The freemasonry of the Central Asian road

“That is the freemasonry of the road, which obtains all over Central Asia, and to my mind, it is a very sound principle to go upon. It amounts to this: that you look upon every man as your friend, until he proves to be your enemy; whereas, the outcome of our much-vaunted civilisation in Europe is, that you look with suspicion upon every man you meet, until you have proved him to be your friend. There is an almost childlike trust and utter absence of suspicion displayed by these people, which is very refreshing after the stilted conventionalities and etiquette of Western Europe.” – Unknown author.

It was getting late in the day, and after getting quoted ridiculous prices by the taxis, we headed over to the Aftavazal to look for Makshrutka options from Osh back to Batken. One Mahstrutka driver was clearly not going to Batken town, but agreed to take us anyway. “I will drive you the rest of the distance from the final stop to Batken, don’t worry,” he said. For an extra 100som each, we happily agreed.

Except, things sometimes do not turn out as you have agreed. At the final stop about three hours away, he tell us that he has decided not to take us any further. He points us to another Mahstrutka going to Batken, but cautions us that we need an Uzbekistan visa because, of course, that route involves going through the Uzbek enclave towns. Why would we randomly have Uzbek visas? “ok good luck and good bye,” he mutters, and proceeds to walk away for his late lunch. We were about 100km away from Batken town, in the middle of nowhere, with little clue of what we could do.

Stuck in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in Central Asia.

Hitch-hike.

After a few unsuccessful flag-downs, one kind man picked us up in his rustic old Daewoo mini-van. “I am not going to Batken but I can take you a lot closer!” he remarked. So we hopped on, and after some time going at a top speed of about 50km/h (the van seriously sounded like it would fall apart any time), he drops us off at the sign that read “Batken 57”. Alright, 57km more for another kind soul to take us.

Riding in the Daewoo!

The second leg was a huge upgrade, when a Hyundai stopped for us. “I am going slightly further down on this road for about another 20km!” he said. We took it – every additional kilometre he will travel is an additional kilometre closer to our destination. We hopped on again and this ride went quick as it was a relatively modern car that actually managed to overtake other vehicles! 20km closer! Of course, he drops us off at his turn-off, and we were again in the middle of nowhere.

Kind soul no. 2

After many more rejections, a goods-delivery van stopped to take us on our final leg of the journey back to Batken. “We are going to Batken, hop on!” the driver shouted cheerfully. Oh thank you dear kindness of Central Asia! It was a van full of ladies and their wares from the weekly market in the town closest to Batken.

I am sitting next to all their goods at the back

We ride back to the Batken market and help them unload their supplies back to their respective stalls! Hitch-hike success! But of course, we were in Central Asia and a free ride back was never going to be just it. We were showered with more hospitality. The driver first proceeds to buy a bunch of snacks from the store, and then invites us back to his house to meet his family!

We drink tea, have snacks, watch Russian TV, and we comment that the preserved salad made by his wife was delicious. As we were about to leave, he hands me a full jar of the preserved salad. I profusely try to reject it but he says, “for health, you must take!” The hospitality of people in Central Asia just amazes me…

Very delicious jar of preserved vegetables

You receive a free ride from sticking your thumb out along the road in the middle of nowhere, get invited back to his home to dine with his whole family, and be given a parting gift of probably the one jar of preserved vegetables they have left in their household – the freemasonry of the road in Central Asia.

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