June 25, 2022 – Uzbekistan Beyond Book Pages

My last few days in Uzbekistan were supposed to be spent in Termez, a place bordering Afghanistan where Alexander (considered not so great in these parts of the world) founded a town. But after learning about the tragic earthquake in Afghanistan, and for the peace of mind of those I love (not that I’ve given them so much of that), I decided to be practical (yes, I can be, sometimes) and come back to Tashkent to be closer to the airport. Termez will have to wait; and perhaps, it is a romantic idea to leave something to come back for.

It is risky to travel these days, and it is crazy how the fate of some dreams and travel plans hang in the balance between two words — Positive or Negative. And when I asked my niece who works in a bank to change some currency for me, she reported that the bank declined upon learning of my destination, “Kay duol sa na-ay gyera.” (It is close to areas of conflict.) She had to go out of her way to another money changer. If one looks at the map, the bank is not wrong.

But here I am. Because when something feels right, it feels right. I booked my ticket with so much faith, and the itinerary that has been ready since 2020 finally came in useful.

“But I thought you wanted to go to Iran?” friends asked. I am in what used to be part of Persia. “Stan” is a Persian suffix that means “place of”. This is the place of the Uzbeks that was once of Persia. When the Achaemenids expanded their empire, they sought not to Persianize whomsoever they conquered but allowed different peoples and cultures to thrive — as long as they paid tribute, of course. And since we know borders are all but manmade, I am in the region of which I have been reading and dreaming for a long time… and it is intoxicating, and beautiful, and enriching.

The books I have been reading did not end on their last pages. The best books never do. They only give the reader a deeper yearning to continue the journey and the learning beyond the pages. They give one an urgency to live.

June 23, 2022 – Khiva, Uzbekistan

In the alley right below, a child sings in a language both strange and familiar to me. Strange because she sings in the Khorezmcha dialect, familiar because it is music.

A few meters away from her, women in traditional dress eclipse the child’s voice as they bargain with her mother, a scarf seller. These women are tourists from the other “Stan” nations. They flock the streets by sundown. (Western tourists tend to forego Khiva because it is out of the way. To get here from Bukhara, one has to drive for hours through an expanse of steppeland that seems to stretch to infinity, and the usual tourist would usually opt for another stamp on the passport from another Stan than come to Khiva. I am now closer to Turkmenistan than I am to Bukhara.)

But I also see Khiva changing right before my eyes. I see workers installing LED lights, replacing some crumbling bricks, and fixing the cracks of the old city, making it look new. And although they have the tourist’s best interest in mind, I feel a pinch in my heart. I know Khiva will not look the same in a few months, or weeks… and there is a bittersweetness in realizing that I came just in time — or perhaps, a few centuries late.

In the distance, the tallest minaret in Central Asia calls my attention, calls to prayer, calls time to stand still, and all falls silent.

Does this balcony right outside my bedroom explain enough why I chose to stay in Khiva longer?

© 2022 MDR
Khiva, Uzbekistan

June 22, 2022 – Summer Solstice in Khiva

Resplendent, the summer solstice sunset gilds the citadel of Khiva.

Khiva, the former capital of Khwarazm.

Khwarazm, the region that gave us polymath Muhammad Ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (780-850), who wrote the book Al-Jabr. From his name we have the word “algorithm,” and from Al-Jabr “algebra”.

The sun blazes differently here. And for knowledge, their wise men, too, seemed to burn so intensely.