Uzbek domestic

Tashkent Market

Memory can be infinitely elastic; there are some things I remember and can recount faithfully, there are other tales that are improved in the telling, and yet others still that can only be told if all the details are changed.

And this is only if I rely only on my own memories.

What if I take into account another person’s recollection of a shared experience?  Maybe I could write one of those stories in which the same event is told from different points of view?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend who suggested that I write something about a trip we shared to Samarkand a few years ago.

‘You remember the swing?’ he said

‘What swing?’

‘The one in the office garden.’

‘No.’ I shook my head.  ‘That must have been when I was asleep on the sofa inside.’

We both laughed and shook our heads recalling our visit to our firm’s ‘office’ in Tashkent, which was, in reality, a furnished, rented house, barely altered from its domestic set -up, with desktop PCs on the dining table, and another on the coffee table.

Our joint experience allows us a shorthand, but the nuances in our memories give us something to talk about still; but to share the surreality of the experience with others it’s necessary to give it context and a fuller explanation. The choices that I make when recounting the tale will make it my story; my friend would tell a different one.

We flew overnight from Moscow on Air Uzbek (not an experience I would recommend) and arrived in the early morning.  It was Easter; in Moscow it was still Winter, but Spring was well under way in Tashkent.  We were a small, motley group of expats working in Moscow.  The office in Tashkent had helped with some of the arrangements, so we had to go there first.

We were so early we arrived before most of the staff, so had some time to kill.  I sat down on a sofa and fell asleep.  I woke with a start when the cleaning lady started emptying the waste paper bins around me.  I sat up, apologising, but she waved her hand at me and disappeared through the door into the adjacent room.

When she reappeared she was holding a pillow which she gave me.  She’d taken it from the Manager’s bed.  (He was out of town ….)  There were many young women who, at the time, would have been jealous at the thought of me laying my head on one of his pillows.

A couple of days later we were in Samarkand being shown around the area by a guide on our own little bus.  Inevitably one member of the party expressed the need to find a public convenience.  The bus stopped at the side of the road by a ramshackle little shed.  I watched through the window as a couple of my friends opened the shed door, recoiled, got back on the bus and asked to be taken back to our hotel.

A long debate ensued, most of it between the guide and the driver, revealing nothing, apart from a reluctance to cross the city.  Eventually the bus started off again and we were driven through residential streets, narrow, wall lined but with trees and and foliage tumbling over the masonry.  The bus stopped outside a gate in a wall and the driver got out and went inside.  We all waited, wondering what was happening.

The driver returned and nodded to us.  It was his mother’s house, and we could use the toilet there.

The house was built as separate blocks around a courtyard; broadly the living area and winter kitchen as one, the summer kitchen separate, and the bathroom/toilet on its own.  One by one we took our turns.

I gave a rather embarrassed nod and timid ‘Spacebo’ to the old lady who was sitting in her courtyard, watching impassively as the ramshackle parade of foreigners passed through her home.

I wonder how she would tell the tale.

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