe. But you won't see burkas covering the face unless they are tourists from Saudi Arabia. In short, Kazakhs are more secular with a closer connection to the previous Soviet regime, while Uzbeks are more religious with no love lost for the Soviets. There are a lot of pilgrims here in Samarkand, Uzbekistan for the sacred sites of mosques, mausoleums and madrasas. You won't see that in Almaty.

After my exotic breakfast our group headed out for the Tajikistan border where we have to walk through several passport checkpoints over a half mile distance. The other day it was hot and dusty, but today's rain makes it cool and fresh. Just avoid the puddles. In front of me I noticed a Muslim mother with her son. She was wearing a long "abaya." But she was also carrying a large wooden chest with her son, one on either side, In my best mime skill I indicated that I could carry the chest with her son. Bingo! She understood immediately. She sat her side down and I picked it up. We were in no man's land between passport controls. I had no idea what I was smuggling across. But I was struck how universal the language is when we speak like a "Good Samaritan."

After the furniture move was completed I kept on walking. I noticed that on the road next to my sidewalk was a caravan, not of camals, but maybe sixteen motorcycles waiting to cross the border. One bike had a decal of the Silk Road map prominently displayed. So I went over to ask. To my surprise they were a group of Germans and Austrians also on the Silk Road. But they were riding from Munich to China in six weeks. Now that's a trip. I finally could use my German. "Ich freute mich."

We finally crossed with a group of Brazilians behind me. Another surprising morning on the Silk Road. And I had totally forgotten that I still had a walnut pastry from the French Bakery stuffed away in my back pack. It doesn't get much better!

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May 19

What an adventure!

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