Our taxi driver veered off the highway through town down a dusty, narrow street. It wasn’t in the plan but what the heck. Resisting the arm waving ‘heyllooo’ shouting enthusiasm and generosity of Uzbeks is just futile. At the side of the substantial corn filled yard stood our driver’s wife. With paddle in hand she unglued the hot nan/lepioshka bread off the wood heated walls of the clay oven. Giant doughy barnacles. Travel could wait.
I read online…”One does not come to Central Asia for the food.” Uhuh. The day our taxi driver took us home was Bonnie’s third bout of unhappy digestive tract. However, strict government requirements meant packing up our campsite and registering in a hotel. The Chimgan mountain pass was to be tackled in a ‘machina’. With bicycle gear jammed into the white mini Damas and Bonnie and I squished in against spokes and fenders, off we went. But first…the diversion to the taxi drivers home. (Embarrassed to say I don’t remember his name as Uzbek names challenge me.)
And thus ends the cycling. We are tourists now. I wish my stomach would quit the denial and just go back to reasonable consumption. Dear stomach: Stop. I don’t need all those calories anymore! Oh dear. Perhaps I really am a total tourist.
Like the lucky ones in 1942, we ended up in Samarkand and Bukhara, and then diverted to explore smaller military collection points: Quarshi, Guzar, Shahrisabz, Jaakobag and Kitab. All in a parched clay brown landscape with columns of whirling dust devils dancing through the occasional sheep herd. Sometimes there are cotton pickers in the fields with welcomed colourful red glittery dresses. I am told it is green here in spring. Somehow this is not reassuring. My righteous self says ‘How do people live here?’ That is, until I realize I have been asked the same thing of my Yukon home!
As the Sybiracy slowly made their way towards Tashkent and Samarkand area they too were met with numerous diversions. Searches for food. Assignment to labour camps. Illness and death. Finding lost loved ones. It was here that my grandmother Olga Trybuchowska, started to care for stray children whose fathers had enlisted or whose parents had died. Eventually she collected and cared for 90 orphans. A big nod to you Babcia. While cutting bread rations one day a slice fell. On reaching under the table she felt a sharp chomp on her forearm. A ravenous child had bitten her arm for the precious morsel.
In hopes of a better life for their children, mothers were encouraged to hand their little ones over to civilians already authorized on the ships. How heart ripping a decision! Children as young as 12 joined the army. Some became soldiers and went on to Palestine and Italy. Others weren’t quite as lucky and were buried in Uzbekistan.
They aimed towards Turkmenistan to wait on the shores of the CaspianSea in blistering heat.
We return to Tashkent tomorrow, box up our trusty missed Surly companions (no not Lee 😉 our bicycles) and take the easy way over. A flight to Tehran. Sadly, no more diversions by friendly taxi drivers. But like the Sybiracy, Iran awaits us.
We leave Central Asia with just a little bit more understanding. A tiny sense of the courage, determination, patience, love, care and strength that our families and all Sybiracy must have needed. Must have shared with each other to survive. If I have come away with anything, it is a much stronger appreciation of their journey. A better understanding of the deep sense of community that the Sybiracy developed. They needed it. It was required to survive. This is not something I need to explain to our taxi driver. His generosity clearly showed it.