Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Since Russian is so commonly spoken and understood in all of these countries, its far more practical to learn a few words of the colonisers than of the indigenous. But the guidebook says that a smattering of Uzbek can be a useful bargaining aid. So yesterday I purchased a simple little English/Uzbek dictionary of proverbs. With this little jewel I will stare down anyone giving me a preposterous price and say “Only a fool and his money are too soon parted” in perfect Uzbek, and then watch the astonishment. I will stay away from the many potentially dangerous Uzbek proverbs contained in the book which I really don’t understand. What sort of a reaction would I get by saying:

“Ikki kemaning boshini tutgan g’arq bo’lar” which apparently means “Between two stools you fall to the ground”

“Har to’kisda bir ayb” which is perplexingly translated as “Every man has a fool in his sleeve”

“Bo’ri qarisa, itga kulgu bo’lar” which is a rather cryptic “Hares may pull dead lions by the beard”

And strangest of all, “Egasini siylagan itiga suyak tashlar” commands “Love me, Love my dog”

Most tourists’ ultimate desire is to see the most genuine aspects of the places they visit. While the old city of Khiva seemed to exist simply to relieve tourists of their money, Bukhara’s central square seemed to offer all things to all people. For me, it was a place to pore over the book’s nuggets of wisdom surrounded by an ancient mosque and a medressa. For Bukharans it seemed a place to while away a holiday afternoon reclining on the cushioned seats of the teashops of questionable hygiene, all clustered around the central pool. For one strange Bukharan man in particular it was probably the only place for some social interaction. With a long snow white beard and a little four pointed muslim hat, he approached me jabbering something in Uzbek with a very grave look on his face. I looked up and habitually said “English only” but caught a quick glimpse of the whites of his eyes, which clearly showed the tell-tale glazed-over look of dementia. He continued jabbering away, and of course I had nothing to say in return (perhaps one of the difficult proverbs?) so returned my gaze awkwardly to my book. Within moments the waiter came scurrying over and shouted at him, pushing him away. “Crazy man!” the waiter said to me. “Yes, he’s crazy.” I replied for lack of anything more intelligent to say. The old man had very quickly earned my sympathy and I felt sorry for him, but I just didn’t think the waiter would understand.