Tags

It happens to us all when we’re travelling. I’d been told that Uzbekistan was ‘hard on the stomach’ and that this was due to cooking food in cotton oil.

Since the Somsa pasty a couple of days ago, things downstairs have not been as they should. Nothing as desperate as a Kathmandu two-step, but still requiring precautions. Wet wipes in the back pocket. So I’ve been wandering across the old city not really worried about anything.

This morning I had a chat with the landlady about train tickets for Samarkand, and was delighted to discover that there’s a ticket office just 15 minutes away, rather than 45 minutes out at the train station at Kagan. I duly set off and after several false starts found the ticket office alongside a photographer’s desk. Realising that there wouldn’t be any English, I wrote the journey details on a scrap of paper assuming that all would be solved. Hah!

There was a queue (but not as you know it) which involved a person at the window being outflanked by various pincer movements from intruders on either side. This went on for a while and was lengthened by the speed of the clerk behind the counter and the presentation of carrier bags of cash needing counting. As a thousand Som are worth about £0.20, a train journey for a family of four costing 100,000 Som paid in small denominations takes some time. I was third in line, or I could have been seventh or even twelfth. There was no air-con, nor fan and my shirt was by now soaking. The man behind me exerted a calming presence on several grumpy customers who were shouting at the clerk, who resolutely maintained her pace.

When I finally got there, I glibly presented the piece of paper with my passport. The clerk resorted to Google Translate without success, then dialled a number and had a conversation before passing the phone across to me. A voice spoke in English and I explained the journey I wanted. Ten minutes later I had the ticket, much to the relief of the waiting Uzbeks who surged towards the desk as I left.

Once outside my soaking wet shirt started to dry in the hot breeze, and I cooled off. But there was suddenly an urgency; an immediacy over which I knew I had no control. I started to look for coffee shops, but found none. Then I looked for quiet corners and alleys, but there was always someone around. Ahead was a wide boulevard, and I hoped for a public toilet, but there were none. As I crossed the wide street, all seemed lost until I saw a closed restaurant with toilets on the terrace. I feared they would be locked, but thankfully the Gents was open.

Many years ago I went to an infamous talk at Plas y Brenin by John Barry where he showed a picture of ‘Smiler’ Cuthbertson crossing a railway platform somewhere in India. Cuthbertson had a similar problem to the one I was experiencing. In a statement that reduced the room to tears for over 15 minutes, Barry said “as Smiler headed for the train, there was a sound like a flock of starlings taking off”.

I just managed to avoid disaster, and was fully prepared as the starlings took flight. Not only was there running water, but paper too. The closest shave for many years.

I headed out into the sunshine and back through the Jewish quarter, this time making the correct greeting – Salom aleikum – before getting several bottles of Coca-Cola to deal with the stomach bugs. The rest of the day has been horizontal.

Advertisements